State and Federal Legislators Must Address the Teacher Shortage or Students of Color and Students from Low-Income Families will Continue to Pay the Price
October 14, 2022 by Carly Hoffman
I am a former educator who left the teaching profession after three years in the classroom. While there were many things I loved about teaching, and I cared deeply about my students, teaching was not a sustainable career for me. I was constantly overwhelmed by the stress of large class sizes, a lack of support staff, and unsafe work conditions (ex. falling ceiling tiles, mice infestations, 100-degree classrooms, etc.) in the high-poverty, predominantly Black high school where I taught. I am not alone in my exit from teaching.
There is currently a mass exodus from the classroom, and the teacher shortage will continue to disproportionately impact students of color and low-income students unless additional funding is allocated to address the problem. The teacher shortage has been an ongoing issue, especially in high-poverty school districts, but the problem, like many others, has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At this point, the shortage is only getting worse. Two-thirds of 1,200 schools surveyed in 2021 reported teacher shortages. In 2021, 75% of urban districts, 65% of rural districts, and 60% of suburban districts surveyed nationwide reported teacher shortages. While certain states are faring worse, every state across the nation has reported a shortage. The total gap is estimated at over 100,000 educators nationwide, prompting schools to staff classes with uncertified teachers, offer fewer courses, and increase class sizes.
The teacher shortage will not impact all students in the same way. A Center for Education Data and Research brief found vacancy rates are generally “far higher” for high-poverty schools than their low-poverty counterparts, and Black students are more likely to attend school in a high-shortage district than white students. The shortage will continue to have a greater impact on students of color, particularly Black and Latino students, who are more likely to be taught by inexperienced or non-credentialed teachers. Because teacher quality is the top school-related predictor of student academic success, the teacher shortage will further widen the racial gap in student academic performance.
To address teacher shortages, both state and federal legislators should work to increase school funding for mental health resources, support staff, and teacher compensation. In a study examining reasons public school teachers left the profession, over 40% of teachers who voluntarily left the profession cited stress as a reason for leaving the profession. While not all teachers have experienced trauma, teachers may experience secondary traumatic stress when learning about the firsthand trauma experiences of their students. Schools need to provide mental health resources to both teachers and students to address trauma and stress and prevent teacher burnout.
In 2021, 67% of schools surveyed nationwide reported a substitute teacher shortage. Districts must provide substitute teachers with incentives such as creating pathways and providing training to become a certified teacher. An increase in substitute teachers and other support staff would lessen the burden teachers are currently facing from having to cover for other teachers.
Some may argue that paying teachers more will not adequately solve the shortage and will cost taxpayers more money. However, nearly one in four teachers cited lack of compensation as a reason they were leaving the profession, specifically stating the pay did not reflect the health risks of teaching during the pandemic or the negative impacts of the stress of the profession. Compensation increases should be prioritized for high-poverty schools. Working in high-poverty schools presents additional challenges for educators, including poor work conditions and larger class sizes, which increase teacher stress levels and workload. As such, high-poverty schools are required to pay more to attract highly qualified individuals.
The education of today’s students is crucial to our country’s collective success. State and federal legislators must prioritize school funding to address the teacher shortage. Without funding solutions, teachers will continue to leave the profession and fewer people will choose to pursue teaching, leaving more students with uncertified teachers. Without increased funding, it is students, specifically students of color and students from low-income families, whose education will suffer.
 Nadine El-Bawab, How to reverse the teacher crisis exacerbated by the pandemic: Experts, ABC News (Apr. 3, 2022, 1:40 PM), https://abcnews.go.com/US/reverse-teacher-crisis-exacerbated-pandemic-experts/story?id=83792346.
 Annie Buttner, The Teacher Shortage, 2021 Edition, Frontline Educ. (Apr. 19, 2021), https://www.frontlineeducation.com/blog/teacher-shortage-2021/.
 States in Every Part of the Country Have Teacher Shortages, Fresno Pac. Univ. (Nov. 1, 2021), https://ce.fresno.edu/news/states-in-every-part-of-the-country-have-teacher-shortages/.
 See Emma Garcia & Elaine Weiss, The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought, Econ. Pol’y Inst. (Mar. 26, 2019), https://www.epi.org/publication/the-teacher-shortage-is-real-large-and-growing-and-worse-than-we-thought-the-first-report-in-the-perfect-storm-in-the-teacher-labor-market-series/; Desiree Carver-Thomas, Teacher Shortages Take Center Stage, Learning Pol’y Inst. (Feb. 9, 2022), https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/teacher-shortages-take-center-stage#:~:text=Teacher%20shortages%20can%20significantly%20depress,to%20teach%20their%20subject%20matter.; Paul Boyce, The Teacher Shortage Is Real and about to Get Much Worse. Here’s Why, Fee Stories (Sept. 17, 2019), https://fee.org/articles/the-teacher-shortage-is-real-and-about-to-get-much-worse-heres-why/.
 See Dan Goldhaber & Trevor Gratz, Ctr. for Educ. Data & Rsch., School District Staffing Challenges in a Rapidly Recovering Economy 5-6 (2021), https://www.cedr.us/_files/ugd/1394b9_7709c1ab926247469c2aa9c076b977bc.pdf; TNTP, Missing Out Arkansas’ Teacher Shortage and How to Fix It 2 (2021), https://tntp.org/assets/documents/TNTP_MissingOut_FINAL_web.pdf.
 Marianna McMurdock, Black, Latino Students Disproportionately Taught by Inexperienced, Uncertified Teachers, New Research Shows, The 74 Media (Jan. 19, 2022), https://www.the74million.org/black-latino-students-disproportionately-taught-by-inexperienced-uncertified-teachers-new-research-shows/.
 Jennifer King Rice, Teacher Quality: Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes v (2003).
 See Melissa Kay Diliberti et al., RAND Corp., Stress Topped the Reasons Why Public School Teachers Quit, Even Before COVID-19 22 (2021), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1121-2.html.
 Tim Walker, ‘I Didn’t Know It Had a Name’: Secondary Traumatic Stress and Educators, Nat’l Educ. Ass’n (Oct. 18, 2019), https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/i-didnt-know-it-had-name-secondary-traumatic-stress-and.
 Bethany Blankley, Teacher shortages nationwide causing public education crisis, Corridor News (Jan. 27, 2022), https://smcorridornews.com/teacher-shortages-nationwide-causing-public-education-crisis/#:~:text=According%20to%20a%202021%20Frontline,was%20first%20launched%20in%202015.
 See Buttner, supra note 2.
 See Cynthia D. Prince, Attracting Well-Qualified Teachers to Struggling Schools, Am. Fed’n of Tchrs. (2022), https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/winter-2002/attracting-well-qualified-teachers-struggling; Tim Walker, Educators and Parents Reset the Class Size ‘Debate’, Nat’l Educ. Ass’n (Feb. 8, 2019), https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/educators-and-parents-reset-class-size-debate.