FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — 7News is tracking the impact of a national teacher shortage as school districts across the country and the DMV try to staff up before the first day of school.
"There are just a lot more teacher vacancies than we've ever seen in the past," said David Walrod, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. "Colleges are sending out fewer teachers, teachers are leaving the profession in droves. The past two years have been very difficult in a lot of ways."
Walrod, who began working as an FCPS teacher in 2010, says it's an issue that goes beyond Fairfax County.
"Much bigger than Fairfax," he said. "This is really something we're seeing across the Commonwealth and across the nation."
SEE ALSO: Montgomery County Public Schools working to fill 700+ positions before first day of class
On Thursday, Fairfax County Public Schools held a hiring event it called Teacher Interview Day, part of a ramped-up effort to bring in more educators before the first day of school on August 22.
"The job fair today, we welcomed in about 150 applicants who are eager to set foot in one of our classrooms," said Sherry Wilson, FCPS' Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources.
Wilson told 7News that as of last week, FCPS classrooms were 97 percent staffed. This week, she says, they're up to 98 percent of classrooms being staffed. But in the largest school system in Virginia, with more than 180,000 students, those remaining vacancies still represent a large number.
"There are still hundreds of positions open," Walrod said.
Leslie Houston, who is president of the Fairfax Education Association, echoed that concern.
"While 97, 98 percent of our classrooms are filled, a three or two percent vacancy in a county this large is still concerning," Houston told 7News. "And we can't put this shortage on the backs of our current teachers, or we're going to lose more of them."
FCPS has not provided a specific number when it comes to current openings for teachers. Wilson noted that they're working to hire more teachers every day.
7News also spoke to 23-year-old Christiana Edinborough, who is preparing to start her first full year as an FCPS teacher.
"From the outside perspective, people think there's a lot of pressure on us [teachers], but when you're in it, it doesn't feel like that, because you're always supported," Edinborough said. "I feel like we just need people who care for the kids."
She attended George Mason University and says teaching wasn't really on her radar until she got involved with a program in which she helped tutor FCPS students.
"I just loved the kids, I loved interacting with them, loved making math fun for them, so I decided after I graduated to go back to George Mason and do their teacher program, their teacher prep masters program," Edinborough explained.
She did her student teaching last fall with FCPS, then was hired on for the spring semester. For the 2022-2023 school year, she'll be working as a math teacher at Annandale High School. 7News asked what she would say to someone who may be interested in becoming a teacher.
"I'm not going to sit here and say teaching is super easy, because there are hard days," she said. "But once you're doing it, you can see the kids change daily and how much they grow and open up to you. It's just amazing."
To learn more about the requirements for becoming an FCPS teacher, click here.
In a recent letter to FCPS families, Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid said the school district was working to continue to fill remaining teacher vacancies and ensure there's a licensed educator in every classroom:
While our community is grappling with an educator shortage we, here in FCPS, have plans in place to address the remaining vacancies. These plans are student-centered and designed to meet the needs of all our students. For schools who might still have vacancies at the end of the summer, parents and staff will get additional information about how these classes will be covered directly from your school.
7News asked FCPS what those contingency plans will look like.
"We are prepared to send properly licensed individuals from central office staff into our classrooms where necessary. Of course we are hoping that is not the case, that we won't have to do that, but we are fully prepared to do that if necessary," Wilson said, adding that the specifics may look a bit different from school to school.
"We are working with each one of our schools on a case-by-case basis," she said.
Walrod, with the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, expressed concern about central office staff possibly be called on to fill teacher vacancies in the classroom.
"It means those central office staff aren't going to be available to support teachers like they normally would. They're not going to be able to do some of the other work they would typically be doing," he said. "And from the perspective of the student, that means there's going to be some level of uncertainty, not knowing if the teacher in front of them is going to be there for the whole year."
As for why he thinks so many teachers are leaving the profession right now, Walrod believes there are several factors at play.
"The past two years," he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on school systems. "And we've seen all over the place, that some people are trying to politicize and demonize teachers."
To view current FCPS job openings, click here. August 22 is the first day of school in Fairfax County.