Back to school? The US is facing a critical teacher shortage
“Between the pandemic, school shootings, the politicizing of curriculum and bonkers narratives, this may be the worst time to be a teacher in America since the 1800s”, writes journalist Petula Dvorak for The Washington Post.
The teacher shortage in America has hit crisis levels and school officials everywhere are scrambling to ensure that, as students return to classrooms, someone will be there to educate them.
There’s no national database that tracks precisely how many U.S. classrooms are short of teachers for the 2022-2023 school year. However, state and district reports have emerged across the country detailing staff gaps that stretch from the hundreds to the thousands.
“There’s been a teacher shortage for years. What you’re seeing now is that it’s reached a tipping point,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Compensation was among the reasons AFT members said they were dissatisfied with their jobs, according to the union’s June survey. Of the teachers surveyed, 75% said their jobs changed for the worse, with 29% of them saying that was due to pay.
But the number of teachers who reported at least some level of dissatisfaction with their jobs rose 33 points since 2020, “two years marked by relentless political attacks, persistent shortages, school shootings and flatlining salaries,” according to the union.
Weingarten said in a statement about the survey: “Whether it was mask wars, culture wars, the war on truth, or the devastation in Uvalde, members sacrificed and struggled and carried their schools and their students through the most difficult days of their lives.”
The stress of teaching through a pandemic has been speculated to drive away even more teachers. About 1 in 6 teachers expressed that they would likely leave their job pre-pandemic, but this increased to 1 in 4 by the 2020-2021 school year, according to the State of the U.S. Teacher Survey.
When a mask mandate policy was established in schools, angry parents nationwide started protesting to the point of becoming violent toward teachers and principals in some states, demanding that teachers risk their health at the height of the pandemic.
In the past two years, America also has suggested teachers carry guns to protect kids from gunmen. Several surveys show a majority of teachers don’t want to be armed.
Public school teachers in Florida are now banned from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity after Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, commonly known as the “Don’t say gay” bill.
Even before the “Don’t say gay” bill was signed into law, Casey Scott, a middle school art teacher in Florida, was fired because she let her LGBTQ students create art that expressed their identity and sexuality.
On top of all that, federal data showed that 80% of schools reported increases in student behavioral issues, including rowdiness, threats, and fighting between students, and aggression toward teachers.
“Kids who spent a year or more going to virtual class in their PJs are not adjusting well to being back in a classroom. Add misdirected, parental freakouts about critical race theory and sexual orientation, and too many kids have been groomed at home to mimic that jackassery in the classroom”, writes Petula Dvorak.
The AFT said one of the best ways to get teachers into the classroom is simply to offer better salaries. School districts in Nevada and Texas have already raised their starting salaries for teachers.
Some school districts have relaxed teaching qualifications to make it easier for new teachers to begin their careers. From allowing teachers into the classroom before they're fully certified, to hiring those without any degree at all.
In Florida, military veterans who have served four years can now become teachers even if they don't hold a bachelor's degree.
AFT’s president, Randi Weingarten, believes that reducing job requirements to teach young people sends a negative message to an already bruised profession.
“Would we even be thinking about this if it was a pilot? Or an engineer? Or a doctor?” asked Weingarten. “It's part of the disrespect that you think that you can just put a body in front of kids”.