Teachers have had to make a major shift during the pandemic, with many citing symptoms of burnout and depression.
They’ve faced challenges such as increased workload, insufficient pay, a lack of communication, and not feeling respected, according to Ava Tasker-Mitchell, the assistant superintendent of schools/instructional director for Prince George’s County Public School in Maryland. And those challenges have played heavily into the teaching shortages faced now by school districts nationwide.
Tasker-Mitchell spoke about ways to tackle increasing teaching shortages across the country at Education Week’s “A Seat at The Table: Staffing Issues Are Not New. What Do We Do for Next Year?” webinar earlier this week. Moderated by Education Week opinion blogger Peter DeWitt, the event also featured guest speakers Stacy Ruben-Storey, the principal of Spencer Elementary in Oklahoma City, and Education Week staff writer Madeline Will.
Here are six observations about teaching shortages to take away from the discussion:
The pandemic is affecting teachers’ mental health and job satisfaction.
Morale plummeted during the pandemic, with many teachers feeling a lack of time and increased pressure, according to Will.
An EdWeek Research Center/Merrimack College national survey released in April 2022 found teachers’ satisfaction levels at an all-time low, with only 12 percent of teachers claiming to be very satisfied with their jobs, and more than 4 in 10 teachers saying they were very likely to leave the profession within the next two years.
While tackling the lack of pay is necessary to help teachers, there is also a need to provide them with opportunities that make them feel respected and part of the decisions in the workplace, according to Tasker-Mitchell.
Teachers have uneven, and sometimes unexpected, workloads.
Teachers experienced disparities in the challenges they face during the pandemic with increased prep workloads on teachers who are “self-contained” [and] “teach every subject” as opposed to teachers who teach one or two subjects in depth, said Tasker-Mitchell.
For newer teachers, there’s also a disconnect between what teachers are taught to expect while studying to become educators and the reality of what they face in the classroom, Ruben-Storey said.
The use of virtual teachers to combat the shortage has its pros and cons.
One of the solutions proposed to overcome the teaching shortage is the use of virtual teachers, where teachers livestream into the classroom and teach students through a screen. Besides offering a potential Band-Aid for shortages, it could also help students learn skills such as Mandarin and coding in communities where they may not otherwise have access to such expertise, according to Will.
She said some pitfalls of using virtual teachers are that companies often deploy them in high-poverty schools where students are already at an academic disadvantage, and that virtual teaching may keep students from benefiting from the kind of student-teacher relationships that come with in-person instruction.
Additionally, a lot of the time, virtual teaching requires an aide to be in the classroom with the students, which suggests it’s not always cost-effective.
Teaching needs to be recast in more positive terms.
“We need to change the narrative around education,” said DeWitt. “There is a lot of negative rhetoric around education.” This reframing needs to apply to both teaching and administration, he added.
Principals are key.
Principals can play a role in creating a positive environment and working with teachers, said Ruben-Storey, who said it’s not just about finding teaching staff but also supporting them.
There is still hope when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers.
Tasker-Mitchell discussed her Maryland’s initiative to recruit and retain teachers through the Maryland Blueprint project, which will focus on diversifying and recruiting highly qualified teachers and providing them with the opportunity for increased pay.
Summing up, Will noted the possibility that any teacher exodus may be smaller than anticipated. “Experts say all of the teachers who say they’re going to leave, they might not actually leave,” she said, “so I think there’s still a chance to keep them in the classroom, and work with them, so hopefully we won’t see as big of a drop.”