State Hiring Marketing Firm for Teacher Recruitment

The Alabama State Department of Education is upping its teacher recruitment efforts with a $3 million media and marketing contract with Big Communications in Birmingham.

“We need to do a whole rebranding of the teaching profession and specifically teaching in Alabama,” Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey said Monday.

Big Communications in 2013 helped the Alabama Department of Commerce launch its “Made in Alabama” branding campaign. Mackey said his department was impressed by that effort. Its work with Big began last year. The recruitment effort includes social media ad campaigns that are starting to play.

“We’ll do some paid advertising,” Mackey said. The target audience is young and potential teachers in the Southeast. They’ll be directed to a new recruitment page, We Teach Alabama.

Money for the effort comes from a supplemental appropriation last year and additional funding in the upcoming education budget. The department’s proposed contract with Big is for three years. Mackey said that will make the effort a long-term commitment.

“We think it will eventually help shift the paradigm,” Mackey said.

The state’s struggle to recruit and retain teachers was well documented prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic has made it worse.

“Every year, it gets a little more serious,” Mackey said. “This year, we had superintendents in areas that are not really rural who had a hard time locating even elementary teachers.”

Mackey described the shortages of math, science and special education teachers as “acute.”

He said he talked to leaders at a rural system recently who had no certified teachers for an entire middle school grade.

“They’re working with people on emergency certificates, but it’s really not good to have kids going to schools and not having fully qualified teachers in the classroom,” Mackey said.

The 2022 education budget includes about $100 million worth of bonuses for math and science teachers who agree to teach in hard-to-fill locations, including rural and high-poverty school systems. The bonuses would be about $15,000 per year for middle and high school teachers.

Separately, lawmakers next year are increasing some step raises, those increases built into educators’ salary structures.

Senate education budget committee chairman Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has previously said some of the former step raises were “ridiculously low.”  They’ve all been raised to a minimum of 2%. That will cost about $30 million.

National surveys have shown that Alabama’s pay for young teachers is comparable to or even better than surrounding states, but it lags when they get further in their careers.