It feels like there’s always some crisis going on with teachers these days. Every news cycle, teachers are striking for better pay, more support, more staff. Their complaints are valid; many primary school teachers are paid so little they qualify for government assistance, unless they get a second job. But that’s just a contributing factor to a larger problem with education, one that will affect the nation as a whole: there’s a teacher shortage looming on the not-too-distant horizon.
According to an analysis of enrollment and graduation rates in teacher prep programs by the Center for American Progress, there has been a decrease of more than 33 percent in the number of students enrolling in teacher training programs since 2010. Some states have seen shrinkage of over 50 percent in students receiving bachelor’s degrees in education, but Oklahoma has it the worst, having experienced an 80-percent reduction in the number of students enrolled in teacher training programs. Only five states—Utah, Arizona, Washington, Texas, and Nevada—have seen increases in teacher prep enrollment.
The graduation rates are just as troubling, with national numbers down 28 percent from 2010. Four states have seen the graduation rates among teachers dive by more than half.
A lot of factors have played against teaching as a popular profession. Decades of insultingly low pay and visible unrest have certainly played their part. So too has a culture where teachers are criticized for wanting more support than just “the joy of teaching,” as if anyone else would be expected to hand over their entire life to a profession for such small remuneration.
States already in a state of teacher shortage have tried half-measures, such as offering easier-to-achieve “emergency” teaching certifications to bump up numbers, but all this has really done is dilute the quality of education which will be passed on to school children. These measures have not eased the burden on high-demand teaching specialties like STEM subjects, special education, and English as a Second Language, however.
The more we learn about education, particularly in early childhood, the more we are made certain that more teachers and smaller class sizes result in better learning skills in general. The teacher shortage, which is expected to grow as teachers’ pay continues to decline relative to cost of living, and the shortcuts understaffed schools are forced to take, have generational impact.