Sarah Hager Mosby
BOSTON—After seven months of meeting, listening to members, and sharing our on-the-ground experiences, the AFT’s national Teacher and School Staff Shortage Task Force—made up of 25 leaders from state and local affiliates across the country—released a report, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?, which was considered at the union’s biennial convention; the report outlines targeted solutions to ensure educators have the tools, time, trust, and training they need to do their jobs and to stay in their jobs.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 300,000 teachers were leaving the profession each year, and schools were also facing persistent shortages among the school support staff who play such a vital role in every child’s school day. The pandemic only made things worse.
“Teachers and school staff have been struggling for years with a lack of professional respect; inadequate support and resources; subpar compensation; untenable student loan debt; endless paperwork; and a culture of blame that weaponizes standardized tests to attack public schools and public school teachers,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “And then came COVID. The pandemic, combined with the political culture wars, made the last two years the toughest in modern times for educators. On top of all of that, the unthinkable happened again, when gun violence took the lives of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.”
The report comes on the heels of an AFT member survey that showed the 2021-22 academic year was “one of the worst years for preK-12 teachers and staff.” The survey showed the lowest job satisfaction ratings for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel ever recorded and revealed that 79 percent of teachers said they’re dissatisfied with their current overall working conditions. And last month, a Rand Corp. survey said about one-third of teachers and principals reported that they were likely to leave their current job by the end of the 2021-22 school year.
“Why do we have a teacher shortage? Because we have a shortage of respect for educators. A shortage of the professional working conditions that allow teachers and other staff to do their best for their students. We have a shortage of pay for what is arguably the most important job in the world. No wonder teachers’ job dissatisfaction is up 34 points since the start of the pandemic. The teacher shortage is the direct result of the shortage of conditions, respect and pay—and we are not going to fix the one without fixing the others.”
The report offers practical, research-proven solutions to reverse the shortages and revitalize the education profession, including:
- Increasing salaries and benefits;
- Shrinking the “teacher pay penalty,” or 20 percent disparity between teacher pay and that of college-educated non-teaching peers);
- Diversifying the educator workforce, through promising practices such as Grow-Your-Own programs and sustained mentoring;
- Lowering class sizes;
- Curbing the nation’s “test-and-punish” obsession with standardized tests; and
- Reducing the endless paperwork collected for administrative purposes and districtwide reports.
The report also emphasizes treating teachers and school staff like the professionals they are, with time to plan and prepare for classes, the chance to collaborate with colleagues, the power to make day-to-day school decisions, and ongoing professional development so they can grow in their careers. It also calls for turning schools into community hubs that serve the needs of the whole child and the whole family. This means investing in thousands of community schools with wraparound services—a model that is working across the country, including in the 700 community schools (to date, and counting) that the AFT and its affiliates have helped create.
“We don’t know exactly how many of those considering leaving education actually will leave,” added Weingarten. “But we do know that when asked, ‘Would you recommend the profession to a prospective new teacher?’—74 percent of teachers would most likely not recommend it. We need to reverse these numbers and address the root causes that are driving so many talented staff and educators away from this profession when they have never been needed more. That’s why the AFT convened this task force—what’s probably the most important task force in our history—because no one knows better where the problems lie, and how to fix them, than the people who work in schools every day. They can guide us to solutions—if policymakers will listen.
“I see a lot of hope in this report. I’m confident that our country can learn to treat and respect teachers and school staff in ways that befit their importance to our society. In the process, we will not only save our profession and revitalize our schools, but also build a better future for all.”
“School districts across the country are facing dangerous staffing shortages because they are unable to attract and retain educators. Despite the pure heroism our teachers and schools have shown during the pandemic, too many communities are not investing in public education. We know how to reverse this trend. Our responsibility is to make it happen. Our students are depending on us,” said Michael Mulgrew, task force co-chair and president of the United Federation of Teachers.
Carl Williams, task force co-chair and president of the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees and the CFT Council of Classified Employees, said that the solutions in this report can help support staff too. “The impact of shortages has been widespread—from the smallest towns to the largest urban centers. The workers, the people on the ground, see the problems shortages cause up close, which is why we heard directly from them to find solutions for this report. The answer to staff shortages isn’t ‘one size fits all,’ but this report will help guide us in the right direction so school support staff—custodians, bus drivers, and other paraprofessionals—can advocate for the working conditions they deserve.”