New York State is facing a "looming teacher shortage" that educators say has already started to impact instruction in Western New York.
New York State United Teachers points to a "perfect storm" of factors contributing to the shortage.
Enrollment in teacher education programs across the state has dropped 47 percent since 2009, according to NYSUT. To make matters worse, NYS Teacher Retirement System projects that one-third of current teachers in the state could retire in the next five years.
"That means that New York State will need about 180,000 teachers in the next decade," explained Michelle Licht. "And we just don't have that many people who are going into education."
Licht is president of Williamsville Teachers Association and serves on NYSUT's board of directors. She's a teacher at Dodge Elementary.
She says most districts in WNY are already seeing shortages when it comes to substitute teachers. That forces teachers to cover classes during lunch or free periods to be sure students don't fall behind.
"I think there are a lot of possible reasons for the decline in candidates entering teacher education programs," she said. "I think that teaching is not as attractive of a profession as it has been in the past."
NYSUT launched a new campaign this fall called "Take a Look at Teaching". Its purpose is to encourage college, middle and high school students to consider careers in teaching and connect people to resources to help make an informed decision.
The "Take a Look at Teaching" campaign also includes summits being organized across the state to bring stakeholders together to discuss the teacher shortage and what can be done to fix it before it does real damage.
7 Eyewitness News sat down with teachers in Williamsville to learn more about why they got into teaching, what challenges the profession is facing and how they look to encourage young people to become teachers.