Teachers are leaving the profession in droves and experts are sounding the alarm

“I was driven almost because of it,” said Reynolds, 29. “I want to do good with our children.”

While some say it’s too early to know the specific impacts of the pandemic, Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) told CNN that the numbers already show that Covid-19 has further deterred Americans from getting into teaching. In fall 2020 and 2021, about 20% of institutions surveyed by AACTE reported that the pandemic had caused new undergraduate enrollment to decline by at least 11%. About 13% of institutions reported “significant” declines in the number of new graduate students. Regional state colleges and smaller private institutions — often found in rural communities — have seen the steepest declines.

“I don’t know how much worse things are going to have to get before we realize as a country that if we don’t invest in education…we won’t have anyone in the classrooms to teach our children,” said Gangone.

What drives future educators away?

Priscilla, a student teacher from Northern California who didn’t want to use her full name for fear of the impact it could have on her career, has wanted to be a teacher since she was a teenager – but as she prepares For the test to get her credentials this spring, she worries about how long she will be able to cope with today’s demands of being in a classroom.

“There are so many more things that are asked of teachers now,” she said. “It’s just like, ‘am I going to burn out the first year?’ I hope not.”

Covid-19 has aggravated existing struggles and added new hurdles for budding educators. Some missed in-person classroom experiences that are a valuable tool in preparing them for their teaching placements and the job market. Others dive into their first classroom experience trying to figure out how to keep their students engaged after many have become accustomed to disconnecting after hours on electronic screens. Priscilla said a big part of her first year as a student teacher was spent reviewing past material to bring her class up to speed. While fearing to contract the Covid-19.

“At this point it’s more about when I’m going to catch it,” Priscilla said. “I am currently replacing my teacher (supervisor) because she and her family have caught Covid.”

But even before the pandemic, the teaching profession struggled to attract new people: it promised high stress and low pay, and despite dozens of stories highlighting the often life-altering impacts teachers can have on their students, educators in the United States have long felt unrecognized and ignored.

“I think the perception of education is that there is little respect and little pay for the amount of work that has to be done,” Priscilla said, adding that while her family values ​​education, they tried to dissuade her from continuing to teach. “It’s not as prestigious as something else, like maybe a doctor or a nurse.”

Research by the National Education Association found that the average teacher salary in the 2020-2021 school year was just over $65,000. Some of the lowest-paying states — with an average salary below $50,000 — include Florida, Mississippi and South Dakota, according to the research. California, Massachusetts and New York, the highest-paying states, offered more than $85,000 on average.
Low pay remains one of the biggest challenges in recruiting future teachers, especially when combined with the costs of acquiring the necessary credentials added to student loans.

Sabreena Shaller, a 22-year-old graduate of Millersville University and student state president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said her early education and special education degree had high prices, costs of standardized transportation tests during her field experience — which included frequent Uber rides to the classrooms she was placed in during her freshman year before deciding to pay for a seat for her car on campus. Other classmates, Shaller said, struggled to find transportation.

“We don’t just need these economically privileged students as teachers, we need teachers who have also struggled to grow financially, because those are the teachers our students need as well,” Shaller said. “But we keep our education programs for people who can afford to be a teacher.”

And it’s not just socioeconomic diversity that the field desperately needs, experts say. In 2017-18, nearly 80% of public school teachers were white, 9% were Hispanic, 7% were black and 2% Asian, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
“Many students of color don’t see themselves in current teachers,” ACTE’s Gangone said.
And a recent legislative push in US states to mandate what can — and can’t — be taught in classrooms isn’t helping, Gangone said. A new study has found that more than 17.7 million public school students in the United States have had their learning restricted when it comes to teaching concepts related to race, racism and gender.
“The financial cost, but also the emotional cost of constantly having to fight and fight for our young people, for our children, can be draining,” said Sharif El-Mekki, CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development.
The problem is not new, El-Mekki said, and even before debates erupted around critical race theory (CRT), educators of color long felt scrutinized about what they could teach, which was a deterrent to aspiring teachers.

It’s important that “educator readiness programs understand the whole cost and ensure that they provide support, but also that districts provide safe, supportive and sustainable ecosystems,” El-added Mekki.

Some university leaders say if there’s a silver lining, the pandemic may have shown it’s time to radically change the way America’s teachers work — and how to attract more of them.
Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has seen enrollment in teacher preparation programs increase every fall since 2017, according to data provided by the college. University officials attribute the increase in part to a state-funded scholarship that allows young educators to complete their program debt-free if they commit to teaching in state schools for a term. (Other universities, like the University of Wisconsin-Madison program, have similar offers of financial support if students commit to teaching in the state for three to four years.)
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Many believe the rise in enrollment is also largely due to a new approach the university has taken to reshaping the teaching staff – an approach whose vision is a team of experts working to educate students rather than one teacher per class.
In this team, as envisioned by the university, teachers who work with students specialize in different areas and approaches – for example, one may be a certified special educator while another specializes in mathematics – and meet regularly to plan classes and discuss changes. When this team lacks expertise, additional full-time, part-time or volunteer educators can step in to cover certain topics. It’s a far cry from what the United States is today, but industry leaders say that’s what education should look like.

“You take a novice teacher and put (them) in the classroom,” Gangone said. “How do you expect this individual, fresh out of a program, to be able to teach students who come from all different socio-economic backgrounds, all types of linguistic backgrounds, all types of family structures and today with even more mental health issues as a result of the pandemic?”

“We can’t keep putting people in this situation,” said Carole Basile, dean of Arizona State Teachers College. “They are going to leave.” New approaches to education programs can help attract more educators, retain them, but also facilitate progress for teaching staff already in the workforce, Basile said.

To combat a dangerous shortage of teachers and replacements, some states have recently opted for solutions such as reducing the requirements needed to lead a classroom, which industry leaders say is a solution to fortune and not a long-term answer to recruiting qualified people into schools.
The problem, according to education officials, is not the lack of people who are likely to become teachers, but rather the insufficient number of people who choose this profession.
The key to recruiting and retaining more people will be legislative support, many said. ACTE recently expressed support for the Educators for America Act, which was introduced in the Senate last year and calls for $500 million annually to support educator readiness programs, among other provisions. aimed at addressing early awareness and preparedness.

Financial support, community support, mentorship and apprenticeships will also be key to attracting more educators of color and, in turn, inspiring more young students to enter the field, El-Mekki said.

“One of the things that students benefit from (diverse educators) is this idea of ​​not only seeing themselves leading classrooms, but also being in the curriculum,” El-Mekki added.

Those who are dedicated to joining the field say that the mission, for better young people, is what keeps them going. Looking to the future, there is concern, but there is also excitement.

“There’s a lot of crazy news right now with Covid, and even with the recent school shootings,” Priscilla said.

But she remains determined.

“The reason I still want to be a teacher is that I want my students to know that there are teachers who care about content, who care about them as students, as people “, she added. “I certainly believe it’s worth it. Because if we’re not investing in our students, then at the end of the day, we’re not investing in our future.”

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