Mark McDermott. (U-I photo)

Iowa’s teacher shortage appears to be worsening and one expert says many schools across the state have multiple openings just weeks — or days — before the school year is set to begin.

Mark McDermott, associate dean at the University of Iowa’s College of Education, says they routinely get calls from dozens of Iowa’s 300-plus school administrators as fall approaches, checking to see if there are any recent graduates available to fill teaching jobs.

“What we have really noticed the last couple of years, there were always some very specific content areas that were shortage areas. We would always have people calling about physics teachers or special education teachers,” McDermott says, “and now it’s really almost all content areas in all types of positions.” While hesitating to say “most” schools in the state are short on teachers, McDermott says “many” districts are seeking help in virtually every type of course and grade level.

McDermott says, “Not only has the number increased but also the variety of the content areas and the types of positions that schools are looking to fill has increased dramatically.” McDermott, a clinical professor of science education at the U-I, says he’s surprised by the degree to which teacher openings are appearing, and in all corners of the state.

“Our students would sometimes have trouble finding elementary ed positions because there would be so many applicants for each elementary ed job,” McDermott says. “And now, we’re getting calls even close to the start of school from schools who are saying, ‘I have five elementary teaching positions that are open,’ and a couple of years ago that would have never happened.”

McDermott says the Iowa City institution is working to help meet the teacher shortage and develop pipeline programs to recruit more future teachers, and in particular, to recruit and retain students of color. “One of our goals is to find ways to help people enter teacher preparation,” he says, “but we’re also really concerned with making sure that we continue to provide a sound, strong, cohesive program when we prepare teachers so that we’re not just ‘preparing’ them, we’re also preparing them to be retained, to stick with it, to stay in the field.”

McDermott says part of the shortage may still stem from the so-called Great Resignation that came about during the pandemic, as many workers retired early or simply left their positions and industries to seek something new.