Top 5 changes teachers are urging leaders to make to solve shortages

Treating teachers with the same respect as other workforce professionals would go a long way toward improving morale, according to an AFT task force.

Treating teachers more like other workforce professionals would go a long way toward solving shortages now challenging district leaders, particularly in STEM subjects and special education. That call for respect is being directed to society, school boards and other policymakers by the American Federation of Teachers in the union’s latest analysis of K-12 working conditions.

Some experts say teacher shortages are not hitting every state, grade and subject equally, but a drop in morale certainly appears more extensive. Job dissatisfaction among pre-K-12 teachers has risen by a staggering 34 percentage points since the start of the pandemic, surging from 45% to 79% in a poll of more than 1,300 educators conducted by the American Federation of Teachers earlier this year. Flatlining salaries, relentless political attacks, increasing workload, and the “weaponization” of standardized testing in the push for accountability were cited as top concerns by the union’s members, 74% of whom said they would not recommend the profession to others.

Other recent surveys have revealed that K-12 educators are the most burned-out group of professionals in the workforce. “We don’t know exactly how many of those considering leaving education actually will leave,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “I’m confident that our country can learn to treat and respect teachers and school staff in ways that befit their importance to our society.”

The union is now asking educators themselves how district leaders can best keep teachers on the job and enthusiastic about their craft. “The four C’s and the four T’s” are at the heart of reversing shortages and low morale, according to the findings of a task force comprising state and local union leaders determined. Improving climate, culture, conditions and compensation ensures that teachers have the tools, time, trust and training they need, the task force said in its just-released “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” report on shortages.

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Here are the changes–based on those four C’s and four T’s–that the union’s members are urging K-12 leaders and other policymakers to enact:

1. Treat teachers and school staff like professionals. Teachers expect to have ample time to plan instruction and to collaborate with colleagues. They also want more authority to make day-to-day school decisions based on their professional judgment, and to have ongoing, job-embedded PD. A separate AFT survey found that “more respect and support from administration” was one of teachers’ three top suggestions for preventing shortages.

2. Restructure schools to create positive working and learning conditions. Lowering class sizes would allow teachers more time to focus on social-emotional learning and similar supports. The nation’s ‘test-and-punish obsession’ could be curbed by replacing standardized tests with educator-led, curriculum linked assessments and project-based learning. Union members also want leaders to reduce non-teaching duties, including limiting the amount of paperwork required for administrative purposes and districtwide reports.

3. Increase salaries and benefits to attract and retain education professionals. Teachers are looking for livable wages that also help them pay off student loans and lessen the need to work multiple jobs. The union encourages policymakers to start by eliminating the “teacher pay penalty” or “teacher tax” that leaves teachers earning about 20% less than professionals with similar levels of education.

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4. Revitalize the educator and school staff pipeline. Teacher preparation programs should provide more on-the-job experiences that offer real-world practice
alongside a skilled teacher. This training would ideally last for an entire school year. Districts can also create more ties with their communities through grow-your-own programs and mentoring.

5. Turn schools into community hubs that serve the needs of the whole child and the whole family. Increase investments in community schools that provide families with wraparound services, including healthcare, food and housing assistance and adult education.

“Why do we have a teacher shortage?” Weingarten said. “The teacher shortage is the direct result of the shortage of conditions, respect and pay–and we are not going to fix one without fixing the others.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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