Schools across the United States are struggling with massive teacher shortages fueled by the coronavirus pandemic as students head back to the classrooms for the first time in a year.
Teacher retirements, teacher leave of absences and school districts’ need for substitute teachers have all skyrocketed during the pandemic, while the number of available substitute teachers has declined, Axios reported.
In Michigan, teacher retirements rose by 44% since August of 2020, according to the Detroit-based outlet Chalkbeat. Meanwhile, 18,629 Michigan public school teachers are eligible to retire at any point and collect a full pension, and an additional 11,975 are close to being able to retire early because they have between 20 and 25 years of service. (RELATED: Some School Districts Are Teaching In-Person. One Will Find ‘Every Excuse We Can To Stay Open’)
Dwight Pierson, a high school teacher in St. John’s, Michigan, told the outlet that coronavirus “is a game-changer” and that he expects there to be “record retirements.” He described trying to teach some of his students via virtual learning and others in the classroom at the same time as “talking to a wall sometimes.”
Teachers’ leaves of absences have increased by 35% in California’s Long Beach Unified, one of the largest school districts in the state, EdSurge reported. 59% of districts that are offering either full-time or part-time in-person learning said that their teacher absence rate in the fall of 2020 was higher than it was in the fall of 2019, according to an Education Week survey. 30% said that the teacher absence rate increased more than 10%, and 29% said that it increased between 1% and 10%.
The Education Week survey also found that 73% of school districts nationwide said that their need for substitute teachers increased in 2020 compared to 2019, and 74% said that they had fewer applications for substitute teachers in 2020 than they did in the previous year.
Although the need for substitute teachers has increased, the amount of substitute teachers is plummeting. (RELATED: White House Walks Back CDC Statement That Teachers Don’t Need COVID-19 Vaccine)
David Zaid, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resource Services for Long Beach Unified School District, said that only around 450 out of the school district’s roughly 1,100 substitute teachers responded to a survey indicating that they were willing to work, according to a report published by the Learning Policy Institute.
The Education Week survey found that 33% of school districts were only able to cover half or less than half of teacher absences with a substitute teacher. An additional 10% said that they were only able to cover between 51% and 74% of teacher absences.
Sara Haflich, Superintendent of El Tejon Unified School District in Lebec, California, told the Learning Policy Institute that distance learning is likely contributing to the lack of substitute teachers.
“It’s not the same as just leaving a set of lesson plans on your desk and a substitute coming in and running the class…. How do we expect a substitute teacher to work from home?” she said. “They don’t have their laptop; they don’t have everything set [up].”