Washington – The start of the school year in the United States this year faces the consequences of a growing problem, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the lack of teachers, with an expected average of three vacancies in public schools that has caused strikes and the search for innovative solutions to remedy it.
The situation is measured in numbers: 90% say they are discouraged and 55% plan to retire before retirement age, according to a January survey by the National Education Association (NEA).
“Teachers are experiencing a level of burnout that they haven’t seen before and it’s not just due to COVID-19, which has only underlined it. They were already at a point of exhaustion that is now affecting their health and their family. They don’t get the respect they deserve and they are leaving,” the founder of The Teacher’s Resource association, Sonya Battle, explains to EFE.RELATED
The alarm in the public sector, therefore, is also evident. The Department of Education, with figures from June, points out that six out of ten schools said they were concerned about the inability to fill vacancies with qualified personnel, nine out of ten due to the professional burnout of their staff and eight out of ten due to health mind of their workers.
“Why is it so difficult to take care of the very people needed to keep the world running? Everything we are starts with a teacher. It makes perfect sense that they get the salary and respect they deserve. They are tired of feeling invisible. We have an epidemic within a pandemic. We are in crisis”, laments Battle.
The average annual salary of a beginning teacher, according to the NEA, was in the 2020-2021 academic year of $41,770, an increase of 1.4% from the previous year, but a drop of 4% if adjusted for inflation, which makes wages are at their lowest level since that body began recording them more than a decade ago.
“I personally have not lost faith in the profession because I like what I do, but other newcomers and those who have been around longer than me have seen how respected we used to be and how we are now one of the least respected professions,” he tells EFE Tonya Tolson, English teacher for 19 years.
She, also an assistant principal at a North Carolina institute, claims that they deserve “every penny they receive.” She plans to continue teaching for about five years and later move to a more administrative position precisely because of this change in the consideration they have.
On average, according to figures from the Department of Education provided to EFE, the most urgent positions to fill in primary education are general teachers, and those of special education both in secondary education and in high school.
This new course generally begins this coming week throughout the country, although in cities like Columbus, Ohio, the start took place last Wednesday and was preceded by a strike, now over, to demand better teaching conditions. It was the first break of his union since 1975.
Some states have opened the range of possibilities to fill vacancies. Tennessee, for example, allowed retired teachers in July to return to work without losing their retirement benefits and also allows class sizes to be adjusted and people with higher education to be hired even if they don’t have teaching certification.
The National Education Association estimates that the country needs about 300,000 teachers and support staff to meet the needs of students.
But the Secretary of Education himself, Miguel Cardona, warns against the temptation to lower the bar to compensate for this lack: education “is not a hobby, it is a profession, and if your first strategy is to lower the standards of a profession to which you are already disrespected, you are part of the problem, ”he said on the NBC network.
The representative of The Teacher’s Resource, whose organization focuses on the welfare of teachers, also advocates against possible short-term solutions.
“They do not work. It could be said that they are not solutions, but suggestions. The type of decisions that you apply in 2022 and that continue to be effective in 2032 are required, “says Battle, who urges to be “proactive, not reactive”, and to have a vision of the future to prevent emergencies like the current one, according to his words, they get repeated.