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Teachers are priceless — even more during a national teacher shortage.
May 3, 2021
It’s “Teacher Appreciation Week,” but gratitude alone won’t cut it this year. Their tireless efforts during the pandemic made us all realize just how essential they are. With a teacher shortage reaching crisis state, it’s time to reimagine education.
Teachers everywhere, stand up. This week, we recognize, appreciate, and thank you.
But, let’s be honest—a pat on the back is not enough. It’s not nearly enough. Not this year.
- You adapted, re-imagined, and evolved like magical contortionists.
- You re-invented education by embracing words like “asynchronous,” “hybrid,” and “remote learning.”
- You created new digital workflows for assignments (and all those late assignments).
- You became a master IT troubleshooter.
- You taught parents how to navigate technology.
- You worried about those students who didn’t show up… those who didn’t have access to a broadband network, a Chromebook, or a supportive household.
- You checked on those students who were falling behind.
- You spent less time with your own family—despite caring for or losing your own loved ones.
- You lined up to take the vaccine first.
- You showed up as a coach, club advisor, mentor, therapist, and friend.
- You. Got. It. Done.
- And… you’re still doing it.
The rest of the world finally understood.
Education is the bedrock of communities and of society. Without it, everything else comes to a screeching halt. The development of our future scientists, hairstylists, nurses, astronauts, welders, and accountants is placed on hold when reading, writing, and math is stalled.
Teachers know this—so they persevered through the pandemic. Despite the daunting litany of challenges, most heroically stayed to fight the good fight. However, they’re burned out. Superintendents from across the nation tell me that their teachers and substitutes are exhausted. A growing number are considering whether to leave the profession.
The teacher shortage was already developing into a national crisis before the pandemic. A Learning Institute Policy report in 2016 examined supply and demand, then predicted the dire need for 100,000 new teachers—especially in science, math, and special education. It found that the shortage is driven by fewer college students enrolling in education degree programs, workload from increased student-teacher ratios, and attrition.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the shortage.
- According to an article by NPR,S. Department of Education data shows 43 states are reporting a shortage of math teachers, 42 are short on science teachers, and 44 on special education teachers.
- In Michigan, midyear retirements increased 44 percent over the 2019-2020 school year, according to the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System (MPSERS). Chalkbeat Detroit says that equals 749 teacher vacancies in public schools since school started in August.
- The already shrinking teacher talent pool took another hit as the pandemic created new barriers to college access. Hit especially hard were low-income students and minority students. Families struggling financially from job loss and COVID-19 health concerns forced students to stay home or take a gap year.
- At Kelly Education, we’ve seen nationwide demand for long-term substitutes rise by 34 percent over the 2019-2020 school year. For more than 20 years, we’ve partnered with hundreds of districts struggling to fill substitute vacancies. But, the pool of qualified, credentialed candidates is rapidly diminishing.
A RAND Corporation study finds that the biggest trigger for public school teachers leaving the profession amid the pandemic is increased stress. They blamed longer work hours, issues with remote technology, and health safety concerns.
What’s more interesting is the study found that stress was twice as likely the reason for departure than insufficient compensation. While providing salaries commensurate with similar work stressors in other industries would begin to negate the disparity of the historically female profession, it’s only one factor. Educators enter the profession knowing that it’s nearly impossible to assign a proper value or price to somebody who changes the trajectory of a student’s life. That’s priceless.
The system is broken because it can’t sustain teacher supply and demand, and the main culprit is a stressful workload.
The answer to ending the shortage is not easy. Last week, the Biden administration announced a giant step forward with plans for a major equity investment in education through the American Families Plan. President Biden specifically called out the need to address the teacher shortage, to improve access to college degrees for middle- to low-income students, and to reduce student-to-teacher ratios. The question of how to execute these plans remains.
As a society, we must re-value and elevate teachers. We must build a new instructional model that supports their role as essential workers. We need to proactively advocate for the tools and resources that they need so they can feel supported in their fearless, heroic work. We must recognize, validate, and include them in decision-making about their future. Otherwise, as the economy re-opens, they may escape to other professions where the grass is greener.
No doubt, the pandemic has changed education forever and a new normal will emerge as the instructional workforce model recalibrates and schools reopen in the fall. We need to fix what’s broken.
It takes courage to transform education—and the opportunity to do so has never been greater. Dr. Heather J. Hough of Stanford’s PACE, in a Brown Center Chalkboard article points to an April 2021 report calling for a redesign of schools in the wake of the pandemic. It places equity at the central building block. “Such a system should prioritize relationships between families, students, and educators, address whole-child needs, strengthen staffing and partnerships between schools and community partners, and empower teams to rebuild and reimagine systems,” the study suggests. “This transformation must happen in every school and district in the country, and especially in those serving low-income students and students of color who have for too long been ignored.”
This reimagination will lead to an easing of the burden of education on teachers. These questions—and many others—need to be answered:
- What will ease teachers’ stress so that they stay, and will make new high school graduates want to enter the profession?
- Will the pandemic strengthen the roles of principals, counselors, paraprofessionals, tutors, and other support staff?
- Will more districts consider alternative credentialing models to allow greater access and people with greater diverse backgrounds to enter the field?
- What about mental health and work-life balance?
Teachers deserve so much more than a simple a pat on the back this week—though most would tell you that a heartfelt “thank you” from a parent or student would be a good start. It’s not too much to ask for the people who wake up each day holding the priceless keys to our future.
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