Where Have All the Teachers Gone, And How Do We Get Them Back?
By Franklin Schargel
Like many of you reading this, I receive magazines, newspapers, and blogs about the educational disruption. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I live, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of educational retirements. In the school year 2020-2021, there was a 40 percent increase from the previous year. Not only have classroom teachers left, but so have custodians, principals, superintendents, support staff, bus drivers and dietitians. There are many reasons given to explain the increase. Is it the virus, the age of the workers, low salaries, the lack of respect, overburdened teachers or simple exhaustion? There has been little research to determine the primary reasons.
2022 will be a year of rebuilding our economy and our educational system. In 2019, I wrote and published, Who Will Teach the Children? Recruiting, Retaining & Refreshing Highly Effective Educators. In the book, I pointed out that “Teachers and school administrators are leaving the field of education almost as quickly as Colleges of Education are preparing them.” By 2021 the situation had grown much worse.
If we are to reverse the situation, we need to ask (and answer):
- What are educators leaving?
- What, if anything, can be done to retain them?
- How do we refresh the teachers who are already in classrooms?
We then need to do:
- Actively RECRUIT highly qualified and highly effective educators
- Work to RETAIN those people in existing positions
- REFRESH the skills of those people currently occupying classrooms and front offices.
Schools cannot produce high performing school graduates unless they have high performing teachers in classrooms, school administrators in front offices, superintendents developing, designing, and deploying their visions, and high performing systems.
Battered and bruised, but we have survived
The pandemic has left public education in the United States in crisis. The virus caught America and its schools unprepared. It is now the beginning of the 3rd school year that has been uprooted by the virus. In large districts across the country, enrollment is down. Many students are far behind academically and may never make it up. Students are floundering emotionally. Schools are already short of substitute teachers, bus drivers and food servers.
According to a Rand study, nearly 25 percent of teachers are considering quitting their jobs. Most had not been training on delivering education remotely. Principals are struggling as well. According to a survey from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, almost 40 percent are planning to leave the profession in the next three years.
Remote learning has taken its toll on the mental well-being of students, their parents and educators. Teachers hadn’t been taught how to teach remotely. Parents have had to learn how to teach their children because of forced home-schooling. They have lost work and salaries. They have had a difficult time arranging for home care when they went to work.
Children have been forced to learn remotely. Some children who were supposed to enter kindergarten and first grade one or two years ago have still not seen the inside of a classroom.
In some places, computers sat in warehouses and not in the hands of children. Parents hadn’t been trained on how to teach their children how to run computers. Children, in many cases, had to teach their parents how to teach them using computers.
Worst of all, we’ve lost children, their parents and families and many of our educators.
But we have survived.
A little beaten up, a little battered, but we have survived.
We’ve tried so many things, and many more yet to try
Two years of a pandemic has accelerated a flight from the profession of teaching. Teaching was a respected profession in communities with some shortages in high poverty schools and in some certification areas; a decade ago, we began to see fewer and fewer students in college teacher preparation programs.
The first wave of reform, I’m sorry, I’m a history teacher, was the Pendleton Act (1883) that established the federal civil service.
Federal, state and local employees had been selected through a spoils system, political party affiliation, responding to the assassination of President Arthur by a disappointed office seeker, a civil service reform law was passed.
The legislation was intended to guarantee the rights of all citizens to compete for federal jobs without preferential treatment given based on politics, race, religion or origin.
The reform movement moved from Washington to the states and the boroughs “consolidated” to create New York City. As part of the Great Consolidation, the school systems were combined and a local civil service law created the Board of Examiners. Teacher and supervisor candidates took an examination and were placed on a rank order list and appointed to schools.
In the 1960s, the Board of Examiners came under assault, the examination system had a “disparate impact” on candidates of color and the federal courts sustained the appellants ending examinations for school supervisors. .
The attacks on the Board of Examiners continued, the process took years and thousands of teachers worked as substitutes awaiting the actions of Board. In 1990 the State legislature dissolved the Board of Examiners.
While the examination system ended, the school system continued to struggle to recruit and license teachers and many thousands of teachers languished as substitutes. Schools in high poverty neighborhoods, “hard to staff” schools, had a continuing turnover of staff, teachers quitting and teachers moving to other higher socio-economic schools.
