Teachers Throughout the Commonwealth Using Alternative Means to Get Licensed and Fill Vacancies

Virginia wasn’t an outlier in learning or teacher loss in the wake of the pandemic. But new teacher licensure programs, backed with state funds, are hoping to curb the lack of educators parts of the Commonwealth face. 


Here in Highland County, vacancies are listed for an elementary administrator, elementary secretary, two special education teachers, two elementary teachers, a music teacher, and a middle school English teacher. This may seem like a lower number of vacancies in larger districts, but with only one class per grade in Highland’s rural setting these open positions are a worrisome trend. Administration has said they have applications and are currently performing interviews. With the administrator position, no job description is given on the website, leaving many to believe that this might be a blended position. 


Highland isn’t the only school system that is trying to think outside the box. Many teachers and support staff at schools throughout the commonwealth are moving into positions with backgrounds in other industries.


For example, Turner Penton is a tech ed teacher at Tucker High School in Henrico County. In the past he was a prison guard, worked in retail, but had his longest stint working in a daycare center. But now, helping kids get socially and mentally adjusted to the real world, he’s thrilled to be working in a space where he feels like he’s making real impacts. 


“As a teacher it’s like, ‘Yes, your job is necessary.’ Like, these kids need somebody who can balance for them that free expression, while conforming to what society wants.”


Teacher vacancy rates are just below 4% according to the Virginia Department of Education, but the state is working with local school divisions to help address the issue. Among hopeful solutions is the Grown Your Own program which funds teacher apprenticeship programs to help promote educators already in the community. 


Penton is using the iteach program, a digital licensing system that started in the state last summer. With over 650 future teachers in the pipeline across 62 divisions, they’re expecting their first class of fully-licensed teachers by the end of this school year. 


Notably, the teacher vacancy rate has stayed stagnant for the last two years, and it’s worse than the 2021 school year where it was closer to 3%. Still, Department of Education spokesman Todd Reid said they’re hopeful the multipronged licensure approach may offer a light at the end of an understaffing tunnel. 


“There’s absolutely a light there to fill these positions, and bring in great teachers and have great folks there, but they’ve got to concentrate on it and make it a priority.”


The state distributed over $1.5 million to 24 school divisions through the Grow Your Own program earlier this year. Another wave of funding is expected in the coming weeks.


Our thanks to Virginia Public Radio for help with reporting on this story. 

Story By


Brit Chambers

Brit Chambers is a resident of Highland County, Virginia and a news reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio. She loves living in a small town and relishes the outdoor adventures and community feeling that Highland has to offer. Brit has a background in journalism, marketing, and public relations and spends her free time reading good books, baking sourdough bread, and hiking with her family.

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