The United States is experiencing a teacher shortage. This is extremely worrisome as this is having a massive detrimental effect on the quality of education. To put this into perspective, Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona, serves roughly 3,000 students. The principal has started the 2022 Fall school year with three teacher vacancies (Fortin and Fawcett, 2022). As a response to the vacancies, four-fifths of teaching positions in Arizona are currently occupied by support staff, which are not full time teachers. This will impact the quality of education that students receive, as school districts are feeling the pressure to supply high-quality education despite not having the educators to do so. The main reason for the teacher shortage has been that teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation. With prices of essential items increasing drastically, teachers cannot comfortably live on their salaries. Therefore, qualified teachers are leaving education in favor of higher paying industries. A possible solution to the teacher shortage is to allocate more resources to education and increase the teacher salary, to properly compensate educators.
The National Education Association estimates that the average teacher salary has increased 1.7 percent this year, however, even with this increase, teachers make an average of $66,000 dollars (Will, 2022). This is not congruent to the rising inflation of 8 percent this year. An annual salary of $66,000 dollars is also nowhere near the threshold of a livable salary for many teachers, especially the ones living in major cities. CNBC estimates that the 2022 living wage threshold for Hawaii (which is classified as the most expensive state to reside in) is $132,912 dollars, and in New York (second most expensive state to reside in ) the living wage threshold is $101, 995 dollars (Winters, 2022). When taking into consideration salary adjustments for current inflation rates, the average teacher salary actually decreases by 3.6 percent over the last decade (Will, 2022).
Over the last 18 months, the main causes of inflation have been the COVID-19 pandemic and the War in Ukraine. Pandemic relief programs have placed more money into checking accounts, which has led to consumers spending more money. Wars destroy human and physical capital. The physical effects of the war are impacting economics as global supply chains have been disrupted. Consequently, items have become more scarce and more expensive. This is a double whammy on consumers, and disproportionally affects underpaid workers (including teachers). The War in Ukraine has disrupted multiple suppliers of essential goods (i.e. gas, oil, wheat, fertilizer etc.), which has led to a price increase. Food prices rose 10.4 percent and energy prices rose 41.6 percent, the largest yearly increase since 1981 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). To give more context of the monthly changes displayed in September 2022, there is an extensive breakdown of the increases of essential items. For instance, fruits and vegetables increased by 1.6%, rent increased by 0.8%, medical services by 0.5%, and electricity by 0.4% ( U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Figure 1. Monthly Price Changes of Essential Items (September 2022)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
A viable solution that addresses inflation, which further contributes to the teacher shortage is providing a livable salary for teachers. I propose that the teacher salary should match the living wage threshold for the state that they are living in. California’s living wage threshold is
$101,995, thus, the teacher’s salary must match this. 50% of teachers surveyed, explained that they “seriously considered quitting” because they cannot afford to pay essential bills and be an educator (Coleman, 2021). As described with Westwood High School, missing three teachers caused massive problems and almost resulted in Westwood High delaying their Fall 2022 first day of school. Imagine if 50% of teachers actually quit teaching, then the teacher shortage would have been much worse.
Another valid concern is because of the hardship teachers experience, (i.e. low wages, insufficient funding, high workload, low funding), teachers will continue to quit and the field will continue to shrink. In Westwood High School, teachers were asked if they would recommend teaching to their younger self, and a majority said “no” (Fortin and Fawcett, 2022). Overall, this is discouraging the younger generation of college students to become educators. As a response to this problem, four-fifths of teaching positions in Arizona are currently occupied by support staff (Fortin and Fawcett, 2022). Although having support staff instructing is better than nothing, teachers are given a different vocational training to provide high quality instruction.
To get a better understanding of the issues at hand, I interviewed Denisia Wash, who is a kindergarten teacher at Washington Elementary School. Denisia says she “never considered leaving a job because of salary. I considered leaving a public school job for a private school job because of getting pink slips 2 years in a row during the inflation years, even though I had been teaching for 15 years in the Bay Area. I was never let go but it became frustrating. I ended up keeping my job because the private school could only offer me a yearly salary that was $10,000 less than what I was making in Berkeley. However, I felt I may have to leave the Bay Area soon because I knew my salary wouldn’t allow me to buy a house easily without a partner. But, in the end, I didn’t leave because I found my spouse”. When asked further about the connection between inflation and the teacher shortage, Wash explained “the shortage began right before the pandemic hit the US and California. As the state standards were raised for kindergarten through 12th grade students, the supports were not raised to help teachers fulfill these expectations. Shortages began with educational aides, special education teachers, specialized teachers, in addition to salary and monetary compensation not keeping up with the rising cost of living in the Bay area”
To combat the teacher shortage, the Florida Department of Education has created the Military Veterans Certification Pathway. This went into effect on July 1st, 2022, Florida has issued an “5-year Temporary Certificate for military veterans, who have not yet earned their bachelor’s degree” (The Florida Department of Education). Their minimum requirements are: 48 months of active duty military service with honorable or medical discharge, minimum of 60 college credits/units with a minimum of 2.5 GPA, a passing score on the Florida subject area examination, a mentor, and a background screening (The Florida Department of Education).
Though the list seems long, this is not a lot in comparison to the traditional education requirement of a teacher, which in most states includes a master degree in education. One of the reasons why I am interested and passionate about this topic is because I myself have an interest in pursuing a career in education. I am currently a Teach for America Ignite Fellow at Future Public School in Garden City, Idaho, teaching reading. The purpose of
this program is to allow college students interested in careers in education to get experience in virtual classrooms. I am working remotely instructing second grade students (roughly ages 7-8), and I can see first hand how hard remote learning and instruction is. To compensate for my time, I am given a stipend for 10 weeks of instruction. This stipend, while it might be sufficient for a college student whose income is supplemented by help from parents and/or financial aid, would be nowhere enough to support a financially independent adult.