With the pandemic forcing schools online over the past two years, an already dwindling education workforce is seeing a dramatic increase in teachers leaving the profession. Top reasons for this mass exodus include burnout and lack of appropriate compensation, as well as fears related to contracting covid in an in-person setting particularly for those teachers who are in high-risk categories. This is exacerbated by the fact that many teachers are no longer able to cultivate meaningful relationships with their students over this new online format.
The National Education Association poll conducted in January 2022, reported that 90% of its members say that feeling burned out is a serious problem; 86% say they have seen more educators leaving the profession or retiring early since the start of the pandemic; and 80% report that unfilled job openings have led to more work obligations for those left. These rates are even higher among Black and Hispanic/Latino educators. Similar research from the RAND Corporation 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey found nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year, compared with one in six teachers who were likely to leave, on average, prior to the pandemic.  In particular, Black or African American teachers were more likely to leave.
The result of teachers leaving their positions for new and more prosperous positions outside of the field is devastating for students. This is particularly true for students of color and those with disabilities. Studies show educators leaving the profession has a direct correlation to a decline in students’ success. “Research shows that high teacher turnover rates in schools negatively impact student achievement for all students in a school, not just those in a new teacher’s classroom.” Further, “these rates are highest in schools serving low-income and students and students of color.”
Class sizes are ballooning as remaining teachers are forced to consolidate classes. Students’ schedules are being changed to accommodate for this lack of educators. Some students are forced into classes that they may have no interest in or are being switched mid-school year into an entirely new class with new faces and new material.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the pool of applicants to fill these vacant positions is scarce, and those who are available may be grossly underqualified.
So, what gives? The National Education Association (NEA) says money should be top of mind. NEA supports raising salaries and hiring more people. Specifically, they are pushing that American Rescue Plan money should be used to increase pay and establish new positions. Their message is clear: if we don’t act now, we may be doing irreparable harm.