COLORADO SPRINGS — Schools across the country and right here in Colorado have been tracking teacher shortages for years now, but in the wake of the pandemic there are fears the problem is only getting worse. News5 takes a deep dive into the challenges and potential solutions.
Earlier retirements, pandemic and burnout-related resignations, plus a declining number of students pursuing a career in teaching are all signs that the nationwide teacher shortage could be getting worse.
Both educators and policymakers say now is a crucial time to make decisions about the future for our teachers and education system.
Here's why. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics more than 270,000 public school teachers are projected to leave the profession between 2016 and 2026. To make matters worse, a recent teachers union survey revealed nearly 1 in 3 teachers say COVID-19 made them more likely to resign or retire early.
"We do see that we have to work a little bit harder to encourage students to consider the profession of teacher as their top choice," said Dean of the College of Education at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Valerie Martin Conley.
While hard work is helping the teaching preparedness program grow at UCCS, recent nationwide surveys uncover some of the reasons behind a declining interest in the profession. Concerns included lingering student loan debt and 67% of teachers said they needed a second job to make ends meet. Low salaries and difficult working conditions were also listed as other factors.
"Education is the profession from which all others begin. So, we are very concerned about the workforce and we need to ensure that our K-12 education sector is solid, resourced and that our teachers are fairly compensated," said Martin Conley.
According to the Colorado Department of Education Educator Shortage Survey, 6,910 teachers needed to be hired for the 2020-2021 school year. Major needs included teachers in math, science, special education and early childhood education.
"We have to step up and believe that the first five years of life and then our K-12 are critical," said President & CEO of Early Connections Learning Centers Diane Price.
Price has spent decades teaching and working with children. She believes with all parents went through during the pandemic, they're starting to see why this teacher shortage needs attention.
"There's a renewed appreciation for educators, a renewed appreciation for the work they do every day," said Price.
Teacher turnover fuels the challenges in southern Colorado. Adding up the numbers provided to News5 by some of the larger school districts in our viewing area (D11, D20, D38, D12, D49, D60, D70), since the start of 2020, there have been more than 2,000 resignations, 330 retirements, and there are currently more than 287 open teaching positions across several districts.
"If we don't increase compensation for educators we will be losing the battle forever," said Price. "How do we create a compensation package that has pay and benefits that keep people in the field for periods of time? How do we help young people figure out this is a good place to be? Teaching is doing good."
The Biden Administration says it would be willing to spend billions of dollars to address the teacher shortage, but no action has been taken yet.
In southern Colorado, there are many partnerships working to provide scholarships and support for those who want to work in the classroom.
News5 recently featured one of these programs: click here
If you are interested in pursuing a teaching career you can find a program for you, or just get your questions answered by the experts at UCCS by visiting: Click here