Is your school short on staff? It is not just y’all.
Across the country schools are struggling to keep teachers in the classroom. Los Angeles Unified school district has more than 500 teacher openings. Here in Indiana, even suburbs like New Palestine, which has competitive pay, administrators are struggling to fill their classroom vacancies. As one would expect, poorer, inner-city schools are hit even harder.
These days we have a convenient boogeyman to blame every education problem on: COVID-19. Coronavirus is partially to blame. The pandemic triggered a wave of early retirements and resignations, and that was before teachers were being asked to comply with vaccine mandates which will likely lead to even more resignations. However, as is typically the case with “COVID problems,” the problem itself isn’t new just exacerbated.
The teacher shortage is no exception. There was a “dire” shortage BEFORE the pandemic. This means we have to step back further than December of 2019. Once you do that you come to two troubling realizations:
- The teacher shortage is largely systemic.
- It is not going away anytime soon.
You could look at the systemic end of the shortage anywhere. Some people start the pipeline with the college preparation programs. Some people go abstract and look at the “perception” of the teaching profession as whole. But the fact of the matter is that schools struggle to retain people year after year, and the main reason people give for leaving is pay. To a lot of people, the trouble, the time, and the stress simply is not worth the money, especially not for people with bachelor’s degrees, and in many cases, master’s degrees.
Schools are uniquely vulnerable to pay induced shortages because they have little agency on how much they pay people. In a free market, scarcity of employees would typically trigger higher salary offerings to attract talent, but schools are funded by taxes. Many school districts had their budgets slashed this year. From a political will standpoint, teachers who got to keep their jobs and work from home while some people lost their jobs has not elicited sympathy for teacher pay over the last year and a half. The public is not exactly eager to pay taxes to enable the kind of pay raises that would attract more talent.
That’s just the systemic end. There are more recent developments that shrink the talent pool even further.
One issue is that it is not exactly fun to be a teacher right now. Teachers are in the crossfire of political debates on masks, vaccines, and critical race theory … not to mention TikTok challenges like #DeviousLicks and #SlapATeacher.
Competition from other professions is also high at the moment. Everyone is hiring and often with sign-on bonuses. Some of these jobs have flexible schedules or even allow you to work from home.
These factors help maintain the teacher shortage. The unfortunate truth is most of those issues won’t change anytime soon. The pandemic is evolving. The political debates will rage at least until midterms, if not 2024. Obviously, school funding structures are what they are until a massive change happens. None of this is to be negative or discourage people from teaching. It is a warning to school leaders and districts. Come up with ways to have school with a leaner staff because chances are you will be forced to for a while.