(NewsNation) — As students across the country gear up to head back to school, many teachers are actually doing the opposite.
Pandemic fatigue, burnout and retirement are just a few of the reasons some teachers are taking an extended recess. The result is a national teacher shortage, with few solutions in sight.
As schools across the country prepare to reopen their doors, the number of teachers heading back to the classroom is at a new low, with classes such as reading, writing and math left with no one to teach them.
“I was the principal of an elementary school for 10 years, and I would have 300 and 400 people apply for my jobs. At that same exact elementary school, the principal that’s there now might have 20 If she’s lucky,” Susanne Goodin from Elmore County said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics between 2020 and 2022, approximately 600,000 teachers and staff left the field. That’s down nearly 3% — the pandemic making a bad problem even worse and exposing a teacher crisis decades in the making.
“Last August, 37% of our members were looking to leave the classroom this year. When we asked that same tracking poll question in February of 2022, it was suddenly up to 55% of all of our educators looking to leave the profession,” Mary Kusler, senior director for the National Education Center for Advocacy, said.
The massive decline in educators leaving classrooms empty threatens the basics such as English and math, and hits special education especially hard. The numbers are startling.
As colleges graduate fewer teachers, citing high stress and low pay, the number of students entering the education field is lower than just 10 years ago when the occupation was far more crowded.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, between the academic years of 2008-2009 and 2018-2019, the number of people completing a degree in education dropped by nearly a third.
One of the reasons is money. The average starting salary for a teacher is $43,000 with an overall average of $61,000.
Meanwhile, teaching vacancies are piling up from the North to the South.
The National Education Association said that in May of this year, there were a whopping 380,000 positions available in public education compared with 2019, when there were 155,000 jobs available. That marks an astounding 70% increase, which means thousands of teaching positions are still waiting to be filled.
With little time left in the summer, many in major cities such as Cleveland are short more than 300 teachers for the start of the school year. In Chicago, nearly two million students will go back, but Chicago public schools still need another 1,500 teachers.
It’s also a problem reaching the South. One Mobile, Alabama, county school district is now offering signing bonuses of $3,000 to $5,000 for teachers. Atlanta public schools are following suit, offering $3,000 to qualified candidates amid the hundreds of vacancies threatening the start of the school year.
In the West, a staggering 80% of California school districts are experiencing teacher shortages. The impact is expected to be significant.
“We are going to see higher class sizes. We are going to see people having to teach out of their certified areas. We are going to see more long-term substitutes,” Kusler said.
A poll from the University of Pennsylvania found the No. 1 reason teachers leave is dissatisfaction.
“This profession has one of the highest rates of burnout because it is a hard vocation to take up. We do not do enough as a society to really step up and acknowledge our educators,” Kusler said.
The poll said more than a third of educators leave to pursue other jobs, with many people finding better pay in less stressful fields.