Students Return To Class, But Will Teachers?

By Amie Knowles

July 26, 2022

A shocking 40% of school staff surveyed reported they could leave the profession in the next two years.

According to a June article by The Wall Street Journal, approximately 300,000 public school employees resigned between February 2020 and May 2022. According to additional sources, the school-based resignation trend likely isn’t over yet.

In an April article, The Hill noted several reasons teachers chose to leave the profession, including burnout, the COVID-19 pandemic, a decline in education-based degrees, low pay, and more career opportunities for women.

In February, the National Education Association (NEA) published its findings from a survey conducted from Jan. 14 to 24, which asked members’ opinions on key issues facing public education during the pandemic. Many of the concerns were the same as The Hill listed, including burnout, pandemic stress, low pay, unfilled positions leading to more work for remaining staff, and more.

One of the key findings of the NEA survey was that 55% of members said they were more likely to leave or retire from education sooner than planned because of the pandemic. That statistic nearly doubled, compared to July 2020 at 28%, the NEA reported. The teacher union also revealed that Black and Hispanic educators were more likely to say that they would retire or leave the profession early, potentially leading to less diversity.

A 2021-22 survey by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) reported the lowest job satisfaction ratings for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel — ever. A total of 79% of those surveyed were dissatisfied with their job, up from 45% at the start of the pandemic. A shocking 40% of participants reported they could leave the job in the next two years, and three-quarters of teachers said they would not recommend their profession to others.

Reaching Retirement

Sen. Tim Kaine recently visited Danville, where he spoke with area business leaders. At the roundtable event, a participant asked the senator an education-related question, which prompted Kaine to discuss the national teacher shortage.

“It is a national problem,” Kaine said. “The age of the teacher corps, K-12 teacher corps, is kind of skewing toward retirement.”

It was unclear whether Kaine was referring to the number of teachers nearing retirement age in general, or if he was mentioning the National Teacher Corps, a 1965 program established by Congress to improve elementary and secondary teaching in select low-income and inner city areas. The program, which recruited and trained students to become teachers by offering tuition payments and stipends, ended in 1981. 

Theoretically, teachers hired near the beginning of the national program would be nearing the age of 80, with those hired near the end reaching their early to mid-60s. According to the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics in its National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), slightly more than 20% of teachers in Virginia were 55 years of age or older in the 2017–18 school year. That was one-fifth of all Virginia educators, nearly 4% more than the national average in the same age range. 

In February 2021, state Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) called on then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, to form a Teachers Reserve Corps to combat the commonwealth’s teacher shortage. The senators suggested that the corps be composed of retired educators, military veterans, college students with interest in the profession, and teachers licensed outside of Virginia.

A Solution

Kaine noted that everywhere he goes, he hears concerns about the teacher shortage. Recently, the senator spoke with the division superintendent in Loudoun County, which is more than four hours northeast of Danville. There, the concern was much the same.

“One of the biggest school populations in the state [is] in Loudoun — major teacher shortage issues,” Kaine said. 

He also noted that some subjects, like science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines, or some positions, like special education, have become especially susceptible to teacher shortages.

To combat the issue, Kaine and Sen. Susan Collins introduced the Preparing and Retaining Education Professionals (PREP) Act of 2021. The bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide for teacher and school leader quality enhancement, as well as enhance institutional aid.

“It’s a bill about teacher training…Our goal is to really dramatically expand the way we’re training teachers through a number of strategies,” Kaine said. “One is more public service loan forgiveness for teachers. Danville would still have to compete with Loudoun or Richmond, but if we could offer teachers more public service loan forgiveness, that could get more people in the profession.”

Secondly, Kaine hoped to simplify the process for professionals already in school buildings — yet lacking specific education degrees — to attain a teaching license. 

“Many classrooms have a teacher’s aide who is not certified as a teacher, who is obviously fantastic with the kids. They’re not certified as a teacher because maybe they don’t have their bachelor’s degree yet, or maybe they never got the certification they need,” Kaine said. “Well, I could go out and try to find a good teacher, but if I’ve got somebody in the classroom who’s already a fantastic teacher, why don’t we invest in that person, finish the degree, get the certification, and then you be a full classroom teacher?”

The senator further noted that oftentimes, teacher’s aides are younger, “so they’re not at the end of their teaching career, they would be more up-and-comers who could stay for a long time.”

Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones asked whether the proposed program would extend to other employees, like school custodians, who also demonstrated strong connections with students. 

“Anybody in the school building who has a way with students should be part of our target audience,” Kaine said. 

Overall, Kaine noted that incentives and targeted strategies were the leading ways to combat the teacher shortage.

Introducing Incentives 

As the school year draws closer, several school divisions have announced numerous incentives for qualified professionals to join their faculty and staff.

Richmond Public Schools is offering a $6,000 stipend for individuals who live at least 50 miles outside of the city. The money is for moving purposes, in an effort to bring them closer to their future place of employment with the division.

Additionally, Richmond announced two hiring bonuses — one for new teachers, and one for teachers with in-class experience. For individuals currently seeking careers in education, the school district will offer a $2,000 signing bonus. Teachers with at least two years of classroom experience will have that offer doubled, receiving $4,000 for agreeing to teach during the upcoming school year.

Danville Public Schools — which experienced 54 retirements in the past two years, compared to 14 during the two years prior to that — announced signing bonuses, but only for certain positions. Educators interested in teaching math, science, and special education will receive a $5,000 signing bonus. Additionally, the district will offer a $2,900 retention bonus for all staff.

Near the coast, Newport News Public Schools cast its net. The division announced signing bonuses of up to $6,000. The top amount will head to qualified elementary school teachers, secondary math teachers, secondary English teachers, special education teachers, and school psychologists. Various other positions throughout the division — including child nutrition employees, bus assistants, painters, roofers, HVAC mechanics, and custodians — will receive a $1,500 signing bonus. Amid the current bus driver shortage, bus drivers are also eligible for a $2,000 signing bonus.
These incentives are on top of the 10% raise over two years and one-time $1,000 bonus passed in Virginia’s 2022 budget.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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