The teacher shortage crisis

The teacher shortage crisis

In schools around the U.S., the teacher shortage problem has only worsened from the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in schools and students lacking qualified teachers while remaining teachers work harder to pick up the slack.
It’s not just about pay — the causes of the teacher shortage

Across the country, school districts are struggling to hire teachers and encourage them to stay. The teacher shortage affects not only the teaching staff but also substitute teachers and other staff at school districts. This issue has been going on for years, going back to the Great Recession.

During the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007-2009, teachers’ salaries were reduced, and according to a study published by MIT Press Direct, about 300,000 school staff lost their jobs in the U.S. This discouraged many teachers from staying in the profession or accepting new teaching positions after the Great Recession ended. As inflation began to rise afterward, already low teacher salaries could not keep up. 

The amount of funding for public schools also dropped during the Great Recession and, according to the US Census Payroll, did not improve even after the recession ended. Because of this, as well as the lack of interest in teaching, school districts were unable to fill in the teacher gaps after the recession. In 2009, teacher education enrollments were at 691,000 people, but in 2014, the number dropped to 451,000. These effects of the Great Recession were mirrored years later in schools with the COVID-19 pandemic, as funding for education decreased again according to Chalkbeat, a non-profit news organization that covers education.

Teachers are only paid for when they’re standing in front of students teaching […] and for a lot of teachers, the majority of the work happens outside of work.

— Ashley Walter, English teacher

Teachers agree that COVID-19 and online learning has worsened the teacher shortage. With students’ and teachers’ needs changing during online learning, schools were structured in a different way than before. According to a Harvard University and Stanford University study, the average student in U.S. public schools from grades 3-8 lost about half a year’s worth of learning in math and a quarter year’s worth of learning in reading due to online learning. The learning loss caused teachers to have to play catch-up with their students, a learning change many teachers were not ready for, adding additional work and stress to teachers’ day-to-day lives. 

The most commonly cited cause of the teacher shortage is a lack of pay, due to the amount of unpaid work that occurs outside of the school day. “Teachers are only paid for when they’re standing in front of students teaching […] and for a lot of teachers, the majority of the work happens outside of work,” said Ashley Walter, English teacher.

It’s one thing to teach, it’s another thing to motivate; if you have to do both, that’s exhausting.

— Rob Reetz, principal

There is no doubt that student behavior plays a role in teacher retention. Due to isolation during the pandemic, student behavior has only gotten worse over the past few years according to an EdWeek survey, which may partially explain the post-COVID teacher exodus. “The most challenging thing for teachers [is] to manage behavior of students in class, to keep kids engaged on tasks and completing work,” said Principal Robert Reetz., “It’s one thing to teach, it’s another thing to motivate; if you have to do both, that’s exhausting.” 

In addition to a lack of respect towards teachers, fewer people are interested in pursuing a career in education. According to the Learning Policy Institute, a survey of students who took the ACT from 2010-2014 showed a decline in the number of students interested in going into teaching as their career, with 34% of students showing interest in teaching in 2010, compared to only 5% in 2014. Fewer students going into education leads to a lack of teachers who can be hired in schools. 

The shortage in the hiring pool can be seen at Mounds View, both throughout the district and at the high school. “When I first started teaching here, this was a super sought-out job. It was really hard to get into Mounds View High School, and now, we have no one who applies,” said Bias. On Mounds View Public Schools’ website, job openings for the district and school display the number of positions open for hiring, and as of Oct. 25, there are currently 10 open nutrition services positions and 16 open paraeducator positions.

The teacher shortage has a longer history than people may think, beyond online learning from COVID-19. The teacher shortage can be traced back to many different causes, but all are important to understand when addressing this problem. 

Growing disparities from the lack of teachers

Many students may notice that the teachers they had just a few years ago have already moved on from their teaching careers. Reports from the Minnesota Department of Education show that the average years of teaching experience that Minnesota teachers had during 2020-21 was only two years, compared to 14 years during 2017-18. In those five years, the average years of teaching experience dropped by 12. This means that teachers are replaced more often than before and that many of the current teachers are new to the profession.

The biggest reason for this is the increase in teacher attrition, especially after COVID. As teachers leave and become harder to find, it causes many issues for people involved with education, including other teachers, staff and students. 

The number of teachers in Minnesota is decreasing while the number of students is increasing, which puts more work on each teacher. This makes it difficult for teachers to give time and energy to all of their students. “If you’re actually trying to reach every student and see their potential, you just can’t do that as your numbers climb and climb. So I think that the quality of education is significantly impacted and decreases with every increase of class size,” said Kelly Kahle, science teacher. 

Such a phenomenon is supported by findings from the Tennessee STAR experiment, which found that students in a class size of 13-17 students per teacher had higher performance and received the equivalent of three months more schooling than students in regular class sizes — even those with teacher aides. 

As the workload increases for remaining teachers, more of them experience burnout and end up quitting. In June 2022, the Gallup Panel Workforce Study showed that 44% of teachers felt burned out at work, which is more than any other industry in the nation. “I’ve talked to more teachers that I never thought would even consider another career who have just found that they feel so burnt out and they don’t know what to do. And some of them have left, and that’s really sad because I think what we’re facing is the loss of some of the best teachers,” said Ashley Walter, English teacher. 

