HOUSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WDHN) — Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama was in the middle of a teacher shortage, but recent studies show that the shortage is now even worse than before.

According to the Alabama Commission of Higher Education, part of the problem is a large number of students are not seeking degrees in education or teaching while they are in college. This comes at the same time teachers in Alabama are planning to leave their jobs sooner than expected due to early retirement during the pandemic.

For the past 24 years, Amanda Smith has been teaching sixth grade English at Rehobeth Middle School. Coming from a family of teachers, she remembered wanting to step into the field during a college course.

“I had a great English teacher,” Smith said. “Her name was Betty Hodgson, and one day sitting in her class, I was like, I want to teach English.”

Taking that passion early on and making it into a life-long career. Smith tells WDHN News there are definitely hard days but even on the hardest of days knowing the impact she has on a student, makes it all the while.

“A kid brought me a Christmas card, and she said when I make it big as a writer, I’m going to put you in my book because she said you taught me how to express myself with words, Smith said. “Little things like that you remember alright okay, I can do it another year.”

The number of students earning a college degree in education has fallen 58% since 2003, according to ACHE. Many college students say testing requirements for teacher certifications are part of the deterrent.

This is why states like Mississippi and Georgia did away with those requirements.

But that testing hasn’t stopped one student from wanting to follow in Mrs. Smiths’ footsteps, after having had Mrs. Smith as a teacher.

“I am so glad to see her still teaching because I think she was one of my favorites and she was just so impactful,” Hannah Chancey said.

Chancey, a senior at Troy University, knew when she was just in first grade that she wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Now, with just a semester left in college, she’s eager to enter the classroom and to say she did it.

“Hey mom look I made it, I did it, and being able to walk into the classroom and see my future babies and say guess what you can do this too,” Chancey said.

More teachers are needed in every single school district across the Wiregrass.

Dothan City Schools has 16 job openings for certified teachers, Geneva City Schools has 13, Enterprise City Schools has eight, and Houston County Schools has five. With teachers having to go above and beyond the classroom these days, those positions are harder to fill.

“It’s not just well that’s not my job,” Smith said. “Everybody considers well this is part of my job, even things that didn’t use to be considered, this is what you do when you teach. Now it’s sort of a new definition.”

This is why the ACHE is requesting that a teacher development package to incentivize new hires be presented when the state legislature meets in January.

“If you feel like it is your calling you shouldn’t ignore that because you are created to be an impact on somebody’s life,” Smith said.

Both Smith and Chancey encourage anyone looking to step into the teaching field to make that jump now. They say there is no greater accomplishment than seeing students succeed and become leaders of the future.