By: Khadeejah Memon
Teacher turnover and shortages are nothing new, but with teachers leaving the career in droves in recent years, it begs the question of why so many teachers nationwide are feeling pulled in this direction. What is different about the past two years compared to previous years that is prompting this massive teacher turnover and shortage? Could COVID be a contributing factor?
According to The Washington Post, “Sixty percent of [principals grappling with turnover] said they had faced open support-staff positions since the start of the pandemic, and almost 50 percent cited unfilled teaching jobs. Principals also reported losing positions for teachers and staff.” Reluctance to get vaccinated to return to school is cited as one of the top reasons for this sudden spike in turnover. The Post also reported that “Brian Fleischman, a principal in Overton, Neb. [...] recalls that five years ago, he would get 50 to 100 applications for each elementary school teaching job that came open. This year, his opening for a second-grade teacher drew five applications.” The shortages reported on in The Post’s article all seem to stem from continued COVID-related frustrations.
A Politico article also aimed to get to the bottom of this problem. Politico first determined that the problem was a pipeline issue and a long time coming due to steady decline over the past 10 years. Politico also suggested that during the initial COVID quarantine, time at home allowed teachers to find new passions or to pursue old ones, only to find they’d rather follow those dreams. In addition, the added time to reflect and ask “Is this job right for me?” could have aided in driving many teachers out of the familiar arms of teaching and into other career paths.
After examining a variety of reports released by New York City schools, Spectrum News 1 found that the city’s current teacher shortage started back in 2008, but a more rapid decline began in the 2011-2012 school year due to a variety of factors, such as lack of respect from administration, parents, and students, in addition to a lack of benefits.
In 2019, The Economic Policy Institute published an article focusing on the dangers of this teacher shortage. According to The Institute, economically disadvantaged schools are suffering the most from this shortage of certified teachers. They report, “Lack of sufficient, qualified teachers and staff instability threaten students’ ability to learn and reduce teachers’ effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. The teacher shortage makes it more difficult to build a solid reputation for teaching and to professionalize it, which further contributes to perpetuating the shortage.” The article names three leading reasons for this teacher shortage: vaccine mandates, declining enrollment in teacher preparation classes, and insufficient wages set by the districts in contracts that take time to negotiate.
On top of that, there simply aren’t enough teachers available to fill the quickly emptying spots. As early as the 2011-2012 school year, the demand for teachers rose to a number higher than the number of qualified teachers available. The predicted demand for teachers is said to be over 300,000 by the year 2025, while the supply will continue to drop below 200,000 by the same year.
A NYSUT article stated, “As state officials estimate New York will need more than 180,000 new teachers in the next decade, the teacher shortage is already hitting selected subject specialties and geographic areas.” Their study found that large city and rural districts with increased poverty rates and racially diverse students are much more likely to face challenges in finding qualified teachers and in keeping those teachers - especially due to retirement rates being up by 33%.
While COVID may have served as a catalyst in the teacher shortage facing the United States today, the problem dates back much farther. Insufficient pay, emotionally and physically taxing school environments, increased retirement rates, weak professional development support, and lack of benefits, recognition, and respect nationwide are widely cited as the biggest contributors to the ongoing teacher shortage. To combat this problem, schools need increased funding, especially in schools serving impoverished communities, teacher pay needs to increase to reflect inflation and a high cost of living, and, at a more basic level, efforts need to be taken to support and listen to teachers’ needs on a larger scale.
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