How to tackle the teacher shortage before the well dries up?

Credit: Allison Shelley / The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of teachers and students in action

As an education consultant with 11 years of experience as a teacher and school administrator, I am deeply concerned that our country is facing a dire teacher shortage. California ranks first in the top 10 states with teacher shortages, spanning the fields of early childhood education, language arts, math, science, and special education. By 2024, the United States can expect a shortage of about 200,000 teachers.

State and federal lawmakers must take steps to alleviate the conditions that cause teachers to retire. The public must demand action from lawmakers to stop the bleeding in our education system.

While there was a teacher shortage before 2020, the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic and ever-increasing workload created a perfect storm. Many teachers reached breaking point due to unparalleled physical and emotional stress from exploitative working conditions that denied them breaks, time scheduling and the professional autonomy to teach in a way that best met the needs of their students. In a 2021 online survey of 700 teachers and 300 administrators, 54% said they were “somewhat” or “very” likely to leave the teaching profession within the next two years, while only 34% gave the same answer in 2019.

Nearly 50% of teachers struggle with student debt before signing their first teaching contract. The median student loan balance for educators is $58,700, of which 14% owe more than $100,000. Veteran educators are not exempt from drowning in debt, with 25% of educators over age 61 owing a balance of up to $45,000. While educators are entitled to student loan forgiveness after 10 years of service under the public loan forgiveness program, the program has been irretrievably broken. About 98% who apply for loan debt relief are denied. Meanwhile, loan service companies are raking in profits.

Current students pursuing a teaching qualification need support and we need to retain experienced teachers. The public should require legislators to establish:

  • Lifetime Bonuses for Experienced Teachers commencing in sixth year of service and graduating to a maximum of $1,500 per year. For reference, many school wardens receive a longevity bonus in their contracts.
  • Signing bonuses for all new teachers who receive the lowest wages on the district’s salary schedules.
  • Automatic loan forgiveness with 20% of debt forgiven each year and 100% forgiven by the end of the fifth year of service.
  • Daily replacement wage for all prospective teachers in the student learning phase.

Currently, the three to four month period of teaching students required for new teachers to be fully certified is unpaid, making it untenable for too many potentially great teachers.

  • All tuition, ID fees and initial license assessment fees paid by the state for new teachers.

To ‘grow’ a future supply of teachers, we also need:

  • mentoring programs for high school, high school and college students who want to become teachers so that they can learn pedagogical principles in an authentic setting while working with children.
  • Stipends for experienced mentors that would be carefully selected to work with middle and high school students who wish to pursue teaching careers.

Some may argue that these ideas are too expensive for the state. But the ongoing loss of teachers could prevent schools from staying open, which is much more expensive. The negative effect on children’s academic progress during pandemic school closures, and the subsequent lack of replacement teachers to cover the classrooms when teachers were sick, forewarn what will happen if our state legislators don’t intervene. Time is of the essence, and it is a thing of the past for teachers to know that our state and federal leaders appreciate their work and understand how vital teachers are to our children’s success.

To find your local legislator, click here and use your address or current location. For tips on communicating with lawmakers, click here. To learn more about the movement to end education debt, click here.

Cassandra R. Henderson is a former teacher and administrator of a public school in the Sacramento area and currently works as an education consultant for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

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