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Nevada official laments teacher, staff shortages ahead of back-to-school season

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(NEW YORK) -- As students plan a return to the classroom, gearing up with new notebooks and cool backpacks, some schools could still be trying to find their teachers.

The labor shortage hit schools especially hard last year and now some states are warning that hundreds of teaching positions for this fall remain unfilled.

In Nevada, officials say thousands of teaching jobs are vacant across the state.

Dawn Etcheverry, a public school music teacher and the president of the Nevada State Education Association, spoke to ABC News’ “Start Here” about what the teacher shortage can mean for the upcoming school year.

START HERE: Is Nevada worried about the fall semester?

ETCHEVERRY: Yeah, right now we're tracking over 3,000 jobs that are on our job board. We don't have teachers for the classrooms, and I'm worried about lunch workers who aren't going to be there to serve our kids meals that they need and have missed throughout the summer.

And in our second-largest district, we don't have bus drivers to start the school year. So kids will already go on a rotation of one week without a bus driver every four weeks.

START HERE: Wow. As a kid who grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey I took the bus every day to school… I can’t imagine what my family would’ve done if that wasn’t an option.

ETCHEVERRY: Right, probably since you rode the bus, you know that the bus driver greeted you every morning. We call them our first educator because they're the first person that greets a child every morning.

Now they're working in rotation so that the bus driver doesn't even get to know the children that route because every week the change routes. If a child had a bad day, started off a bad morning, they don't have the same face they get every morning greeting them.

Also, the driver sometimes knows if there's an issue they need to alarm the schools about; it's a safety issue because our educators are the ones who make that personal contact with the child. So you're now not giving them the same person every day.

START HERE: And so... if there aren’t enough teachers, how is that going to affect the average school day?

ETCHEVERRY: Right. So if we had bus drivers to get them to school, we'd have classes that are doubled in size.

And we know that COVID brought us into a situation where children's social emotional learning was a big issue. We were isolated. Children weren't getting the time they needed with that adult or other children.

So now you have teachers doubling their class sizes. So children aren't getting that need met.

START HERE: You’ve dealt with large classroom sizes in the past. How has that affected your teaching?

ETCHEVERRY: It made it hard for me in my music classroom to get to instruments because it's hard to spend time one-on-one teaching a child how to do a fingering on a recorder when you've got 40 sitting in your classroom.

Or let's talk about a geometry teacher in a high school who now has 48 kids and they're trying to read all the proofs. Or an English teacher who has to read all those essays and they're following their curriculum.

They want those kids to learn. So they're putting in how many hours outside their job to make sure kids are getting their day spent?

START HERE: What do you think is the reason behind the shortage?

ETCHEVERRY: We have a legislature that meets every two years and that's where we get our funding. And we are not competitive.

ETCHEVERRY: Our salaries are some of the lowest in the nation. So we're not bringing in the new educators we need because, if you come here, you can't afford to live here.

So it's a cry that we need to start addressing to bring up salaries and benefits.

I think nationally: Respect. We've seen educator respect go pretty low… School boards [are] being attacked over curriculum or not teaching.

I think we need to really focus on what a teacher does, or what an educator does, what a bus driver does, what a food service [does], what they're there for - and that's for children.

Nobody came into this to make millions. We came in this because that was where our hearts led us to and all we want is to be respected for that.

START HERE: That’s Dawn Etcheverry, teacher and president of the Nevada State Education Association.

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