“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” — Jacques Barzun
The teacher shortage in the United States has been a serious issue debated for many years. Even though education is one of the most important sectors for a country’s development, there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers.
According to a Forbes article from December 30, 2022, more than 500,000 teachers in the US have left their jobs since the start of 2020, with a drop-out rate of 9.1% as opposed to the typical 8%.
The Learning Policy Institute predicts that the country will require approximately 316,000 new teachers per year for the next decade to meet the demand for qualified educators.
How long can the remaining “brave souls” hold the crumbling fortress together to keep the nation’s educational system from collapsing?
In August 2022, a study on the latest available state data discovered that approximately 200,000 teaching positions across the country needed to be filled or were occupied by underqualified teachers hired due to a lack of qualified applicants.
These teachers are disproportionately concentrated in schools catering to low-income families and students of color, imparting substandard instruction to those needing it the most. Moreover, these teachers leave their jobs in their first year at a rate twice that of fully-prepared teachers, leading to a decline in student achievement and worsening the teacher shortage as departing teachers need to be replaced.
Since the pandemic, an alarmingly high number of teachers have been indicating their intentions to quit their jobs. According to a national survey conducted in January 2022, 90% of teachers reported burnout, 74% had to cover absent colleagues or take on extra duties due to staff shortages, and over 55% planned to leave the education sector sooner than planned.
Meanwhile, the influx of new teachers has been dwindling for several years, with enrollment in teacher education programs decreasing by more than a third between 2008 and 2019. The sharpest decline occurred in fields with the highest demand, such as math, science, bilingual education, and special education.
The Department of Education has reported that for the current school year, all 50 states have experienced shortages in more than one area, including a lack of special education teachers in 48 states, science teachers in 46 states, and math teachers in 44 states.
Why the Shortage?
The scarcity of teachers is a multifaceted issue that stems from several causes. Factors such as inadequate compensation, unfavorable working conditions, lack of professional growth opportunities, and a general lack of regard associated with the profession are compelling teachers to quit and deter people from pursuing teaching as a career.
Although the pandemic has contributed to teacher attrition, the US has experienced a high teacher turnover rate over the past two decades. In 2021, teachers earned salaries that were 23.5% lower than those of other college graduates, despite working the same number of hours. Furthermore, teacher salaries have remained almost stagnant since 1996, while other college-educated workers have seen a 30% wage increase.
Although compensation is a significant factor in attracting and retaining teachers, poor teaching conditions, such as long hours and large class sizes, are often cited as the primary reasons for leaving the profession.
Teachers even work long hours outside of school, with most of their planning and grading done at home, and they have class sizes beyond the ideal ratio.
Other factors contributing to teacher attrition include:
- Test-based accountability policies.
- Lack of influence over school policies and practices.
- Lack of autonomy in the classroom.
- Inadequate opportunities to collaborate with colleagues.
- Limited opportunities for leadership or professional advancement.
During his appearance on the School Success Makers’ podcast, Brian DeGonzague, the principal of Imagine Schools West Melbourne in Florida, expressed concern about the lack of respect that teachers are receiving despite their tremendous effort and dedication to their profession. “We’re seeing situations where teachers are feeling disrespected. They’re not getting the level of respect that they’re putting forth so much effort, and they’re pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into this career every single day.”
During the State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden called for the use of pandemic relief and recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) and other federal funds to address teacher shortages, including Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER), Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER), and Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEERF) funds.
The Department of Education proposed several solutions for policymakers and school districts, including establishing teaching as a Registered Apprenticeship and investing in evidence-based teacher residency programs.
In addition, policymakers could establish or expand loan forgiveness or service scholarship programs and increase teacher compensation by providing a competitive wage, including increasing starting salaries and teacher salary caps. Additionally, policymakers could increase the number of teaching residency programs and program capacity to allow teacher residents to serve in schools as substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, or tutors during their academic schedules.
Finally, institutions could use HEERF institutional funds to expand teacher training programs in response to the pandemic by hiring additional faculty and staff, providing stipends, scholarships, or other student aid, and creating different course offerings.
The scarcity of teachers affects the teaching profession. It undermines the education system’s goal of providing equitable and excellent education to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status or demographic characteristics. This teacher shortage hinders student learning.
Teachers’ importance to students and society cannot be emphasized enough. Teaching provides the basis for all other professions, making exceptional teachers essential for fostering outstanding learners who are curious, imaginative, and equipped to confront the significant challenges of today and the future. Investing in teachers is a valuable investment in the future of our children and society.
Without effective policies to address the factors that lead to teacher attrition and recruitment challenges and to value the teaching profession, the shortage is likely to persist and worsen.
Continue to visit the School Success Makers for more useful education topics.