Retired Kanawha County teacher comes back amid shortage

Kanawha County, the state’s largest school district, continues to feel the pinch of the teacher shortage, most recently sitting at 145 teaching vacancies in August 2022.
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 7:09 PM EDT
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia reported 1,200 teacher vacancies in 2021.

Kanawha County, the state’s largest district, continues to feel the pinch, most recently sitting at 145 teaching vacancies.

The district has taken several measures to combat the issue, including asking some retired teachers to head back to the classroom, including Debbie Pauley, who just started her 44th year of teaching in Kanawha County Schools.

“I started 43 years ago in first grade and in those 43 years I taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade,” she recalled.

“I stayed [at Flinn Elementary] for 39 years and then I switched to Shoals Elementary and retired with my best friend that was teaching kindergarten there.”

She retired at the end of the 2021-2022 school year but this year she is back in her comfort zone, out of retirement, teaching kindergarten at Flinn Elementary in Sissonville.

“This is my love. When I retired, I thought, ‘I’m not going to have a classroom to open up this year’” she said. “So when [the principal] asked me if I would come back and if I’d do it, I said ‘gladly.’”

Her influence can also be felt throughout the halls of Flinn, noting she teaches with at least two former students.

“It makes me very proud to see these young people I had at five and six years old turn into educators, because that makes me proud that they wanted to be an educator like I was,” she said.

However, fewer and fewer young people are following in Pauley’s footsteps. WSAZ’s Investigation, “Where are the Teachers?” found half of West Virginia’s eight teacher prep colleges saw fewer than 20 teaching graduates this past year.

“It makes me sad that we don’t have more people wanting to be teachers, but I think it gave me a chance to work again. I hope in the future people want to be teachers because it is one of the best, most rewarding professions,” she said. “You may not always get the credit you think you deserve but when you see a child who comes up to you and hugs you, tells you they love you, that is worth everything.”

For Pauley, coming out of retirement also signals a second chance to finish her career on her own terms.

She said she contracted COVID-19 before the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year and while she was not hospitalized, she said the experience concerned her enough she requested to teach remotely the entirety of that year.

In spite of the glimpses of normalcy during the 2021-2022 school year, she still felt some uncertainty -- leaving her hopeful for her second chance.

“I just want to be able to get in there and teach them and not have to worry do they have their iPads, do I need to prepare this or that to take home?” she said.

While this fall is going different than Pauley planned, she said she is happy to help Kanawha’s youngest minds.

“There’s no annoyance. In fact, I missed it so badly I thought ‘I really made a mistake doing [retirement]. I really want to be back in the classroom,’ so I’m not annoyed at all, I feel like I am worth something, when I’m with these children because they make me feel like what I’m doing, is worthwhile,” she said. “I’m very glad for the privilege to be back. I prayed each night, ‘Lord, if I’m meant to be back in the classroom, work it out’ and here I am.”

Pauley said she will re-evaluate at the end of the school year if she will retire for good.

The state’s latest vacancy numbers are expected in October.