Whether it be due to the Omicron variant ravaging the U.S., trying to prevent the spread in the first place, or because of quarantine from a ‘close contact’ tracing method, it is inevitable that there is a shortage of staff members in the education system in America. Teachers, substitutes, bus drivers, you name it; arguably, schools have been hardest hit, but the current situation is more fraught than you might think.
Just earlier this year, in January, 62,000 Los Angeles students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 just days after reopening the schools. 11 schools in the Cincinnati Public Schools District had to be shut down because of the severe spike in cases. And the consequences of this increase in transmission are just as clear: Some school districts have seen teacher absences at approximately twice their normal rate, but only 30-40% of those absences are filled with substitute teachers.
And needless to say, the education system in the U.S. had been struggling in terms of staffing even before COVID-19. Back in 2016, a study found that only 4.2 percent of freshmen in college wanted to major in education, which is the lowest in 45 years. In 2018, Time Magazine delved into a teacher’s story of having to donate blood twice a week and work 3 jobs just to pay their bills. The National Education Association also found that in 2019, the average salary for educators in the U.S. decreased by 4.5% in the past decade. Teachers, who are the very reason why society is so knowledgeable and able to properly function and flourish, are dropped into a well of despondency with no rope to help bring them out. The constant nagging sensation of not-enough salary and too-much stress has caused many teachers to bid adieu to their taxing profession.
But the Great Resignation, as some economists like to call it, has only made the situation worse. An NBC report from December of 2021 found that, “48 percent of schools or districts were having difficulty finding enough full-time teachers. 68 percent said their schools or districts had struggled to find enough bus drivers [and] 55 percent said they were having difficulty finding teacher aides.” In February 2020, right before the pandemic hit, 8 million people were employed in education. In July 2021, when businesses and schools began opening back up and the Great Resignation started, the number went down to 7.8 million, and in December, 2021, the education employment rate decreased to 7.6 million people. Economists predict that this number will continue to plummet as teachers are looking out for other jobs that will make up for their cut salaries during the lockdown.
Clearly, the problems facing the American education system go deeper than the challenges of the pandemic, and if things don’t change, then don’t be surprised when the principal is teaching your 7th grade math class.