Nationwide, schools are starting the academic year trying to fill vacancies of educators, principals, and other support staff. In Arizona, college students can begin teaching in public schools without a degree if they are enrolled in courses (Arizona Governor). Florida veterans with no teaching experience or degree can become educators as they earn one (Florida Department of Education). And some Texas districts are shortening the school week to four days a week (Texas Tribune). Loosening standard education requirements and changing the school week are workarounds to a teacher retention crisis where educators are leaving the classroom.
Short-staffed schools are not new. For years, teachers have been going on strike and leaving the profession in response to the underfunding of public education, low wages, and lack of resources and support from administrators and parents (EPI). States like Michigan and Missouri have struggled with teacher retention and attracting recruits since pre-pandemic. These inequitable work conditions have been exacerbated by recent events, including mass shootings, inconsistent COVID-19 guidelines, political bans, and cultural debates on classroom dynamics.
• Support a teacher or classroom to get the necessary supplies and resources to help facilitate learning.
• Contact your state legislators and demand they pass the RAISE Act.
• Sign this petition to support the striking educators in Columbus, Ohio.
At the end of the previous school year, 79% of surveyed teachers reported dissatisfaction with their work conditions (Hart Research). And nearly one in four teachers said they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year, with Black teachers most likely to leave (RAND). Shortages of qualified educators impact the entire education system but especially affects districts in low-income and Black and Brown communities (EPI).
Due to “vast disparities in public school funding,” qualified teachers often opt for whiter, higher-income schools that offer more flexibility, support, and better working conditions (The ARD). Schools with more students of color and poor students have lower-credentialed or novice teachers and instructors with no educational background in their current subject (e.g., a P.E. teacher instructing social studies). These schools also have the most teacher turnover (Learning Policy Institute). Now, the teacher retention crisis is starting to affect “wealthier, whiter districts” after impacting “traditionally under-resourced” districts of color for decades (Vox). Yet, as some states lift teaching requirements, the fear is that these “less experienced teachers” will not be evenly distributed and still only get funneled into “schools that serve more students of color and children from low-income families” (Education Week).
The dire need to fill teaching vacancies follows similar workforce trends of employers unable to attract and hire prospective employees. As a result, school systems are seeing a surplus of openings in the thousands, even in regions not known for shortages, due to unaddressed issues that have consistently plagued public education.
On average, teachers make $2,150 less than they did 10 years ago when adjusted for inflation. Although they’re often not earning a livable wage, they’re forced to supplement inadequate classroom supplies and resources from their paychecks (National Education Association). More recently, teachers have found themselves targets of “political and ideological attacks” as conservatives rally against critical race theory and “controversial” books (Hart Research). Coupled with a lack of support from administrators and parents, educators are increasingly burnt out and “desperate for relief” (NEA).
“[Teachers] still love their jobs, want to be there for their students … love teaching, love leading schools,” Elizabeth Steiner, education and public policy researcher and co-author of the RAND report, said. “For many of them, it’s the context that they are teaching in, not teaching itself, that they find to be stressful and difficult” (KCUR News).
Teaching is becoming less sustainable. Educators are expected to serve as bodyguards and mental health advocates while receiving inadequate support for the main job they’re supposed to fulfill (Learning Policy Institute). To attract and retain teachers, the profession itself has to be valued. Unorthodox solutions presented by state officials fail to remedy the teacher retention crisis but add to the devaluing of teachers and education. Acknowledging the pressure and high demands of being an educator by raising salaries, providing equitable funding for public education, recruiting qualified teachers, and investing in their mental health and wellness are just a few long-term ways to address the shortage. Quick fixes harm students in the long run (RAND). In their careers, one teacher can affect hundreds of students’ lives, even those they never meet. So we must honor our teachers today to transform tomorrow.
• Thousands of educator vacancies remain open ahead of the new school year.
• Teacher shortages have always affected marginalized communities.
• Mistreatment of educators not only affects them but also students and the quality of education.