When young children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, many answer with, “Teacher,” so why is there a teacher shortage? There are many reasons why different areas in the United States are experiencing a teacher shortage. Becoming familiar with these reasons could help a person take some positive actions in order to change the situation.
More Leaving Than Entering Teaching
There are more people leaving their teaching jobs in order to do something else or retiring from teaching than there are people becoming qualified to teach. Being a teacher is no longer as lucrative as it used to be. Many jobs pay more for the same level of education and certification that it takes to become a teacher. Decades ago, teaching used to be one of few socially acceptable jobs outside of the home for women. Today, the culture has changed, and women are more welcomed in a wider range of professions.
Changes in Student-to-Teacher Ratios
Teachers’ unions negotiate many terms of employment, including student-to-teacher ratios for classrooms. In younger grades, the ratio may be as low as 18 or 19 students to one teacher. In high school, the ratio is higher, usually around 24 to 27 students per teacher. However, not all school districts can afford to add more teachers in order to accommodate those staffing levels. The result is that positions either do not get filled or the existing teachers have no choice but to have a larger class size.
Increased Student Enrollment
During the Great Recession, schools cut teaching positions in order to lower their operating costs. However, more students continued to enroll in the school districts. This is especially important in large, urban districts that have seen much faster growth than rural school districts. Public schools that depend on taxpayer funding made some deep cuts during the recession, and their staffing levels have yet to rebound to previous levels. Meanwhile, the student body has grown to a larger number of students than what the districts previously served at their higher staffing levels.
Student Loan Debts and Other Financial Matters
According to CBS News, one of the biggest reasons why fewer college students are majoring in education in order to become a teacher is money. The simple economics of teacher salaries and student loans means that a person might have a hard time paying off their student loan debt on a typical teacher’s salary. Living with the burden of tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt is stressful, and some people simply have to make a financially-driven decision about what to study. Many states require teachers to earn a master’s degree within a specific period of time after earning their teaching license, and that would just add to the debt of the individual.
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Becoming a teacher is not as easy as it used to be, and the work conditions are more stressful than ever. Even so, teaching can be a personally rewarding and satisfying career, especially when a person sees the impact that they are able to make on the life of a young person. Knowing why there is a teacher shortage could help a newly-minted teacher, parent, community or administrator make some positive changes that enable more people to achieve their childhood dreams of teaching.