As a new school year looms, nationwide teacher shortages persist
More surveys are finding that teachers are leaving — or planning to leave — their profession soon. The pandemic has been filled with the instability of schools opening and closing and masks coming on and off. Droves of students have left in-person classrooms and never returned. Many of those who have come back face new behavioral challenges in school reflective of trauma and anxiety.
All of this impacts teaching and learning in classrooms. Now, as the new school year begins, communities across the country face a shortage of teachers.
“The shortage is bad. It’s predictable,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We already had teachers for whom last year was the worst year of their teaching career because there were so many things they had to do to help kids in the after-effects of COVID on top of all the other uncertainty.”
A report by the National Education Association finds 55% of teachers expect to leave education sooner than planned because of the pandemic, a significant increase from 37% in August 2021.
Weingarten says things became harder for teachers in the past year as disinformation campaigns piled up on top of the effects of the pandemic. Pundits have jumped on critical race theory, or CRT, which is not taught in elementary or secondary school.
“What made it really bad for teachers is all the nonsense with the culture wars. The mask wars,” Weingarten says.
State laws in Texas and Florida on what teachers can and cannot say in classrooms has also led to “a higher-than-normal quit rate of really great teachers,” Weingarten says. And teachers have faced “A chilling effect in states like Ohio, Indiana, Alabama, Arizona, Texas and Florida,” she says.
Weingarten points out that teachers are paid 20% less than similarly-situated people in other industries.
Still, there are solutions to help bring teachers back into classrooms. Weingarten points to New Mexico as an example, where the governor and state officials allowed retired teachers to work as substitutes, increased teacher and school bus driver salaries and asked a paperwork committee to start helping with teachers’ paperwork.
In New York, lawmakers required a reduction in class sizes, Weingarten says. The AFT also released a report on recommendations to reduce the teacher shortage called “What America Must Do to Attract and Retain the Educators and School Staff Our Students Need.”
Shirley Jahad produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Jahad also adapted it for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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