Millions of children now face considerable gaps in learning after most U.S. classrooms closed a year and a half ago, and education changed in a matter of days. If we don’t make some serious changes, this gap might seriously increase by another crisis. The United States is slowly running out of well-skilled and well-resourced teachers indicated by data from school districts, but perhaps most importantly, declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs. Some of the latest reports show that the teacher shortage is real and growing. It is possibly worse than we think as more pressure and teaching challenges continue to be piled on our teaching staff. The COVID pandemic has not exactly improved the situation either.
Compared to a decade ago, one-third less people are entering teacher training programs. Potential educators seem to be discouraged by a number of issues that have been plaguing the profession for a while now. Currently there is a shortage of about 150,000 teachers across the country. So why are fewer people are interested in a career in education?
- Lack of autonomy
Teachers often feel micromanaged and controlled by the standard curriculum they are supposed to execute and the lesson plan they are expected to follow. This lack of autonomy undermines the ability of teachers to respond to their students’ needs. It also results in them not teaching but following a program built by non-educators. This devalues their skills and expertise and immediately causes a large chasm in the education every child deserves.
- Increased duties and responsibilities
Teachers have been faced with an ever increasing list of duties and responsibilities in areas that do not belong in the teaching profession. From playing the role of parent, trying keep unruly kids in line, to counseling and intervention for those students who are neglected or abused, teachers are expected to make “A” students out of every child. The expectations well exceed the salary for teachers. When you add the fact that teachers are now told how to talk, how to respond to a situation, teach to standardized testing versus to a well-rounded curriculum designed to prepare our children for the future, teaching no longer holds the “making a difference” factor that attracted many people to the profession.
- The erosion of the status of teachers as professionals
Teachers are often seen as people who execute a standard curriculum and follow a lesson plan. However, they still have to create the classroom experience and foster a teacher-student relationship built on respect and trust. These things are fundamental to the development of our children, but still considered ‘soft skills’ that do not always count towards what it means to be a professional.
- Low average salary
The average teaching salary is low, when compared to the number of years it takes to get to a pay grade equivalent to today’s standard of living. This is a reality that those going into the teaching profession face, and it often leads to them finding a different career path with higher earning potential.
Eliminating some of these barriers may be costly, but not compared to the severe consequences these factors have on our education system. The teacher shortage is real and it’s worse than many thought because we haven’t paid enough attention to it. With the current COVID challenges added to the other stressors in the teaching profession, it’s time we make this a priority.