One of the most persistent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education system is a shortage of teachers.
While Texas employed a high of about 376,000 teachers in the 2021-22 school year, about 12% left the profession that same year, up two percentage points from the previous year. In addition, more than 8,500 teachers retired in 2021, about 1,000 more than in 2020.
A trio of experts from the College of Education at The University of Texas at Arlington discuss how to solve the shortage and how the problem impacts society.
Why is there a lack of teachers?
Robin Jocius, associate professor of curriculum and instruction: “While the pandemic has accelerated the need for more solutions, there has been a teacher shortage for years. We’re in a crisis of both retention and recruitment. Schools and districts are losing veteran teachers to retirement and attrition. Historically, a large number of teachers leave the profession in the first five years of teaching, but veteran teachers—those with 10 or 15 or 20 years of experience—are choosing to seek other careers. At the same time, it’s become more and more difficult to recruit new teachers. There are many contributing factors, including relatively low pay, burnout and increasingly difficult work conditions.”
What does this mean for kids in school?
Melissa Hulings, assistant professor of science education: “Teachers have been asked to take on more and more responsibilities without the proper support. Society sees teachers as the answer to a host of situations, yet doesn’t provide the level of support, recognition and resources to help the teachers solve them. This shortage means students will have classes with temporary teachers, some of them uncertified, or be combined into classrooms with more students, neither of which are beneficial to students or teachers. I think we will see more crowded classrooms or parents seeking other means to educate their children such as charter schools or homeschooling.”
Will the teacher shortage last?
Catherine Robert, assistant professor and co-director for UTA’s Center for Educational Research, Policy, and Practice: “Yes and no. In the past two years, districts have hired additional teachers to fill tutoring needs in order to catch students up from pandemic-related gaps. This means that once these funds are expended, districts will have a pool of teachers that they will need to move back into classrooms. For now, however, there are fewer teachers in the pool of available applicants.
The pandemic also prompted teachers who were on the cusp of retirement to retire early. These issues, plus the recruitment issues, are causing the current shortage. Once conditions caused by the pandemic stabilize, the teacher pool should also stabilize a bit. The increase in inflation will prevent additional retirements and encourage teachers to stay in their current positions. We saw this pattern in 2010-12 during the recession.”
How can teachers who are overwhelmed find help?
Robert: “New teachers should ask for help! New teachers should never suffer silently. Most districts provide new teacher induction programs that provide a host of resources. Regional service centers also provide new teacher support for teachers without district training options. For all teachers, never hesitate to access the district’s free mental health resources. Check with your human resources representative for the contact information.”
What can be done to end the teacher shortage?
Robert: “Keep raising teacher pay. Provide teachers with a career path and growth options that are not only about students’ test scores. Larger districts are beginning to offer teacher leadership programs that are fantastic ways to help teachers see beyond the narrow walls of their classrooms. Continue to provide opportunities for positive parent and community involvement.”
UTA’s College of Education aims to prepare educators for leadership in K-12 classrooms and schools, higher education and educational policy. The goal is to prepare Mavericks as education experts for teaching, leading communities and conducting research that informs and shapes practices.