This year has been extraordinarily difficult for educators.
The last school year ended with teachers and students on lockdown, and this school year began with teachers fearing a return to the classroom in the middle of a pandemic and growing frustration with remote learning tools.
When lawmakers return in January, one discussion in Texas and elsewhere will be how to fund last session’s school reforms and increase student achievement. But lawmakers also need to address a little-discussed challenge to public education: how to retain educators in the midst of a pandemic.
Even in pre-pandemic moments, educating the next generations required a special calling. Common complaints from teachers include low pay, inadequate support from administrators, extra demands such as buying classroom supplies and the challenges of educating children who often enter the classroom behind grade level. Virtually every state has a shortage of teachers.
And that was before the pandemic. According to the National Education Association’s nationwide poll of educators, about 28 percent said the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more likely to retire early or leave the profession, including 1 in 5 teachers with less than 10 years of experience and 40 percent of teachers with 21 to 30 years’ experience.
Texas has made some improvements, most notably better pay for teachers who have improved student outcomes. Nonetheless, it is not unreasonable to worry that the pandemic will accelerate teacher turnover, including those that school districts want and need to keep. About 16 percent of public school teachers change schools or leave teaching every year, which is more than half a million teachers nationwide, according to researchers at University of Florida’s School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education.
Keeping qualified teachers matters, especially in high-poverty schools, where too many students have ground to make up academically and need the best and most committed teachers to help them. And, like workforce turnovers in most other industries, recruiting new teachers is costly and time-consuming.
We don’t have solutions, but we urge lawmakers to get ahead of this trend and do more to make sure that the best teachers aren’t casualties of a year of turmoil.