How teacher shortages are affecting K-12 schools across the country


Educators have long felt the pressure of heavy workloads, low salaries and lack of resources to do their jobs effectively. This burden has increased in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. HeyTutor outlined five ways these pandemic-related teacher shortages are affecting K-12 schools across the United States.

Burnout is affecting teachers like never before. In January 2022, a survey of National Education Association members showed that more than half of educators surveyed were likely to retire or leave their jobs early due to the pandemic. That’s nearly double the number of people who reported feeling the same in July 2020.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 44% of public schools reported teacher vacancies and 49% reported other vacancies in January 2022. In non-teaching roles, custodial positions had the most vacancies, followed by transport and nutrition. More than half of vacancies were due to resignations. Three in five schools cited the pandemic as a contributing factor to the increase.

Read on to learn how the rise in educator vacancies has impacted teachers and students.

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Larger classes

Teacher shortages have led to increased class sizes during the pandemic, but larger class sizes also contribute to educator burnout, which then leads to even more teachers leaving their posts.

More students in a class can mean more work for teachers, less time to provide individual attention, and higher stress levels. In a January 2022 survey, 3 in 5 members of the Maryland State Education Association said they would be more likely to continue teaching if class sizes were smaller.

Larger class sizes also have a negative impact on students. The American Federation of Teachers advocates the benefits of smaller class sizes – more individualized instruction, better academic performance, and fewer behavior problems.

A girl raises her hand in a primary school class.

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Additional responsibilities for teachers

In the event of a shortage of teachers, additional work is imposed on each educator to help compensate for the missing staff. Add to that the unique circumstances of the pandemic and it’s easy to see how educators have been overwhelmed with additional responsibilities in recent years.

A May 2021 survey of 493 K-12 public school staff found that 2 in 5 teachers were working longer hours than before the pandemic. Teaching online requires additional technology-related responsibilities, as well as extra effort to maintain consistent communication with students and their families. When they return to teach face-to-face, social distancing requirements and disinfecting classrooms have contributed to increasing teachers’ workloads.

Students sit in an art class painting pictures.

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Fewer extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities are crucial for the growth and development of school-aged children – physically, emotionally and socially. During the pandemic, access to these activities has declined sharply across the country.

One example is the National FFA Organization (formerly known as Future Farmers of America), a student organization that prepares young people for careers in agriculture. In May 2022, a high number of agricultural teacher job openings were reported in every state from Illinois to Texas.

Sports teams, arts programs and after-school clubs have been forced to meet virtually, if at all. Dartmouth Health notes that this lack of social interaction has particularly affected teenagers, with rising rates of depression and anxiety.

Two third-grade girls work on homework in class, one with an animal book and the other with a weather book.

PAUL RATJE/AFP // Getty Images

Decline in student performance

Perhaps the most worrying consequence of the shortage of teachers is the decline in the academic performance of students. In a January 2022 study published by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute, the test scores of 5.4 million students in grades three through eight showed changes during the pandemic. Reading and math scores dropped significantly. For elementary students, achievement gaps between high and low poverty schools were 15-20% larger in reading and math than before the pandemic.

An April 2022 article published by McKinsey & Company estimates that students in North America are 4 months behind in their learning. Working to address the teacher shortage and get students back on track will be a long and costly process.

Reading Interventionist helps students during a dyslexia support program.

RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post // Getty Images

Limited specialized programs

During the pandemic, the shortage of teachers has impacted the programs of special schools as much as regular classes. The US Secretary of Education issued a call to action to fill vacancies in areas such as Spanish-English bilingual education; science, math and technology programs; and vocational and technical tracks.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that special education had the most vacancies in January 2022, with nearly half (45%) of schools reporting vacancies. Some school districts have been forced to cut students from special education programs, such as Buffalo’s extended school year program, due to staffing shortages. The shortage of teachers in these specialized programs is affecting some of the most needy and vulnerable students at an already difficult time for young people and families.

This story originally appeared on HeyTutor and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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