The official student news site of Norristown Area High School

The Wingspan

The official student news site of Norristown Area High School

The Wingspan

The official student news site of Norristown Area High School

The Wingspan

District Struggles to Hire Teachers After COVID-19 Pandemic

Nationwide Shortage of Teachers Has Lead to More Coverages and More Stress
Maci Jordan
Math teacher Michael Kinsey is teaching an extra Algebra class because of the post-COVID teacher shortage.

Norristown has been dealing with a lot since the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020. At that time, teachers and students were virtual for almost the whole year. It’s been three years since that tragedy struck, and we are all still dealing with the aftermath.

The pandemic has affected kids’ mental health, the way they learn, and the way they interact with the world. We also know how the pandemic affected teachers’ mental health and the way they taught their students, but this crisis has impacted the district at every level, leaving it understaffed in ways it has not dealt with in a while.

 “We’re still recovering, to be honest with you,” said NAHS Principal Dr. Deitrick Mcgriff. “And, so what’s now happened is, it’s not that the pandemic impacted a lot of people, it’s what public education was responsible for post-pandemic. So many people are still struggling mentally. It’s a tough career, it’s a tough job.”

According to the board meeting notes on Jan. 10, the district is still trying to fill 14 positions districtwide.

In Norristown Area High School alone, the year began with two unfilled math teacher positions, an unfilled Biology position, and an unfilled ELL position. Two physical education positions are also using covering teachers because two teachers are on medical leave. In October, the high school lost another math teacher, which, along with the Biology position, has since been filled at the start of 2024. The district is still covering teachers for the algebra and ELL classes. 

 “It was just wild,” said Micah Pope, a freshman taking one of those algebra classes that started the year with a substitute teacher. “When I found out [the covering teacher] wasn’t our teacher, what was the point of even trying?” 

Before an official teacher stepped in to take over the class, Pope said that he felt the lessons were repeated from last year’s work. “I’m not trying to do this again if everything’s the same.”

Teachers in the school have been covering extra classes since the beginning of the school year. Most teachers were not even getting paid for filling in classes at the beginning of the year, but as recently as two months ago, the district got board approval to pay those teachers covering those classes. Those teachers have since taken over the planning and teaching of those classes full-time.

“At first the kids were a little behind and still are a little behind on schedule for the year,” said Michael Kinsey, an algebra teacher who took on teaching one of the classes.  

Kinsey said he feels like he’s doing an extra service for the kids by taking on an extra class, and he can see how much the children appreciate the extra work he puts into teaching them.  “At the end of the day it feels a little more draining because you’re teaching 4 classes instead of 3,” Kinsey said, but he noted he is proud of the kids for their work.

Physical education teacher Melisa Morgan took on teaching an extra gym class “because it helps give students consistency.” She added, “It also helps ensure that the students get an accurate grade at the end of the semester. At the end of the day, it’s about the students getting what they need.”

Norristown’s struggle to find teachers to hire contributes to a larger problem. Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Officer Steve Willis spoke of the difficulty the district has in finding qualified teachers to take on these positions. “The number of educators as a whole is down across Pennsylvania,” said Mr. Willis, who pointed out that there is in general a decline in the number of certifications people are getting as well.

Willis’ comment is backed up by The Philadelphia Inquirer, which states that in 2012-2013 new teacher certificates in Pennsylvania were at 16,000, while in the 2021-2022 year, there were only 5,101 teaching certificates given out.

 “There are limits to the number of people who are available. I could say that not having the consistency of a teacher can be difficult, but you know that the work that we’re doing to fill those gaps is meaningful,” Mr. Willis said.

While there are several reasons teachers aren’t getting certified as much, Dr. Mcgriff does not believe that the pay is what dissuades teachers from applying to the district. “It’s competitive,” Mcgriff said of the pay. “They’re doing well. Your average teacher could earn six figures.”

With workloads heavy, Dr. Mcgriff suggests that if staff need extra support, they can go to the employee assistant program for “help and support.” Although there are support systems implemented, some teachers are still feeling exhausted from their work environments. And while some are getting paid for their time and commitment, others feel they are not being recognized for their work, which is affecting their mental health. 

ELL teacher Michelle Ewing believes different teachers or departments get different treatment when the district is understaffed. On top of her normal school day, Ms. Ewing also covers the ELL class that did not hire a teacher, but unlike the teachers covering the Algebra and Biology classes, she was not offered extra pay until two weeks ago. Ms. Ewing said she was told by the district administration that her position was “not a priority.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Yolanda Williams, has recognized this issue and the impact it has had nationwide on the district, and teachers’ payments, saying, ”In the Norristown Area School District, teachers’ compensation, including payments for missed preps and additional duties, is collectively bargained with the teachers’ union.” Due to privacy issues, she could not speak on individual teachers, but she said the administration was working with the union on this issue. 

Ewing says that she has less time to grade and prepare for classes. She believes people might not want to work at Norristown Area High School because of such circumstances, making it difficult to hire more teachers.  

 “It makes it a lot harder to come to school every day,” she said. “And I think it’s sad because my students and their parents don’t come here and complain, they don’t get help.” 

Mr. Willis says that there is a low number of teachers that teach E.L.L (English language learner) classes because those subjects require specific certifications that not a lot of people obtain.

Ms. Ewing says that if someone is looking for jobs and they see neighboring schools like Methacton and Upper Merion, “they’re not going to choose here first because of the pay, and the amount of class load [teachers] have.” 

The Wingspan does point out that according to GovSalaries, the teachers’ pay in Norristown is similar to the pay of those two districts.

  Mr. Willis backs these concerns, however, by saying that the workload and pay do scare away potential workers. “The cars, homes, families, your desire to have those things increases,” said Willis. “All those things cost money. So people are looking for opportunities to make more money. And education has not necessarily kept up with that.” With prices skyrocketing nowadays and with people struggling more than ever, teaching is not a career people deem dependable, pushing away potential teachers for districts.  

Even though the school has since tried to fix some of these issues, there is still so much more needed to be done for not only Norristown Area High School but the whole district, which are both still struggling to recover from the hit public schools took after the COVID-19 pandemic.  


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  • M

    Mr. BucciFeb 2, 2024 at 9:24 am

    What a timely, relevant, thorough, and informed article! I love how diligent you were in getting quotes from multiple sources/perspectives. This clearly took a lot of work!

  • K

    Kyle WilsonFeb 2, 2024 at 8:32 am

    As a former radio journalist, I commend you on your reporting in this article. Well done!