The Reason Behind Teacher Shortages
August 6, 2023
The United States is currently undergoing a shortage and under-staffing of teachers across its various school districts. Unattended problems with the way teachers are treated and expected to carry out their duties above and beyond their job descriptions have compounded and motivated several of them to quit their teaching careers and seek new professions. The same pressures leading to this mass quitting also discourage younger people and upcoming graduates from pursuing education as a career, preventing schools from being able to replace their lost staff.
There are three main motivating factors behind the teacher shortage. The first is pay. Teachers, despite their crucial role in society, are often paid lower salaries than other professions. However, this also puts teachers in awkward position, as it is well-known and generally accepted by school budgets that teachers will use their own money in order to buy additional supplies for their students like pencils and notebooks. With the ever-increasing cost of goods from inflation and economic uncertainty, this practice of asking teachers to use their own money for supplies has grown less and less tenable, as well as being a source of additional mental stress.
Lisa Morrison, a Maui-based teacher, had this to say when interviewed by Pratiksha Ghildial for the BBC: "People have relied for years on the fact that teachers have a love for teaching and for being with kids in order to make up for poor salary and hard working conditions. Now many of them are feeling that's not enough of a reason to stay." (Ghildial, "How Covid deepened America's teacher shortages")
Second is the mental strain of teaching while the world is still struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic. Attempting to combat and reduce the spread of Covid-19 in a classroom environment is a challenge by itself, but some districts and counties make it worse by actively passing anti-mask mandates in order to encourage schools and businesses to adhere to their usual routines and schedules, without making allowances for those who might be concerned by the disease to recuse themselves from normal operations. Teachers also often teach multiple different classes in the same homeroom, with classes back to back, increasing the chance for exposure while providing little chance to disinfect between class periods.
Another motivating factor is the continuing occurrence of school shootings. It is disconcertingly regular that a school shooting will occur where both students and teachers are gunned down by a lone individual, causing death and grief to parents and the families of the teachers. These events have become routine in the United States and calls for increased gun control are met with strong resistance by both lawmakers and advocates for the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The teacher shortage is especially concerning for minority students, who can struggle in their school environments and benefit tremendously from getting an education from teachers who share a cultural and economic background with them. Without support from teachers who are like them, writes Monia Sager for upi.com, the performance of these students can suffer, resulting in lower grades and reduced future opportunities.
With all these elements combined together, it is no surprise that several teachers have begun to feel that teaching is no longer worth it as a profession. They are all but required to use their own money to buy supplies for students, and with the twin dangers of Covid-19 and school shootings, teachers are effectively working hazard jobs but without hazard pay.
However, the teacher shortage does not affect all districts equally. Alia Wong, writing for usatoday, writes "Some districts do not have any challenges keeping their schools staffed and matching their students with enough teachers. Others are suffering from serious shortages and resulting to temp workers and substitutes in order to keep their schools running."
What can be done about this? While both gun control and Covid masks are ongoing struggle between their supporters and their detractors and will remain matters of debate and controversy, one could still advocate for the increase of pay for teachers by attending city council and school board meetings. Teaching in the United States, is, unfortunately, a job with many challenges that are not immediately obvious, and as a result, a job that is not adequately compensated for all the duties teachers are asked to perform or burdens they are expected to bear. Raising teacher's wages could help mitigate the factors that are currently leading teachers to quit and students to not pursue education as a career.
Sager, Monica. upi.com. Jan. 12. 2023. "More than half nation's school districts face teacher shortages, data show". https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2023/01/12/teacher-shortages-United-States/7741673556593/
Wong, Alia. "Overworked, underpaid? The toll of burnout is contributing to teacher shortages nationwide." usatoday.com. Dec. 21. 2022. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2022/12/21/why-there-teacher-shortage-schools-struggled-nationwide-2022/10882103002/