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Teacher Shortage Forces Some Madison, Wis., Classes Online

The Madison School District is taking some of its high school classes online because of a shortage of teachers. Roughly 120 of the district's 2,400 teaching positions remain unfilled.

An empty high school classroom.
(TNS) —The Madison School District has shifted some high school classes online to compensate for the ongoing teacher shortage.

One month into the school year, about 120 of the district's 2,400 teaching positions still aren't filled. That's down from 141 ahead of the school year.

In some cases, long-term substitute teachers are filling the void.

But in a "small number" of courses, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said, in-person students are now learning through the district's new online learning program, Madison Promise Academy, which has its own instructors. These students still work out of their classrooms with their classmates, but they log into virtual classes individually and receive a mix of online lessons and instruction from a Madison Promise teacher.

A district staff member is present in the classroom during the class period, and according to students, attendance is taken. The online teachers host office hours throughout the week, and students and teachers can schedule one-on-one time with each other if needed.

La Follette senior Yesenia Castro said her Spanish and advanced algebra classes have been switched to online coursework this year. Castro said she "kind of liked" virtual learning during the pandemic, but said students lose out on building a relationship with their teachers.

"While I like being online, I would rather have an actual teacher," she said.

Most of the classes that have shifted online are world language classes, LeMonds said, for which it's harder to find substitute teachers. But a few math and science courses also have moved online.

"Obviously we would like to get to in-person learning as soon as we can," LeMonds said. "And this is a good alternative for sure. And it's a good way to continue to provide rigorous instruction at the level that people would expect."

"They're still learning with their peers, we still have staff to support, engage our students while that instruction is happening, they still have opportunities to meet with their teacher," he said.

LeMonds said the number of affected classes is "small," but he didn't know the precise number. Only high school classes have been affected.

In a letter to families on Sept. 29, La Follette High School Principal Mathew Thompson said licensed, long-term substitute teachers had been filling in for the classes without full-time teachers since the start of the school year.

"We are making this shift now to ensure consistency in instruction and learning for the remainder of the semester," the letter stated.

On Monday, La Follette students said they have friends whose classes had shifted online, and other courses, such as math, have been taught by substitutes or by other math teachers.

"It adds a lot of stress to not only the teachers, but the students," Alethia Helms, a La Follette senior, said. "Because teachers have to figure out how to teach a class that they're not prepared for, and then students have to get used to not having the same teacher all the time, which can be really hard."

Senior Natalie Mullen said, "And I think after all of this time of having been virtual for so long for all of our classes, a lot of kids are sick of it."

LeMonds said he didn't know how long the classes will stay online. It depends on when more staff can be hired.

He doesn't anticipate any additional classes to shift to online learning.

LeMonds said he had expected more questions from parents and students about the shift than he's received.

"They understand the process there, and I think there's also some grace that people are giving us," he said.

Madison isn't alone in dealing with staffing shortages: School districts around the country are struggling to find and keep teachers and other staff.

On Monday, the school district's website listed more than 300 job openings, ranging from teachers to food service workers, custodians and counselors. Two dozen of those were posted in the last week.

©2022 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.