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Faculty Viewpoint: What's Behind the Teacher Shortage in U.S. Schools?

by Sharita Forrest, UI News Bureau / Sep 21, 2022

Nancy Latham

The teacher shortages plaguing primary and secondary schools in the U.S. could be game-changers for people entering the field by boosting salaries and improving benefits and working conditions, said Nancy Latham, the executive director of the Council on Teacher Education and an associate dean in the College of Education. Latham spoke with Illinois News Bureau education editor Sharita Forrest about the factors driving the teacher shortage in U.S. schools.

The 2021 Illinois Educator Shortage Survey found that 88% of the 663 school districts that responded to the survey were having problems finding teachers and substitute teachers. Why are so many school districts having such difficulty filling teaching positions this academic year?

The massive shortages we are seeing are the result of many factors. Years of deprofessionalizing the field through inadequate pay; unstable long-term retirement benefits; stressed, overtaxed expectations on educators and schools; and unsafe, under-resourced work environments weakened the profession. This in combination with an employment pathway-altering event like the pandemic brought our shortages in the field to a critical high.

What backup plans are school districts devising to cover unfilled teaching positions? Are there any causes for concern about educational quality when districts use uncertified teachers?

Districts are utilizing building staff and administrators to cover classrooms. Districts are being as creative and resourceful as possible, but their options are limited. We are seeing other states make shifts that lessen the requirements for teachers such as not requiring a four-year degree. These temporary, desperate solutions will hurt our neediest learners by not providing them a high-quality teacher and by discouraging teacher persistence in the field.

Could this shortage become a game-changer as far as entry-level salaries, benefits and working conditions for future teachers are concerned?

Absolutely. If we don’t deal with those long-term issues – such as salaries, benefits, retirement security, working conditions and increasing expectations – we will only see more and more shortages. These have been long-standing issues causing lower persistence at a time when there are many other employment options for teachers where these issues are not pervasive.  

Unless we have the courage to face these difficult issues and the hard solutions to solve them, we will continue to deal with shortages, teacher turnover and fewer future teachers entering the field.

Read more at the UI News Bureau website...