Since the pandemic began almost two years ago, we have seen shortages on the grocery store shelves, at some of our favorite drive-throughs, and even in some of our frequently shopped clothing stores. But there’s a more pressing shortage this country is facing and I don’t think many people realize it: there is a teacher and a substitute teacher shortage in the world of public education.
There has been a mass exodus of teachers this past year with more to come. I personally know of or have heard about five or six teachers who have resigned from the profession this year alone. In my fifteen years as an educator, I have never seen the likes of it before. We are losing extremely talented and dedicated teachers. And you might be wondering: if they are so dedicated, why are they leaving? I like to think of myself as a dedicated and all-in educator, however teaching through a global pandemic has just about broken me.
This is why I believe I can give you some insight as to why teachers are leaving the profession in droves and not looking back.
A study from the Professional Educators of Tennessee shows around 22% of teachers across the state said they don’t plan to stay in education, which is a fifth of the state’s workforce for educating children. One of the biggest challenges facing educators was stated as morale. Before I speak to morale and you come at me with how I get my summers and holidays off, let me explain. Morale means the confidence and enthusiasm of a group or of a person at a particular time. Teachers’ confidence and enthusiasm for their jobs right now is probably the lowest it has ever been in the history of the teaching profession. It is hard to be excited about doing the same job we are used to doing but doing it under mask mandates, worrying about our health, struggling to catch our students up while there is still a revolving door of children constantly in and out due to varying levels of Covid exposure.
Mind you, the same aspects of education remain from pre-Covid times. The demands teachers have always faced still exist, but now, you throw in the effects of having a six-month summer break from the first year of the pandemic, and half your class having spent their year as virtual students the previous school year, and we are trying to recover from student learning loss while still being expected to teach current grade level standards which all students will be tested on by the state come April. (Don’t misunderstand me: virtual teachers did a heck of a job teaching their hearts out and making an impossible situation possible, but it definitely came with obstacles that are just not present in a classroom setting, E.g. barking dogs and crying baby brothers just to name a few.)
I know what you’re thinking: this is what we signed up for when we went to school to be a teacher. Well, you would be very wrong. This is not at all what I signed up for when I dreamed about being a teacher. I imagined making a difference. I imagined being the reason the light bulbs went off in my students’ heads and they were able to understand a concept and apply it on their own. I dreamed about being everyone’s favorite teacher and being the teacher kids would remember for years to come. I never dreamed about not being able to have my class covered if I got sick, but I also never dreamed about teaching through a pandemic.
Another reason why I imagine so many of us are leaving the profession is the difficulty in getting a substitute when life happens and we need to be out of school. Before Covid, if one of my children were sick, finding a substitute was a simple task. Now, when one of us has to be out, even if we reserve a sub with ample time, there is no guarantee that person will show up on the day of the absence. If that is the case, then the class must be split between the other classes on that grade level for the day. This places an additional burden on that classroom teacher, as it adds more bodies to their class. We realize this is not something that can be helped at the moment, but the lack of being able to find a substitute is another hardship the profession is currently facing.
I am just curious to know: when there are no good teachers left, who do you think is going to educate your children?
I recall hearing a lot of praise and applause for teachers in the beginning of lock down when parents had to teach their children from home. If educators start to disappear, who will be left to teach? From where are your children going to get their education? We really don’t ask for much. Just a little recognition that the work we do is noticed and appreciated instead of constantly being attacked and rebuffed. We ask that parents and politicians and the public be on our side, since we are the ones in the trenches and we are the ones doing the hard work inside the classrooms and see firsthand what is going on. If you notice, I did not speak of increasing pay or the lack of money teachers make in this post. That is because people do not go into teaching for the money, as I am sure you have heard before, and the pay is not a reason which would lead me to leave teaching.
Am I grateful for my village? You bet.
I couldn’t do it without my colleagues, my teammates, and my administration. I truly work with some of the best. But the saying we are all in the same boat? We really all are. You have heard it before. Be nice to your children’s teachers. We are all just trying to survive. We are all human beings too. We are not superheroes. We have feelings. We have families. We are literally doing the best we can, day in and day out in order to give your children the very best education we can under some very unprecedented times and circumstances.