Schools Face Massive Teacher Shortages
Teaching was a stressful job before COVID turned all of our lives upside down. Now it's even more stressful. "For a really long time, the to do list in education has been growing more and more demanding over time. And as soon as COVID hit, that entire to-do list was kind of like thrown into the waste basket," said Rebecca Rogers, a content creator and former teacher. In January, the National Education Association, the country's largest union, polled over 3,000 of its members. Over half, 55%, said they were more than likely to leave or retire from teaching earlier than expected due to the pandemic. That's almost double the number from 2 years ago. "'Here are all these new things we need you to do instead.' And then as soon as school came back, instead of picking and choosing the most necessary items on each to do list, they're like 'okay, here's both todo lists, both of which were already pretty unmanageable for one person, have fun!'" said Rogers. Teacher burnout from the pandemic goes hand in hand with the teacher shortages. But the shortage is not new. The NEA has been tracking the trend for the last two decades. "The reality is that not only have we had an educator shortage for a while, but the pandemic, just like everything else, worsened it. We have educators who are under more stress with less resources. More is being asked of them than ever before," said Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association. Nicole Lawson is the chief human resources officer at Atlanta Public Schools. "They are expressing the need to alleviate the burnout. And the burnout comes with the amount of planning it takes to plan for this new way of teaching. Teachers are experiencing double loads so if there's a shortage that means they're taking on additional students. Compound that with planning, it feels like you can't do enough," said Lawson. According to a Rand survey, teachers are nearly three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than other adults. For Rebeca Rogers, leaving the classroom came down to being overworked while the administration consistently asked her to do more. "It was so demeaning on my mental health. During online learning I was doing 18 hours a day trying to make these animated content videos for kids and it didn't matter how much extra I was doing it was almost like expected, and no matter what I did it wasn't enough, but my mental health just couldn't take it. When I left there were 3000 vacancies in the county," said Rogers. But it's not just that teachers are leaving the classroom. Districts are also struggling because there aren't enough students who are even pursuing the career. "We have been extremely concerned that we have seen the decline in the number of our college students who are choosing to go into the profession. And then the number of our new educators who are going into the profession leaving the profession in those first 5 years. So this is something we've been following and working to address through policy and funding and training and just encouraging people to go into teaching," said Pringle. Unfilled job openings lead to more work and stress for those who are still in the schools. According to the NEA, caseloads for counselors and social workers have grown dramatically, just like the demands on teachers. And that has a direct link to students. Many need more support due to the pandemic. "They have to take care of themselves first so they can take care of their students. And like so many adults in the system right now they are struggling to find those additional resources and finding the time to do it. If our teachers are not doing well then our students aren't going to do well," said Pringle. The NEA says the bottom line is clear teachers are not OK. Burnout and shortages are the biggest problems that need attention. "We are working together with educators all over the country and with mental health experts to provide educators with places to go and resources to support their colleagues and their schools and the entire community so that we can all heal together and help each other to do just that," said Pringle.