The Teacher Shortage Is Real. Little Is Being Done About It.

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In March 2019, the not-for-profit Economic Policy Institute (EPI) published a report that found the shortage of teachers—which began in the 2012 school year—is growing. And rapidly.

According to the report’s authors, Emma García and Elaine Weiss, “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought.” 

During the 2010-2011 academic year, the EPI’s report notes, many budding education professionals were looking for a teaching job. By 2012, that trend had reversed. By 2018, the teacher shortage, according to the Learning Policy Institute, was as high as 110,000.

The report cites many contributing factors to the teacher shortage, but notes several conclusions worth pointing out:

  • Schools are struggling to keep highly qualified teachers and is worse in poorer schools with a high poverty rate.
  • Teacher pay, particularly low teacher pay, is a serious problem. The problem, again, is worse in high-poverty schools than in low-poverty schools.
  • The school environment is a big factor when it comes to teacher retention. Many teachers report struggles like unsafe work environments, student apathy, lack of student health and poor parental involvement, among other things, as reasons for declining conditions in schools.
  • Teachers in high-poverty schools have a stifling lack of career support, which in turn is driving would-be teachers away from the profession.

Here at Fit and Fun Playscapes, we didn’t just want to read a study about the teacher shortage and call it a day. We wanted to hear from teachers themselves about what the current environment is like, what their job prospects are, what their expenses are, how they’re holding up in the current education climate, etc. We heard back.

Miss Heather Taylor is a band teacher at Lakeland Elementary, a Title 1 school in Rochester, New York that provides free breakfast and lunch to its students (making it one of those aforementioned high-poverty schools). She is currently in her 11th year teaching.

“For 10 years, I switched schools teaching all kinds of different music classes at every grade level,” Miss Taylor told us on Twitter.

“Last year, I landed my dream job of teaching 4th and 5th-grade band at Lakeshore Elementary! I love it here and hope to spend the rest of my career inspiring the love of music in my students!”

In addition to working her dream job, Taylor told us that she actually has three jobs.

“I work two additional part-time jobs,” she said. “I am a private lesson teacher in the Rochester area and I also work part-time at a home decor store. Doing all three jobs means I very rarely have a day off, but I do it because of student loans, bills and to provide for my classroom.”

For those who are unaware: many schools do not provide teachers with school supplies. That means all those supplies needed throughout the year—pens, pencils, paper, even items like chairs and classroom decorations—have to come out of the teacher’s already strained salary.

The good news is that New York State has the highest teacher salaries in America, with an average salary of roughly $79,000. But that, of course, is the average of the entire state. The average salary of a teacher in the Rochester, NY area is $56,000—more than $20,000 less per year than the state average.

“This year my band program is BOOMING with 140 students signed up to play an instrument!” Taylor said. “But I only get $80 for the entire school year. Music supplies and accessories are very expensive, so my budget can be used in whole for maybe one or two items. I've had to prioritize my needs in order to purchase items and/or borrow from other schools/buildings. I seek out grant opportunities, accept donations, etc. anything to get my students the musical materials they need to participate in my program and succeed.”

Some of those items, like tuba mouthpieces, cost in excess of $60 per piece—3/4 of Taylor’s yearly budget. When you need a handful of them...well, you get the idea. It’s expensive and the school doesn’t have the budget to buy them. She’s had to resort to online philanthropic movements, like the #CleartheLists movement—which made the rounds this past September by allowing people to donate a teacher’s school supplies to them through Amazon—to purchase the necessary supplies for her students.

“[I buy] reeds, valve oil, solos, candy/snacks as rewards, drum sticks, cork grease, some office supplies (especially tape), lesson books, etc,” Taylor said. “I also buy food for their after-concert celebrations.”

In short, the teacher crisis is not going away any time soon. Unless change starts to happen, the crisis will only get worse.

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