By: James Sanders, CEO of Scoot Education
The Great Resignation has rocked many of the key pillars of American society, but once the dust settles it may well be education that suffers the heaviest toll. One worrying speculation is that we have yet to see the full extent of the “Great Teacher Resignation.” Whether we’re approaching the cliff or have already walked off, the U.S. Education System needs to brace for the fall. School districts need to take action and change the way they look at staffing, both to mend the damage that’s already been done and to take preventative measures for the future.
The issue, itself, is relatively straightforward: teachers are facing a truly historic level of burnout. Long hours, financial hardships and mounting stresses both in and outside of the classroom were already challenging for teachers before the pandemic, but in recent years all of these problems have been exacerbated and added to new hurdles surrounding remote learning and technology in the classroom. For many teachers, it’s simply become too much.
In a staggering survey conducted by the National Education Association, 55 percent of 3 million teachers reported that they intend to leave their profession earlier than they had originally planned. The pool of available teachers is quickly drying up at a time when the need for them has never been greater.
With burnout reaching critical mass, school districts are now quickly rushing to find ways to stem the ongoing exodus. Recently, one Texas school district moved to a four-day school week, specifically citing burnout and staff shortages as its main reason.
Unfortunately, we’re past the point of stopgaps being effective. It’s time for districts to take a long, hard look at how they staff schools and support that staff long-term. Even before the pandemic, the demands of modern classrooms had already eclipsed what the combined pool of substitutes and full-time teachers was equipped to handle. One promising solution: if the pool is too small, then build a bigger, more diverse, more resilient pool of passionate educators.
The financial realities of teaching are daunting – pursuing a credential typically piles up debt that the average salary of an educator is not set up to properly address. Furthermore, getting that education in the first place takes not only money, but an abundance of time. As it stands, teaching is a career path that only feels realistic to the upper-middle class, and the numbers reflect this. Despite 56 percent of students in this country being people of color, a disproportionate 84 percent of teachers are white. Imagine what could be done if we tap into the wealth of potential in this discrepancy alone?
From the top down, the federal government, state governments and school districts need to get serious about removing the financial and systemic obstacles that have steered away countless aspiring teachers for decades. Financial support, streamlining credential processes and earn-and-learn programs are all powerful tools in cultivating a new, stronger pool of teachers.
Furthermore, districts need to focus more than ever on retention. A recent report by the Alabama Commission on the Evaluation of Services indicated that more than half of first-time teachers left the field within their first three years on the job – and national numbers don’t look much better, with a pre-pandemic report showing 40 percent of new teachers quit after just five years. Having a support system makes a huge difference, and districts that make the effort to stoke the passions of their teachers rather than allow them to burn out will see much greater resiliency from their roster.
Part of this support – and also a critical piece of keeping the ship sailing when staffing challenges do still inevitably arise – is having a reliable stable of high-quality substitutes at the ready. Whether it’s to fill a gap for a teacher who quits partway into the second semester or to cover for a teacher who needs maternity leave – or even just a vacation – substitutes are a key piece of the puzzle. They present both a way for districts to ensure students’ learning isn’t affected when a staffing problem arises and a much-needed assurance for teachers that they have a back-up should they need it.
For both subs and teachers, districts should be seeking out passionate educators and offering an experience that lives up to that passion. For many districts, this might mean tough decisions, a lot of number-crunching and a complete reevaluation of their staffing processes. It won’t be easy, but this burgeoning crisis may well turn into a matter of survival for districts that don’t act quickly.
James Sanders is the CEO of Scoot Education.