Understanding the National Teacher Shortage
The new school year is underway, and education leaders across the nation are ringing in the new season in a panic: there aren’t enough teachers to support their institutions. The president of the National Education Association, Becky Pringle called our current lack of classroom teachers a “five-alarm crisis.”
Educational researchers T. Nguyen, C. Lam, and P. Bruno recently published a working paper and website that reported on the current teacher shortage crisis in America. The findings suggested that there are currently an estimated 36,504 unfulfilled full-time teaching positions, but they believed this number could potentially reach a high of 52,800. Their report showed that Mississippi is at the top of the nine highest states with vacancy rates, having 68 missing teachers per 10,000 students for the 2021-2022 school year. For comparison, Utah, one of the lowest ranking states, had a vacancy rate of 1 for every 10,000 students.
In a national survey produced by Education Week, nearly 75% of principals and school district officials said that the number of teacher applicants was insufficient to fill their summer positions. In addition to the shortage of teacher applicants, current teachers are struggling and questioning their stay in the field. Conducted in June, a survey of nearly 2,400 members from The American Federation for Teachers reported that 79% of teachers were dissatisfied with their job, which is an astonishing increase from the 41% in 2020. Furthermore, the survey revealed that 40% of these teachers might leave their profession in the next two years, and 75% said they would not recommend their profession to others.
As these gaps continue to grow substantially, states fear the prediction of thousands of more unfulfilled teaching positions by 2025. But how did we get to this, and why is it all happening now?
The Build up
Teacher shortages are nothing new. They just have never been documented on such a large scale. Surprisingly, this is the first time the Working Paper has ever documented these vacancy numbers for all 50 states (including Washington, D.C.), meaning there is no comparable data. However, for the last 50 years, teaching as a profession has been plagued by shortages across the nation, and teacher wellness has been quietly diminishing. Due to the pandemic, the public has come to recognize teachers’ unhappiness. With increased workload demands, a decline in enrollment, stagnant wages, and a laughable work life balance, the overall respect and desirability for the profession has plummeted.
In a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, teachers’ weekly wages have increased only by $29 since 1996 when adjusted for inflation. This puts the average weekly wage for teachers at 33% less than other college graduates who, by comparison, have seen an average weekly increase of $445. These low wages and the rise of inflation paired with the increased stress of the profession has led to a new wave of teacher strikes across the nation.
“The wages of teachers have been absolutely flat, and the gap between them and other college-educated workers has grown,” says Jacqueline King, an AACTE research, policy and advocacy consultant and co-author of the 2022 report by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). “That has contributed, over a long period of time, to declining interest in teaching as a field, both in entering degree programs and in employment.” The belief that teachers can find their career satisfying and rewarding simply by doing well and influencing the next generation of young students just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The Pandemic’s Role
That said, the pandemic didn’t cause the crisis but worsened an already present inequality. Virtual learning, ongoing unrecognition, and unmotivated students perfectly coincided with a healthy boom in other job markets, ultimately motivating teachers out of the profession and onto something new, something better.
In their 2022 report, AACTE analyzed the last academic year that was prior to the coronavirus pandemic (2018-19) and concluded that “education preparation before the pandemic resulted in unexpected and widespread enrollment declines, budget cuts, and other challenges.” This confirms the slow, impending rise in teacher shortages worldwide.
So what are officials doing about the issue?
Over the past two years, several states have been trying to address this issue. New budget surpluses have enabled states like New Mexico, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi to pass bills to raise teacher salaries. Some schools are cutting the day entirely, resulting in 4-day school weeks. In Missouri, for instance, 25% of all districts will be on a 4-day schedule in the upcoming Fall. Other states, including New Mexico, Oregon, and Colorado, are also beginning to utilize this framework.
Others, such as Arizona, have tried dropping their certification requirements to make it easier for teachers without bachelor degrees to join a classroom. In Florida, a new law allows military service to count toward the requirement of a temporary teaching certificate, meaning that militants can enter the classroom without any prior experience. This raises a critical issue found in the 2022 report: there are currently 163,650 or 5% of “under qualified” educators who are teaching without certification or outside of their subject area. Some available data shows this number exceeding 20,000 per state.
This means that schools worry about warm bodies rather than teacher quality. It’s like patching another bandage on the holes of the American education system. So what now? Do we sit back and pull our children from school. Do we get them private educators? What about the teachers who love teaching but simply cannot work under the stress of unrealistic responsibilities?
Many teachers are switching to private tutoring or taking on small groups as an alternative in an attempt to continue doing what they love in a way that’s best suited for them. And shifting from teacher to private tutor is a small price to pay. Plus, there are platforms that exist for top-rated homeschooling that provide multiple services such as remote learning, test prep, academic enrichment programs, and special education.
These programs benefit parents also, by hiring the best private tutor so your child can enjoy online homeschooling in the comfort and safety of their own home.
But in the meantime, as we continue to attend school and learn from teachers in any capacity, show your teacher some extra love and appreciation for their dedication, hard work, and commitment to your education.