The American education system has had a few bumps in the road in recent years but none are as pressing as the current crisis it’s facing. Having endured controversies ranging from the benefits of standardized testing to whether or not new Common Core math makes any sense at all, one might think that the system that educates future generations of great Americans would be stronger. But the reality is that unless there’s a sudden surge in college graduates opting for a job in the public sector – teaching, specifically – the United States risks falling even further behind in academics.
According to U.S. News and World Report, in Tampa, FL and the surrounding communities there were over 1,000 teaching vacancies in mid-September, and experts are saying that we could currently be facing the worst teacher shortage in twenty years. This is a vastly different landscape from what we saw in the years surrounding the Great Recession when districts across the country were routinely handing out pink slips amidst budget cuts and a huge surplus of teachers.
Citing a report from the Learning Policy Institute, the teacher shortage is hitting just as public school enrollment is at an all-time high, and rising. Part of the problem is similar to the problem the manufacturing industry is facing: an aging and retiring workforce isn’t being replenished. It seems that in today’s climate of high-achieving students and overwhelming student loan debt, college graduates are looking to hopefully lucrative careers in the private sector, rather than pursuing careers in public service – like teaching, public service, or government careers – or trades.
In addition to the age exodus, the report pinpoints something more concerning: teachers who are under retirement age are still leaving the field – sometimes after just a few years in it – citing low wages and “a dissatisfaction with working conditions.” It’s no secret that teachers are pushed more than ever to spend their own money to equip their classrooms with the tools and supplies their students will need to succeed. In lower income districts this is even more of an issue – the only way to ensure that each and every student has the same resources during the school day is for the school to provide them to each student, and with dwindling budgets it often falls to the teacher to put their earnings back into their classroom to ensure student success.
In other countries, especially those in Asia, teachers are revered. It seems that in the United States we’re determined to have our students test as high as those in China and Japan in Maths and Sciences, but don’t want to invest in the ones educating our children, despite the fact that in 2014 the United States topped the charts spending over $800 billion on education, besting second place Japan, who came in at $160 billion.
With less teachers entering the workforce and more leaving every year, the U.S. could find our educational system in dire straights if change aren’t made soon.
What do YOU think? Have you seen the impact of the teacher shortage in your community? What do you think could be done to help propel more college students to pursuing a teaching degree?