COVID-19 Impact on Teacher Shortages

Chelsea Penney
August 30, 2021

How is COVID-19 causing teacher vacancies?

COVID-19 has caused many educators to reevaluate their positions. Teachers have decided to retire early or change careers to keep themselves and their families out of harm’s way.

Teachers are frontline workers who interact with students, parents, administrators, and fellow faculty every day. While a general sense of appreciation permeated during the beginning of the pandemic, teachers were becoming more burnt out from their sacrifice. 

According to a survey of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32% said the "pandemic has led them to plan to leave the profession earlier than they anticipated," NEA Today's Tim Walker wrote.

Teachers with health issues have chosen to retire early because they cannot be accommodated in a safe work environment. Interacting with students and staff exposes vulnerable teachers to the virus and other germs.

As the virus continues to spread, schools are temporarily closing and switching to remote learning when outbreaks occur. Schools in Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina have closed their doors to mitigate the spread and opted for a temporary virtual school.

Meanwhile, some schools do not require masks, so the virus is spreading quickly. In Palm Beach County, Florida, “By the fifth day of school, student cases tripled,” but the school continues to mandate in-person learning. As a result, teachers are working in impossible conditions.

How has COVID-19 exposed flaws in the education system?

Attention turned to existing issues in the American education system. Teachers juggle persistent problems like low pay and lack of respect with new uncertainties like if/when schools will resume or how they will teach remotely.

Some schools react quickly to outbreaks, so rules are constantly changing. It is difficult to adapt when the changes never stop. On the other hand, other schools do not react at all, putting teachers and students at risk of catching COVID-19 as case numbers rise.

Teaching is a high-risk, high-effort career. It takes a strong passion to do good work under those conditions. Teachers do not feel valued by their state legislatures or administration because they are not protected. When they feel disrespected, teachers leave the profession for a safer, more lucrative option or simply choose to retire early.

How bad are the teacher shortages?

Teacher vacancies are reported in districts across the country. The Frontline Education study says, “Teacher shortages are most common in urban school systems, with 75% of districts in cities of any size reporting shortages. In comparison, 65% of rural districts reported shortages, along with 60% of suburban districts.” Special education, secondary math, and secondary science teachers represent the greatest needs nationwide.

The Florida Education Association reported a 67% increase in state vacancies. On August 2, there were still almost 5,000 teacher vacancies in Florida. Many schools started the new year without adequate teachers. Additionally, teachers who do get sick or are asked to quarantine are absent from their classrooms.

In Colorado, 6,910 teachers need to be hired. Illinois needs over 1,800 teachers. In Virginia, there are 1,063 open positions. These numbers are just scratching the surface on the national needs.

Unfilled positions are offered to long-term substitutes or uncertified teachers who are not qualified to teach the class they are given. These underqualified teachers cannot offer students the same quality of education.

States also expect to add thousands of teaching jobs to their rosters in the next five years to meet population growth, but few students are studying education. With fewer teachers entering the workforce, the crisis will expand.

How can we solve the teacher shortage crisis?

COVID-19 allowed education to evolve. Systems in place for decades were forced to adapt to the circumstances. Quick changes were made, and new technology was adopted. Education changed overnight, and it worked! Many students thrived in the new online learning environment, and parents became more involved in their children’s education. When virtual learning is done right, it helps students find stability in a chaotic time. 

Trained virtual educators are the key to the future of education. The potential of flexible learning solutions is infinite. District and state leaders need to continue to be open to new ideas and see the benefit of live virtual instruction for students.

Chelsea Penney earned her Bachelors Degree in Writing from University of Colorado Denver. She is currently in graduate school through Texas A&M University studying Marketing. She loves living in Austin, TX and working on the frontline of the many marketing initiatives for Proximity Learning.

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