The Obama/Duncan Race to the Top, a competitive grant program, $4.3 billion, required teacher accountability systems linking pupil achievement to teacher ratings as well as adopting Common Core State Standards in federally required grades 3-8 state tests.
The unanticipated impact: teacher preparation programs began to see fewer enrollees. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), again, before the pandemic took a deep dive highlighting retention and attraction of teachers.
Teachers are leaving in significant increasing numbers and teacher preparation programs have reduced enrollments. EPI conducted a six part series of articles Read here.
What we can do about it: Tackle the working conditions and other factors that are prompting teachers to quit and dissuading people from entering the profession, thus making it harder for school districts to retain and attract highly qualified teachers: low pay, a challenging school environment, and weak professional development support and recognition. In addition to tackling these factors for all schools, we must provide extra supports and funding to high-poverty schools, where teacher shortages are even more of a problem.
* One factor behind staffing difficulties in both low- and high-poverty schools is the high share of public school teachers leaving their posts: 13.8 percent were either leaving their school or leaving teaching altogether in a given year, according to the most recent data
* Another factor is the dwindling pool of applicants to fill vacancies: From the 2008–2009 to the 2015–2016 school year, the annual number of education degrees awarded fell by 15.4 percent, and the annual number of people who completed a teacher preparation program fell by 27.4 percent.
* Schools are also having a harder time retaining credentialed teachers, as is evident in the small but growing share of all teachers who are both newly hired and in their first year of teaching and in the substantial shares of teachers who quit who are certified and experienced. It is even more difficult for high-poverty schools to retain credentialed teachers.
Low pay is another key issue: Read section on relative pay here
Teachers also face challenging working conditions Read here
The EPI Report concludes with a series of overarching principles:
Overarching principles for how to approach the teacher shortage problem
- Understand that the teacher shortage is caused by multiple factors and thus can only be tackled with a comprehensive set of long-term solutions.
- Understand that the complexity of the challenge calls for coordinated efforts of multiple stakeholders.
- Increase public investments in education.
- Treat teachers as professionals and teaching as a profession.
Specific proposals in the policy agenda to address the teacher shortage
- Raise teacher pay to attract new teachers and keep teachers in their schools and the profession.
- Elevate teacher voice, and nurture stronger learning communities to increase teachers’ influence and sense of belonging.
- Lower the barriers to teaching that affect teachers’ ability to do their jobs and their morale.
- Design professional supports that strengthen teachers’ sense of purpose, career development, and effectiveness.
The EPI report (2019) precedes the last two years of pandemic.
In May, 2021 Education Week released the results of interviews with hundreds of teachers across the country (Read here). Increasing numbers of teachers are considering leaving, the stress is unbearable, and they love their students and are impacted by the politically motivated attack on teachers.
New York City responded to the teacher shortage issue twenty years ago. The Teaching Fellows Program is an alternative certification pathway created to attract second career individuals. The CUNY colleges provide an accelerated certification program in shortage areas. (Read about the history and details of the program here). 20 percent of new teachers this year are graduates of the Teaching Fellows Program.
New York City also funds a Men Teach Program directed at attracting men of color into teaching. Candidates are recruited from among freshman and sophomores in the four-year CUNY colleges. (Read here)
Unfortunately, New York State does not fund comparable programs.
The AFT National Taskforce on Teacher and School Staff Shortages will look across the nation, as you would expect the “shortages” issue varies widely. The states are in the process of determining how to allocate the federal dollars and attracting and retaining teachers and other vital school personnel would be an excellent use of the federal dollars.
About the author
Franklin P. Schargel is a former classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator who successfully designed, developed and helped implement a process that dramatically increased parental engagement, increased post-secondary school attendance and significantly lowered his Title 1 high school’s dropout rate. The U.S. Department of Education, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and The New York Times have recognized his work. In addition, Schargel served as the Education Division Chair of the American Society for Quality and helped develop the National Quality Award, the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Education.
Schargel is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer and author of thirteen best-selling books. His last published book: “Creating Safe Schools: A Guide for School Leaders, Classroom Teachers, Counselors and Parents” has been published internationally by Francis and Taylor, LLC. In addition, he has written over 100 published articles dealing with school reform.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.