By: Mozelle Garcia
April 20, 2022
Think back on your life and consider the people who have influenced you the most. You’re probably thinking of a parent or guardian, a sibling or friend. But think on who you really spent the majority of your days with when you were being molded into the person you are today. Who was there, for almost seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year? Your teachers. Teachers accompany and guide people in the most formative years of their lives. They are an essential pillar in our society, and in recent years they have been facing unprecedented hurdles.
In 2018, an Education Week study revealed that, according to 2015-2016 data, 44% of new teachers left their teaching jobs within 5 years. Now, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue of teacher retention is worse than ever. In many districts, so many teachers have already left that superintendents have had to play the role of substitute teachers on occasion. The Philadelphia School District saw a 200% increase in teacher resignations from academic year 2020-21 to 2021-22. As of February 2022, about 55% of U.S. teachers say that they are considering leaving their jobs, and they cite pandemic-related struggles as their breaking point, and report feeling burned-out. This is occurring even after 94% of schools have re-opened to in-person learning.
While teacher shortages are reported all around the nation, they are in reality occurring mostly in high-poverty school districts. A Fall 2021 study found that schools with less resources were experiencing nearly double the staffing shortages of their affluent counterparts. In August of 2021, teachers returning to in-person instruction in the poorest districts around Berkley, California, found their buildings lacking essential pandemic tools, including modern air-filters and expanded Covid-testing protocols. Within two weeks of the 2021-2022 academic year, the San Francisco Teachers Union experienced the highest resignation rate in its history. Whether these shortages were spurred by the pandemic or by pre-existing factors is a question for the experts, but the takeaway is that many schools have been dealing with staffing shortages in the wake of the pandemic, and there has yet to be a comprehensive and equitable response to this problem.
In addition to the concern about teachers’ resignations in the U.S., the staffing shortages in schools are becoming apparent in other parts of the world. In the United Kingdom, a poll from April of 2021 revealed that 35% of teachers planned to quit teaching withing five years, citing an increased workload during the pandemic as a major factor. Another major factor, reported by 53% of respondents across England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, was that teachers did not feel valued or trusted by the government or media. Educators reported dissatisfaction with government treatment during the pandemic, where pay was frozen despite increased efforts in educating the UK’s children. In the words of the UK’s National Education Union’s Secretary, “it is a scandal that so little effort has been made by government to value the profession…”
As far as actions to combat this teacher exodus from the government, the United States has yet to see any major comprehensive action. In Florida, where a major and historic teacher pay raise was promised in 2020 much of the funds have been slow to be distributed, with 31 counties yet to receive their pay raises in February of 2022.
Is the teacher resignation anything special though? A recent article by CNN business proclaimed, “the great resignation is taking root around the world.” It noted that, according to surveys by “The Future Forum,” over half of workers in all sectors are considering leaving their jobs in countries such as France, Germany, Japan, Australia, and the U.K. With data like this, it is clear that the employment trends are not unique to the education sector; but that does not make the issue one to simply accept or ignore. Primary education is a foundation of society. Teachers have the power to make major impacts on their students and teach them lessons that they carry for the rest of their lives. Educators who feel respected and supported in their roles rather than burned out will be able to engage with their students more meaningfully. This is especially true when class sizes are kept smaller; something that many public schools have been unable to achieve because of staffing shortages.
This issue is important to keep in mind as we move forward and continue to come to terms with the long-term impacts and revelations of the pandemic. Remember that although action is easy to talk about, it takes work to see it through. In Florida, some senators continue to work to ensure teachers receive their pay raises, and it is up to us to take interest in these matters and do our part to support teacher retention too. It is also important to keep in mind that simply increasing teachers’ pay may not be the only solution, as teachers have noted reasons besides Covid-19 influencing their decisions to resign, including the influx of politics in education and how it has impacted curriculum and procedure in schools. Positive change must promulged in this State where the education sector has recently faced such turmoil in both economic and political matters. If things can improve here, then perhaps they will inspire better outcomes elsewhere. After all, change can spread like a fire, but also like a soothing wave.