What’s the Deal with the Shortage of Teachers Nationwide?
Schools across the U.S. are facing tremendous challenges in filling teacher vacancies. There is little doubt that there will be children in classrooms across the United States who will begin the school year without a teacher in place in their classroom(s) or with teachers who have been placed in subjects outside their area of certification, or even with folks placed in the classroom because no one else was available. You may have heard about this crisis, but you may not have heard what is factoring into this critical problem.
Teaching is not the only field where employers are having a hard time finding suitable employees. We have all noted the many help wanted signs on businesses throughout our communities. While many have blamed the pandemic and the “great resignation” for the problem, there is more to it than that. From a demographic standpoint there is a problem baked into the number of employees available to hire.
For the longest time the Baby Boom generation was the largest generation in U.S. history. The generation that followed the Boomers, Generation X, is smaller than the Boomer generation. As the Boomers began to retire, it was thus a given that there would be fewer available employees in the talent pool. It just stands to reason that one cannot fill vacant jobs when one has fewer folks entering and in the system than those who are leaving the system through retirement or death. The Millennial Generation is now larger than the Baby Boom generation due to the natural process of decline in the number of Baby Boomers via death. The Millennial Generation is considered to be those born between 1981 to 1996. The youngest of the Millennials then are near the start of their professional careers and just beginning to be available to fill the roles being left behind by the last of the retiring Boomers and the beginning of retiring Gen Xers. (Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/28/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers-as-americas-largest-generation/) More specific evidence as well as child population projections can be accessed through the U.S. Census website (https://www.childstats.gov/AMERICASCHILDREN/tables/pop1.asp).
For the education field though, it’s more complicated than just demographics. Not only is the education profession faced with the same demographic realities as other employment segments, fewer young people are choosing education for a career. Per an EdWeek report in March of 2022, between 2008-2009 and 2018-2019 traditional teaching programs saw a 35% decline in enrollment. No doubt some of this was due to the aforementioned demographic reality; however, it is also true that there have simply been fewer people choosing education for a career (https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/fewer-people-are-getting-teacher-degrees-prep-programs-sound-the-alarm/2022/03).
Combine the unavoidable facts presented by a demographically smaller workforce (temporary though that may be), fewer folks choosing the profession, and a rise in the number of children in the U.S. and you have a perfect storm of factors that have resulted in the teacher availability crisis. Based on demographics alone, it is not surprising that there is a short supply of teachers or workers in any field for that matter. This reality is being borne out in the current labor marketplace. Add in folks not choosing education with a rising school age population and you have an accurate account of the headwinds facing schools.
But the factors above are not all of the story. While the teacher employment crisis is finally getting attention in both the media and from some government agencies, it cannot be said that no one was sounding the alarm on the now present crisis. Education associations, state committees, and individuals have warned that this crisis was imminent for a long time now. I have personally warned thought leaders and politicians that this day was coming for over a decade now. The public should not accept any public official whose been around for any length of time claiming this day could not be seen on the horizon. They were duly warned.
In Michigan there is finally money in the budget to help grow the teaching profession. Whether this will draw young people into the profession is unknown. Teachers regularly site low pay and stress as two of the leading causes for walking away from the profession. Programs to forgive college debt and to provide stipends for student teachers do not directly address either of those two challenges. Thus the medicine concocted by the state may be directed at the wrong source of the malady. Only time will tell.
Time, however, is not something today’s students have. Even if the approaches being tried are successful, there is at least a four or five year delay in improvements to the teacher availability pipeline. That is potentially another half decade of schools struggling to find teaching staff and endlessly poaching one another for qualified adults in classrooms. We must be prepared to adjust rapidly and realistically to this crisis if we are to provide the education children need and that our society and our businesses require to thrive.