How will coronavirus challenges impact teacher shortages?
Coronavirus concerns and potential budget cuts may exacerbate teacher shortages in STEM and other specialized subjects that have challenged leaders in high-poverty districts and elsewhere.
A USA Today survey made headlines last week when it warned that one in five teachers might not return for the 2020-21 school year.
Robert Floden, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, acknowledges that there is a lot of uncertainty around the profession as schools develop plans to bring students and teachers back in classrooms in the fall.
“There’s great variability by geography area and by subject area,” Floden says. “Science, math, special education and bilingual have had shortages for a long time.”
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Continued disruptions to education may nudge some teachers into retirement as district leaders with less money to devote to teacher salaries may struggle to find applicants for certain positions.
At the same time, teacher salaries have been declining compared to the pay of other college graduates, which may, in part, have caused fewer college students to choose education as a career, Floden says.
In Michigan alone, there has been a 50% drop in student entering teacher preparation programs over the last 10 years, he says.
Solving teacher shortages
Michigan State, and other Michigan universities, have held virtual hiring fairs that have drawn district leaders seeking new teachers. And this spring and summer, the hiring process can continue on Zoom and other online platforms, Floden says.
Colleges and universities are also working more closely with superintendents to have school districts to provide financial support to student teachers as they gain field experience in classrooms.
“There’s a national push to think of ways where districts can make it easier, financially, for college students to complete their degrees without a big debt load at the end,” Floden says.
Districts are also continuing to discuss whether to offer higher pay to teachers in math, special education and other subjects where there have been ongoing shortages. Traditionally, districts have offered the same pay to teachers with similar levels of experience and education.
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“Certain districts have used signing bonuses as a way to bring people in,” Floden says. “It’s a financial incentive that doesn’t affect the base salary.”
In preparing to open next year, district leaders will also be negotiating with union leaders on safety precautions to protect teachers from the coronavirus.
At the same time, teachers unions have been making videos of students and others talking about the positive influence teachers have had on their lives.
“It’s a matter of persuading people that being a teacher is a good thing to do,” Floden says. “There’s more pressure on teachers, but we have to remind people that it’s still an occupation that thas a lot going for it—the thrill of seeing kids light up when you see they’re learning is great. It’s an occupation where you feel like you’re making a difference.”