Can New Teachers Sustain Enthusiasm Amid Wichita Teacher Shortage? One Educator’s Story

By Trace Salzbrenner, The Wichita Beacon.

Wichita Public Schools started the 2022-23 school year 100 teachers short — a trend that matched many school districts across the country. Many teachers reported burnout and dissatisfaction with their jobs. Older teachers retired early while stressed, early-career teachers sought new professions, leading to the Wichita teacher shortage.

The state of Kansas started to pass laws and regulations to make teacher and substitute teacher requirements easier. That effort has not ended. In April, Kansas joined other states in agreeing to accept out-of-state licenses to ease hiring out-of-state teachers.

In addition, the school district started “staying interviews” that were designed to learn what can be improved to meet the needs of their teachers, instead of only learning from teachers who have left through exit interviews.

At the end of this school year, USD 259 is reporting that teacher retention has improved slightly.

“USD 259 is not seeing a rise in resignations/retirements after the completion of the 22-23 school year over previous years,” Sean Hudspeth, WPS chief human resources officer, told The Wichita Beacon in an email.

USD 259 has also adjusted its recruitment strategy to help mitigate any shortage that might occur in the upcoming school year.

“Our recruiting season for the 23-24 school year started ramping up back in January of this year.  Our busiest time for securing staff was this past spring when we attended over 65 different events that spanned over 21,000 miles of travel to recruit teachers to USD 259,” Hudspeth said.

Back in August, The Wichita Beacon spoke with Hannah Newman as she began her first year teaching. She was enthusiastic to begin her position as an eighth grade teacher at John Marshall Middle School.

Now that she’s completed her first year, we went back to ask Newman if her enthusiasm is still there and what can be done to make sure it stays with other teachers. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How was your first year of teaching at Wichita Public Schools?

Actually, this year wasn’t that tough at all, which is weird coming from a first-year teacher, but I felt very supported. I was supported by my principal Pancho Bustos for everything. He would come check in and say, “Hey, do you need anything?” or ask if I was doing OK. I always felt like I could go to him with anything and I think that made a lot of the stress of the first year better.

Was that common for you? To feel supported by the administration?

The way that they talked to me here, you could tell that they respect you and respect your time. I know that Pancho is big about making time for your family and stuff out of the school. He was always family first and not job first.

When I started I was worried about things being thrown at me like, “OK, here you go. Good luck.” But the people here would come first and ask to help you first. I would watch other teachers and ask questions and just learn fast. If they wouldn’t have done that, I would have not been on the same page as the rest of the building.

Is the culture here at Marshall different from other places you have been? 

Yes. I have worked at one other school as a paraprofessional and been to observe others as a student teacher, but there does seem to be a good connection here. There is a good connection between parents and teachers and students.

They offer things like Spanish classes for teachers to help communicate. Parents know teachers on a first-name basis. And I am switching classrooms to seventh grade math for next year and students offered to help me move my stuff. The culture is good here.

Do you feel safe working here at this school? 

I mean, I think it’s something on everyone’s minds. With school shootings and everything, it does come up. However, they do a lot here to make sure everyone is safe. They have the doors out front that you have to be let in and every other door is locked.

I have seen in other schools too, students harming their teachers. I haven’t seen that happen here. Yeah, sometimes they’ll say something dumb, but not to the degree I have seen it elsewhere. So in this building I do feel safe and I trust the people I work with.

As a teacher, what do you hope the new superintendent can accomplish in Wichita? 

Mostly, I want them to do a good enough job that I do not have to worry about them. Dr. (Alicia) Thompson did a great job and made me and other new teachers feel so welcomed so I hope the new superintendent does that.

I also hope he also supports his principals. My principal has made my experience better and I want to see him supported and helped as well.

What would make you feel supported in your role for years to come?

I can see how a teacher would be burned out if they did this for multiple years and never got a raise or increase in compensation somehow. This is a tough spot to fill and the best way to keep me here is to help me feel supported.

And, I do feel supported after my first year. I am excited to try out teaching seventh grade. If I had any advice to new teachers it would be to ask the questions and use the support channels your school gives you. That is how you don’t burn out quickly.




This story was originally published by The Wichita Beacon, an online news outlet focused on local, in-depth journalism in the public interest.

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Photo credit: Hannah Newman, after being asked by her principal if she wanted to, decided to switch classes after her first year to try something new. Here, she already starts unpacking for the next school year. (Trace Salzbrenner/The Wichita Beacon)


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