Right now, the U.S. education system is experiencing an alarming teacher shortage crisis and the possibility of attracting new talent to replace those transitioning looks grim. At the start of 2022, teaching vacancies were heavily driven by resignations (51%), followed by retirement (21%) across 44% of public schools nationwide. As more teachers embrace transitioning out of the public education system, it is clearly time for a new approach to influence positive changes in our schools, students, and the overall teaching profession.
What is Causing the Teacher Shortage and Public Education Crisis?
The causes of teacher shortages vary depending on who is a part of the discussion. However, there are recurring themes that remain prominent in the education industry. Many teachers reference one or more of the following reasons for leaving:
Burnout due to high stress and long hours
Limited educational resources
An increasing lack of support from administrators and the overall education system
Unsafe learning environments (lack of student discipline, school shootings, aggressive parents)
An inability to work on and teach innovative curricula
While this list is not the full picture, it offers insight into what teachers are up against. A profession once held in high regard has become a punching bag for critics. Recent headlines range from declarations made that ‘anyone can teach’ to districts announcing their intentions to lower certification requirements to fill the many vacancies. These actions undoubtedly add to the strains teachers were already experiencing following the stresses of teaching (or trying to) during the Covid-19 pandemic, while still faced with limited resources and support.
The nation’s largest union, representing roughly three million educators, the National Education Association (NEA), surveyed its members on the main issues they faced during the pandemic in January 2022. Highlights from the survey showed that:
74% of members had to fill in for colleagues due to shortages
91% indicated that pandemic-related stress significantly affected educators
86% of members indicated seeing more of their colleagues resigning or retiring than before the pandemic
The pandemic further highlighted the seriousness of the problems the public education system faces.
Virtual Learning and the Pandemic
The pandemic pounced on the world, affecting us all personally and professionally. Teachers became a large part of the job exodus movement coined the Great Resignation as the pandemic took its toll. As we were all forced to adjust to remote living and working at the height of Covid-19 restrictions, teachers found themselves in unique situations.
Already impacted by limited resources, many teachers saw teaching and learning decline rapidly as a move to online learning took place. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 77% of public schools provided online learning during Spring 2020. This was a sharp increase from the 2017-2018 school year when 21% of public schools reported offering online classes.
Online learning included self-paced and real-time learning. However, imagine the challenges faced with suddenly being thrown into teaching hundreds of children online without the appropriate support systems to engage, track, and even assess students’ well-being. The isolation caused by social distancing measures were detrimental to young people's mental health, as well as teachers, so additional supports were often needed but not readily provided.
To further compound the issues with the online learning process were the requirements teachers were still expected to meet regarding the preparation of students for standardized testing, while still directed by culturally irrelevant curricula. Studies show that, on average, teachers are spending between $500 and $1,000 of their own money to provide needed supplies for their classrooms. These supplies range from the basic pens and pencils, books, to even curriculum and software that teachers use to make learning more engaging, fun, and, of course, relevant.
The pandemic and the challenges raised really highlighted how unseen and unsupported teachers felt. So, the real surprise should be how more teachers have not already left a profession that has so persistently ignored their needs and that of students. Faced with the extensive learning loss despite their best efforts, along with continued health safety concerns, and ongoing anti-teacher narratives, the pandemic helped to push the public education system even further along into a crisis.
The Current State of Public Education and the Teaching Profession
The current education system is in a state of uncertainty. There are several issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure that all students have access to a quality education. The growing teacher shortage is a problem because it can lead to larger class sizes, less individualized attention for students, and a general decline in the quality of education.
Teachers in public schools have been underpaid and understaffed for years. Despite being amongst the most educated workers, a recent report by the United States Census Bureau found that teacher salaries are actually declining since 2010. The teacher pipeline also leaves much to be desired, as enrolment numbers in teacher education programs continue to decline. As teachers exit, they are making others very aware of the good, bad, and the very ugly within the education system.
The respect once held for teachers has quickly faded. Teachers are left feeling attacked, worthless, and completely disregarded in a profession that, ironically, is the foundation of all others. Teachers value their voices and their abilities to contribute to changing lives. They want to be recognized for their creativity and individualism, but instead have been locked into stagnant curricula.
With an increasing focus on standardized testing, culturally irrelevant lessons, and the often unrealistic expectations from districts, it is no surprise that our educators are choosing other professions. Many teachers leave the profession within their first five years because they feel unappreciated, unsupported, and overworked.
As the brainstorming continues in an attempt to solve the crisis, one solution overlooked is the need to incorporate more innovative curricula. Personalized learning with high-quality content is paramount to student engagement and helps teachers to develop rich relationships with students across various backgrounds. Customized education helps to create a supportive environment where teachers can still explore new ideas and promote creativity in the classroom. Additionally, when students can retain information more effectively, they will eventually require less individualized attention from teachers.
As a result, teachers will spend more time teaching instead of being pulled away from instruction to provide one-on-one help. Ultimately, this can help make teaching a more attractive profession and help ease the teacher shortage in alignment with other solutions proposed to address the crisis.
Changing the Way Forward for Public Education
As the world continues to change around us, we need a public education system that can remain sustainable and relevant. We need to maintain talented teachers while allowing them autonomy to create holistic learning environments that teach students how to think critically about their own life experiences and about concepts.
Partnerships with independent educational entities such as BerryGoodTeaching, LLC, can help to provide comprehensive self-paced, innovative, culturally relevant curricula that motivates and supports creative teaching and learning that parents, caregivers, and children crave. We offer empowering holistic educational content online to nourish children’s minds, bodies, and spirits, and are on a mission to fill the gap caused by the teacher shortage. Working with a company like BerryGoodTeaching, LLC helps schools innovate their curricula quickly and efficiently.
One size does not fit all in education. So let us innovate by providing teachers with the right resources and support systems that can help ease the burden so many feel. It is time for our public education system to allow teachers to focus on what they do best: teaching!
If you are ready to revamp the teaching and learning experience in your district, partner with BerryGoodTeaching today!