K-12 schools across the United States are facing a worsening shortage of teachers. While schools have struggled filling vacancies for years, the shortage is expected to be exacerbated this fall by teachers not wanting to return to in-person instruction due to the risk of COVID-19.
The teacher shortage is projected to reach 200,000 in five years, almost double the number from 2018, according to the Economic Policy Institute. When schools are unable to find qualified teachers, providing students with equitable education is more challenging and their learning is threatened.
The shortage is a widespread problem for the country. 95% of U.S. states and territories reported a shortage of special education teachers during 2016-2018, the most out of any subject area according to Education Week. Math, computer science and science are other challenging subjects that most states have struggled to find teachers for.
The shortage has also negatively impacted bilingual and English-as-a-second language instruction with 30 states and the District of Columbia reporting a shortage of teachers in these areas during 2018-2019, according to the Center for American Progress. Bilingual students are resultantly facing a lack of access to personalized instruction from a teacher that can effectively communicate with and mentor them.
Why do teacher shortages exist?
Teaching has been unable to keep up with other professions due to low salaries, difficult working conditions and lack of career growth opportunities, according to the Center for American Progress. From 2010 to 2018, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has decreased by a third due to these high levels of dissatisfaction in the field, Education Week found.
Additionally, not only are fewer students becoming teachers but 44% of new teachers leave the field within five years, according to a report from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.
Compensation is a large factor for this growing lack of certified teachers across the country. Teachers are paid less than other college-education workers with similar experience, according to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute. This discourages enrollment in teacher-preparation programs and challenges school districts to retain current teachers.
Teachers have said they are overworked in the brick-and-mortar classroom, resulting in burning out and eventually leaving. The job can become too intense with the extra responsibilities of working with school administration and parents on top of their classroom workload.
This struggle to keep certified teachers in the classroom has exacerbated due to the spread of COVID-19 across the United States. Teachers who are unhappy with their districts’ plan to reopen this fall said they intended to either retire early, take an unpaid leave of absence or quit teaching altogether to protect themselves and their families, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey.
Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 teachers said they would not return to work if their school reopened the building for in-person instruction, another EdWeek Research Center survey found. Almost half of the teachers surveyed said they are vulnerable to the virus due to advanced age, being immunocompromised, having asthma, being pregnant or more.
Teachers have been going above and beyond to provide students with effective instruction for years, but the added stress of the risks of COVID-19 and learning how to teach online can be too much for one person to handle.
How can teach shortages be alleviated?
For school districts who have difficulty with hiring teachers due to location, such as schools in rural areas, remote learning can be beneficial to alleviate teacher shortages. Education Week found that an all-remote schedule provides districts with the flexibility to hire high-quality teachers from anywhere in the country to teach classes online.
For subject areas that struggle with obtaining teachers the most, like special education and science, the ability to connect students with a high-quality instructor through live video can be very beneficial to providing an equitable learning opportunity for students in schools challenged by the shortage.
In the past decade, school districts are increasingly seeking outside aid to combat their teacher shortages. Proximity Learning is an online education company that partners with school districts to fill their needs for high-quality, certified teachers that are trained in the virtual classroom.
For districts in rural communities where access to technology and quality teachers is a challenge, connecting students with a Proximity Learning teacher through live video allows them to have the same learning opportunities as students in urban and suburban schools.
Even when COVID-19 disrupted education at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, students in Proximity Learning classes were able to continue learning online without missing a beat because they were already used to the technology and environment.
Online classes can be just as effective as in-person learning with proper preparation and training. A recent study from Chicago State University found that the grades of students in a class taught online by a Proximity Learning teacher are right on track with the average U.S. middle and high school grades.
With synchronous live instruction, teachers can connect with students face-to-face from the safety of their home without the added stress of the brick-and-mortar workload. Proximity Learning does all the work with the school district and scheduling, allowing teachers to focus solely on their passion for teaching students.
Technology can be powerful in combating teacher shortages by connecting learners with the expert teachers they deserve, no matter where they are.