This is part one in a two-part series. The second part focuses on potential solutions to challenges faced by the teaching profession. Sign up for Chalkbeat’s free weekly newsletter to get these stories and more delivered straight to your inbox.
Howard McLean is worried.
The superintendent of a rural school district 50 miles outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, McLean is not sure how he is going to be able to fill every classroom next year with a qualified teacher. He’s considering some drastic alternatives, like having a certified teacher instruct students virtually while an aide supervises the class in person.
The issue is not altogether new for Anson County schools, which as a high-poverty rural community is doubly disadvantaged in the hunt for talent. But McLean said the challenges have heightened since the pandemic destabilized schools and demoralized teachers. He faces a daunting equation: More teachers are leaving and fewer are applying for open positions.
“The pandemic created a perfect storm for us,” he said. “The results are: public education, we’re in trouble.”
Dire warnings of teacher shortages are nothing new, especially during the pandemic, and are sometimes overblown. But a confluence of warning signs suggest that the country is at a post-pandemic inflection point.
More teachers really have left the classroom, according to a new Chalkbeat analysis of data, the most thorough national look at teacher turnover to date. A number of them, including North Carolina, saw more teachers exit last year than any time in recent memory. Teachers who remain appear demoralized and stressed. Fewer young people want to join the profession. And there are long-standing shortages in certain subjects and schools.
“We are in an acutely serious and severe moment for the health of the teaching profession,” said Matthew Kraft, a Brown University researcher who co-authored a recent study titled “The Rise and Fall of the Teaching Profession.” The study showed that across an array of metrics, the profession was “at or near its lowest levels in 50 years.”