The COVID-19 pandemic has created a dire nationwide shortage of educators and school staff. The issue has been long drawn out even before the pandemic started and teachers continue to leave the education sector in droves.
According to data from the Texas Education Agency, Texas has seen about a 27% decrease in the number of newly certified teachers. The future of quality education for students is at stake as school districts struggle to find quality candidates to fill the roles. The shortage disproportionately impacts students from Black and Brown communities, pivoting far from the country’s goal of providing an equitable education to all children.
Frontline Education, an education software company, conducted a survey pinpointing three major reasons for the national teacher shortage.
- Lack of fully-qualified applicants
- Salary and benefits fall short of other careers
- Fewer new education school graduates
The pandemic also added stress and anxiety for teachers and other education employees who had fears of returning to a public school setting considering the 52,000 positive COVID-19 cases reported among Texas students as of August 2021. This trickles down to an even smaller pool of substitute teachers who are retired and choose not to return for the same reason.
The Defender asked the community their thoughts behind this topic and what tangible solutions they have.
What the people said:
Ndidi A: “I think it really starts with a policy from the top down. We need on a national level to increase the salary for teachers. I don’t know why educators are so underpaid in this country. In my estimation, they should be paid like doctors and lawyers. Increasing pay will attract more people and help with retention. Increasing pay will also help to bring in more of the historically underrepresented candidates who will need higher salaries to level the playing field. When it comes to curriculum, this needs to be handled on a local level where school boards are looking to see what is relevant. The only time Black people are discussed should not be about slavery. Access to quality education shouldn’t be determined bt zip codes. Students in urban areas do not have necessarily the best of everything as if they are going to a private school or charter school. There needs to be an increased budget for counseling services. Because when there are counselors on site it makes the teachers’ job easier. Often times teachers are playing the roles of counselors as well. Then it boils down to a morals issue; parents need to [teach their children] how to be respectful.”
Sheena Fox: “I used to be a teacher. I taught middle school English, language, arts and reading. I could write a book as to why teachers leave the classroom…Too many unrealistic expectations are imposed upon teachers…Teachers are overworked and overwhelmed…I felt it daily on top of dealing with public school district/campus politics… Oversized classrooms.. Being expected to produce ideal outcomes despite not being provided ideal conditions…The list goes on and on.”
Kamau Mason: “Any number of answers. Changes in curriculum and expectations don’t match the realities of teaching at all phases. Class sizes have been impacted both literally and virtually. COVID 19 has changed the expectations for teaching and learning. And then there is the factor of wanting more money; notwithstanding actually being paid for the time spent on dealing with the school house issues. Some districts have opted in for pay-by-performance contracts, which means that your salary and growth potential are impacted by the academic growth of the students. That’s a recipe for stalling the economic growth of the teachers who teach in the poorest settings who have to teach with fewer resources. But here’s the reality. Great teachers are supposed to leave the classroom. They are supposed to want to do more. And so the innate desire to grow is always a factor….I did it for 17 years in Georgia. And the issue is not exclusive to just one state. It’s the state of the union.”
Kamaria Speaks: “Our class sizes are over max capacity. Last year I had 156 students, six classes (and two classes of 50 students in a Zoom…that ratio is not even legal.) We get two administrators giving us different answers to the same problem and then punishing us for choosing one of the two solutions. Make it make sense.”
Jeremy Smith Mba: “Student behavior, added responsibilities outside the normal requirements due to shortage in personnel. More paperwork and training requirements added by the states and districts. Diminished support from the district or at the school level. Just complete burnout and stress.”