In several states across the United States, schools are facing a shortage of teachers and substitutes exacerbated by COVID-19. It’s a looming problem across the country, and concerns of COVID-19 have caused an increasing number of teachers to leave or take time off from the classroom.
Teaching vacancies are projected to reach 200,000 in five years, almost double the number from 2018, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. When schools are unable to connect students with certified teachers, equitable education is challenged.
A report from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association found that Arizona is currently facing the worst teacher shortage it has seen.
Across 145 districts and charter schools in the state, more than 750 teachers have quit since the start of the 2020-21 school year, according to the ASPAA report. Of these teachers, 43% said COVID-19 was the primary reason for their leaving.
Additionally, schools across the country are facing a lack of substitute teachers. During a time when schools are in need of substitutes the most, there is a smaller pool than ever before.
In Colorado, parents are volunteering to substitute to help alleviate the shortage, according to an article published by the Colorado Sun. Other districts in the state are offering staff members a financial incentive to step up and fill in when necessary.
A good portion of substitute teachers are retired teachers and they face a higher risk for complications from COVID-19 due to their age, Kallie Leyba, president of both the American Federation of Teachers Colorado and the Douglas County Federation, told the Colorado Sun.
Schools in Colorado are not the only ones scrambling to fill teaching vacancies with a last-resort alternative. In West Virginia, several schools have had to close due to outbreaks of COVID-19 and a shortage of teachers and substitutes, WCHS-TV reported.
To fill the gap, West Virginia’s State Superintendent of Schools, Clayton Burch, announced that college seniors can become paid substitute teachers during the 2020-21 school year before completing their degree. Burch said they will still have a mentor assigned to them.
Up north, a survey conducted by Education Minnesota between Sept. 23 and Oct. 5 found that 79% of educators in Minnesota who responded are feeling stressed, and 73% reported that they are feeling overwhelmed.
Overall, nearly 2,800 Minnesota educators said they are thinking about quitting or retiring, according to the survey.
"Districts need to remove all unnecessary tasks from educators’ plates, open negotiations on building-specific issues and generally abandon plans that ask a single teacher to manage half a class online and a half in-person at the same time," Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said in a news release. "That arrangement may have seemed like a good idea in August, but it’s not working in October and it may drive out hundreds of teachers by May.”
Teacher shortages have been an issue for schools for over a decade. As COVID-19 continues to cause teachers to take a leave of absence or retire early, we are here to continue to fill these vacancies with high-quality teachers so students have the equitable learning experience they need.
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