Teacher Shortage Compounds Covid Crisis in Schools

Valerie Bauerlein and Yoree Koh:

School districts are recruiting parents as substitute teachers, online class sizes are soaring to 50 children or more and bus drivers are baby-sitting classrooms. Some are considering allowing asymptomatic teachers who were exposed to Covid-19 to continue to show up.

Public-school employment in November was down 8.7% from February, and at its lowest level since 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That includes teachers who quit, retired early or took leaves of absence due to the pandemic, and layoffs of support staff such as teachers’ aides and clerical workers. The staffing crunch leaves teachers educating children in person and online simultaneously, deep-cleaning their own classrooms and taking turns as crossing guards.

The consequences are burnout for teachers, frustration for parents and scant progress for students.

The shortage isn’t uniform nationwide, but rather concentrated in some regions and specialties. More than 40 states reported shortfalls in math, science and special education in 2018, but fewer states reported shortages in elementary grades, according to the latest federal data. There are shortages in particular places, from cities with a high cost of living to rural areas with low teacher pay.