What’s Really Going on With the Teacher Shortage

The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country, recently dropped an astounding piece of information: Schools across the United States are facing a shortage of 300,000 teachers and staff

If we look back a few years, the numbers seem even more drastic: In a February 2022 report, the NEA cited data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics stating that there were around 10.6 million teachers working in public schools in January 2020; at the time of the report, however, there were 10 million — representing a net loss of around 600,000 teachers. A union poll from the NEA released at the same time also found that 55% of educators were considering leaving education earlier than they had originally planned.

This crisis has been a long time coming, and in many ways it’s not surprising. If the stresses of teaching during COVID were not enough, teachers have also had to deal with right-wing extremists and conservative school boards punishing them for progressive views, banning books on topics such as LGBTQ+ identity and history, and creating laws that deter them from teaching the history of race and racism and its modern implications. Many teachers have also been forced to work in overheated classrooms, without mask mandates during COVID waves, and in other unsafe conditions. They say they are chronically overworked, underpaid, and many feel deeply disrespected.

“There’s no question about it, this is the worst it’s ever been,” Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, tells Teen Vogue. “I’ve been in the business for 55 years and in that period of time we’ve never had a shortage like we’re having now.”

Here’s what you need to know about what’s causing the teacher shortage and what’s being done to rectify it.

What is causing the shortage?

A lot of people may think the pandemic caused the shortage, but in reality, COVID-19 only exacerbated a situation that had been a long time coming, educators tell Teen Vogue. Marina, a high school English teacher at a public school in Baltimore who prefers to keep her last name private, says that she noticed staffing issues long before the pandemic. “In Baltimore City Public Schools, the teacher shortage is not new, and it has been negatively affecting the Black students in our district for decades,” she explains. “My students have lost important years of learning because they did not have qualified teachers for a full year. Our students deserve teachers who are qualified, and willing to stay and engage in their communities.”

Another factor that has contributed to many teachers leaving the field: lack of competitive pay. In August, the Economic Policy Institute released data that found teachers make about 23% less in their profession than “comparable college graduates” in other fields. This low pay, combined with teaching during a pandemic and other stressors, has caused many teachers to resign.

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