It is also becoming increasingly difficult to find substitute teachers to take spots in classrooms. “It’s kind of like patchwork or quilting, putting together everything so that everyone is covered for the day [and] all the classes are covered. And it’s sometimes very challenging. There’s more teachers out than substitutes to fill the spots,” said substitute teacher Layna Peltier. 

Substitutes are working more than they used to to keep up with all of the empty spots. A few years ago, they could pick and choose what class they wanted to fill in for and teachers would not worry about finding someone to take over their class. After COVID, Building Secretary Lori Diekoff explains that many substitutes retired, which left the sub pool smaller. Because of this, teachers have even started using their prep hour to fill in, and according to Walter, they constantly get emails asking them to substitute.

Even after all of these efforts, sometimes there are classes that cannot be covered. After math teacher Kate Milkert went on maternity leave last year, her 6th hour AP Calculus class did not have a substitute teacher who was qualified to teach calculus for around a month; it was more of someone supervising their class. “There was just really not that much we could do to ask a teacher [for help],” said junior Michael Kivinen. The students had to rely on online sources like videos from AP Classroom and YouTube. “It kind of just felt like a study period the whole hour,” said Kivinen. 

The Mounds View school district is better than many other districts at finding staff, but the teacher shortage is growing. If nothing is done to encourage more teachers to pursue and stay in the profession, these effects may only worsen. 

Potential solutions

As the teacher shortage continues throughout the country and at Mounds View, educators have proposed various solutions to tackle the problem. 

The most commonly proposed solution is increasing teacher salaries. “I think pay would make a big difference for getting people to become teachers,” said Ashley Walter, English teacher. “I think the reality is the current generation that [is] becoming teachers don’t even consider it as an option because the narrative of [it having] such terrible pay.” 

Increasing pay can also improve teacher retention. This is already apparent in the Northeast region, which has higher teacher salaries than other regions and the lowest teacher turnover rate in the nation at 10.3%, according to the Edvocate, a website that advocates for education reform.

However, even with these benefits, pay is only a temporary solution. The work environment and support teachers receive is arguably more important because it directly impacts teachers’ well-being. These solutions include increasing mental health support, providing financial support for classroom resources and giving teachers more time to grade or plan lessons during the school day. “Teachers just need more support,” said Walter. “We need more time in our day to actually be effective. If I had more time in my day to plan, to give feedback, to grade, it would be amazing for my students.” 

Another way to improve work conditions is to alleviate the stress of administrative work. “Special ed […] teachers need a lot of help with their paperwork; that’s a very time-consuming piece of their job. We want those teachers working with students. So hiring somebody maybe to do the paperwork aspect of their job [would help],” said DaNae Klimek, business teacher. By hiring other professionals to take care of more administrative tasks, teachers could reduce their workload and burnout, which may lead to higher retention rates. 

Teachers just need more support. We need more time in our day to actually be effective.

— Ashley Walter, English teahcer

Students’ behavior in the classroom can also impact a teacher’s mental well-being. Encouraging students to be more engaged during class can relieve teachers of the stress of managing student behavior. “If students could become more aware of just how much we do to create those lessons and to make sure they understand the content […] and really just kind of acknowledge that, not in a way of giving gifts or anything like that, but just by participating in the lesson [and] getting the work done, yeah, that’s huge,” said Walter. 

Alongside retaining teachers, universities and high schools across the nation have implemented programs to encourage students to pursue a teaching career. Educators Rising at Mounds View is one of those programs. Through shadowing teachers, talking to guest speakers and learning about teaching paths, Educators Rising provides students with opportunities to understand what it is like to be a teacher. “I joined the Educators Rising program to see if I could gain knowledge on what it takes to become an educator and hear some different stories about the profession,” said junior Jayda McAdams. Clubs like these help young students understand how the education field works, which may lead more students to pursue teaching.

Another way that schools have tried to entice more people to enter the profession and retain new teachers is through the resident teacher program. This program, implemented by Minneapolis Public Schools, has helped teachers in their initial days. “I was hired as a resident teacher,” said Benjamin Chiri, associate principal. “I […] was paid as a full-time teacher but I had a reduced course load. I taught half the day and observed other teachers and received mentorship for the rest of the day.” This increased support makes for a smoother transition into the teaching profession, which may improve teacher retention. 

If widely implemented, these solutions can improve the school environment, positively impact teachers’ workspace, and ultimately, combat the teacher shortage. 

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About the Contributors
Lale Akkin, Staff Reporter
Lale is a sophomore staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - The teacher shortage crisis
Sidharth Sharma, Staff Reporter
Sidharth is a sophomore staff reporter, and this year is his first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - The teacher shortage crisis Best of SNO - Should legacy admissions still exist?
Mara Peacock, Staff Reporter
Mara is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - The teacher shortage crisis
Tyler Quattrin, Print Editor-in-Chief and Features Editor
Hello! I am thrilled to be a print Editor-in-Chief for my third year on The Viewer. Outside of The Viewer, I am a captain of the Mounds View Boys Swim and Dive team. Feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected]. Awards:  Best of SNO - Pro-life activists rally against Minnesota abortion legislation Best of SNO - From Mounds View to the MN Supreme Court: Chief Justice Hudson's distinguished career
Charlotte Krum, Good Questions Editor
Hi! My name is Charlotte, and I’m a senior. This is my second year with The Viewer. I’m very excited to be an illustrator and the Good Question Editor 2023-2034 school year! I enjoy playing tennis, figure skating, drawing and listening to music.
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