As the evidence of the National Teacher Shortage becomes more and more concrete, we need to acknowledge that it’s a complicated issue. The reasons for teacher shortages vary from state to state and can be tied into factors like pay, work hours, standardized testing requirements, etc.. Still there are some key takeaways when considering what might help alleviate this problem.

The “why teachers are quitting in record numbers” is a question that has been asked for years. There are many reasons why this is happening, some of which include pandemic stress and the high-stakes testing.

Are Teachers Leaving Because of Pandemic Stress? It’s Complicated.



Several news reports have highlighted worries about widespread teacher shortages as a result of pandemic stress. And it’s true that teachers, administrators, and district officials have been under a lot of pressure. Is it true, however, that they’re leaving?

In general, we aren’t witnessing the huge departure of teachers that some anticipated last autumn. However, pre-pandemic, there was a patchwork of teacher shortages by specialization and region, and pandemic stress on educators may be exacerbating such shortages.

It’s difficult to get a grip on the total numbers of instructors departing throughout the country. There is no one source to tell us how many teachers are departing throughout the country since there is no national labor market for teachers—credentials don’t transfer readily from state to state. Teacher retirements have risen substantially since the pandemic struck, according to data from a number of states, including California, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

While the number of teachers retiring has risen, it seems that this is mainly due to instructors who were planning to retire anyhow. Furthermore, the impact of retirements is very localized. According to Chalkbeat Chicago, although teacher retirements in Illinois as a whole increased by 10%, the Chicago Public Schools did not experience a substantial increase. Instructors nearing retirement may be more inclined to quit owing to health issues, while younger teachers may be remaining for a variety of reasons, ranging from devotion to their pupils to worries about the economy.

Is there a plan in place to replace those departing teachers? It all depends on where you look. Our finest national data sources, as researcher Dan Goldhaber recently noted in The 74, don’t provide a clear picture of how many individuals are joining the field. But we do know that, despite a decline in the number of college students majoring in education, schools continue to produce more than enough certified teachers—many of whom go on to work in other fields and never return to teaching.

The main worry about teacher shortages is in places where it was difficult to recruit, train, and retain enough teachers before the epidemic. The shortage of substitute instructors was one of these long-standing issues that drew a lot of attention in the winter of 2021. Though some places may see a reduction in sub shortages as the pandemic subsides, cities like Chicago, which have been dealing with chronic sub shortages in disadvantaged areas for decades, are unlikely to see much relief.


Even before the epidemic, academics couldn’t agree on whether there was a nationwide teacher shortage. Here’s what we know about the current status of the field as the epidemic approaches.

Historically, there has been a nationwide shortage of general primary teachers, which has persisted even as enrolment in teacher education programs has decreased in recent years. During the pandemic, the decline in prospective instructors increased, although there was already a decreasing trend in new teacher applications, thus there were no widespread shortages.

However, teacher shortages exist in particular locations and specialized areas. Teachers of all types are especially required in rural regions and urban areas where disinvestment has resulted in large populations of Black, Brown, and impoverished pupils.

There have been significant teacher shortages in certain areas for decades, including math, science, and special education. Teachers who are competent to assist English learners, particularly those who are familiar with their students’ native languages, are also in short supply. Even at well-resourced urban and suburban schools, which are the least likely to have difficulty recruiting competent personnel, these shortages exist.


It’s difficult to connect what we know about who is leaving now because of the epidemic to places where there is a chronic teacher shortage. We do, however, have some notion of the kind of instructors who are departing as a result of the epidemic.

Older instructors are departing in droves, owing to a double whammy of health concerns and the rigors of remote, hybrid, and even simultaneous virtual and in-person teaching. While principals have received less attention, a survey conducted in the autumn of 2020 indicated that more principals were contemplating quitting their positions.

Superintendents of schools are increasingly departing, particularly in large cities. Three major district leaders in Chicago departed within months of one other. Urban superintendent churn has been an issue even before the epidemic, and it’s one of the reasons why we can’t scale up excellent urban schools.

Meanwhile, the majority of teachers seem to be indicating that, despite this year’s challenges, they would return next year. As a result, certain schools and districts are searching for specific types of instructors, rather than a system that is paralyzed by a total shortage of people.


Even if the country isn’t seeing a major flight of teachers, addressing chronic, pre-existing, limited shortages is critical. Finding and retaining excellent teachers now may help kids recover from pandemic-related learning deficits. Low-income children in remote rural and urban areas, who are least likely to have access to competent, consistent instructors, are also the pupils most likely to have struggled to learn during the epidemic.

As a result, now is an excellent moment to address persistent but specialized teacher shortages. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to teacher shortages, states and districts may take steps to guarantee that more children have access to competent teachers in the near term:

  • Raising overall compensation and providing targeted incentives is a good idea. This should only be done in regions with a high number of difficult-to-staff schools. For example, before to the epidemic, Detroit had started increasing its base pay, and during the pandemic, it provided hazard pay to teachers. It is now providing $15,000 yearly, recurring incentives to attract and retain teachers in areas where there are shortages, such as special education.
  • Differentiate teacher compensation by rewarding instructors who can fill difficult-to-fill positions. It may be difficult to distinguish teacher compensation without an across-the-board increase due to union contracts, which often establish identical teacher pay tiers based on degrees and years of experience. Some cities, on the other hand, have been able to distinguish compensation for in-demand specialities such as math and special education. Texas is implementing differentiated compensation to recognize outstanding teachers in high-poverty schools in the aftermath of the epidemic. According to new study, Georgia’s long-standing incentives for math and science teachers decreased teacher turnover but did not inspire more prospective math and science teachers to pursue certification.
  • Improve working conditions in schools with a shortage of teachers. In a variety of ways, federal Covid assistance funds may be able to assist. School buildings may be made safer and healthier places to work by improving air quality and deferring maintenance. Bringing in tutors and mental health experts to assist youngsters recover from the academic and social-emotional consequences of pandemic isolation may also help instructors cope with the psychological toll the epidemic has taken.


In the long term, we’ll need to place a greater focus on recruiting and supporting future teachers, beginning at a young age. There’s also a chicken-and-egg problem here. We might have a bigger pool of people with the fundamental academic abilities required to teach in those shortage areas if we educated more children well in math and science, as well as in languages other than English. As a result, resolving long-standing teacher shortages will be difficult.

There are, however, initiatives aimed at attracting young people into teaching as early as high school. Golden Apple Scholars in Illinois and the Center for Black Educator Development in Philadelphia provide paid training and college scholarships to young individuals who want to teach.

The teacher residency model, which involves teachers receiving training and support similar to that provided to medical residents in exchange for a multi-year commitment to teach in a high-need district, has a proven track record of developing and placing effective teachers and encouraging them to stay where they are most needed. Some teacher residencies are already in place to help alleviate these shortages in remote regions, and more are on the way. These programs, on the other hand, function effectively in part because they work intensely with small groups of starting teachers, making them difficult to expand.

Grow-your-own programs help working people in schools, such as teacher aides and parent mentors, who desire to become teachers but need to finish additional schooling. These initiatives haven’t been well researched, but they seem to produce instructors who are more likely to remain in low-income, high-need schools.

In the end, finding long-term answers will be difficult. They would require significant reforms, including revamping college-based teacher training, improving professional relationships between teachers and administrators, and decreasing teacher stress in the present and future.

Burlingham’s photo was licensed via Adobe Stock.

The “teachers quitting mid year” is a topic that has been discussed by many. Some say it’s because of the pandemic stress, while others say it’s because teachers are leaving for better opportunities. It’s complicated.

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