How Financial Stress and Heavier Workloads are Accelerating the Teacher Shortage

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Read insights from the Horace Mann Educator Advisory Study published in November 2022, which reviews the causes and provides solutions to the teacher shortage.

A major motivator for people choosing careers in education is its intangible rewards: The ability to make a difference in students’ lives and contribute to the greater good. It’s a calling – which is also an acknowledgement that the job’s financial compensation is somewhat lacking.

Especially over the past few years, the expectations of U.S. educators – from administrators, from parents, from students, from policymakers – have expanded. Most notably, during the COVID-19 pandemic, educators were officially classified as essential workers. With families in survival mode, ever-changing educational structures and intermittent school closures, students fell behind their grade levels on both academic and social-emotional learning skills.

In the summer of 2022, COVID-19 vaccines became widely available for children, and communities hoped the ’22-’23 school year would be “back to normal” in terms of school schedules. Yet upon return, there was something missing: Staff.

School district administrators have seen an increase in open teacher positions since the COVID-19 pandemic. Even harder to fill are district support staff positions such as librarians, guidance counselors, aides and paraprofessionals. The absence of those positions can be more pronounced in an in-person environment. The result is that both teachers and support staff are taking on more responsibilities beyond their primary roles with fewer resources and without an increase in compensation.

For many educators, it’s a case of adding insult to injury. The economics of an education career already puts them at a financial disadvantage compared to their private-sector peers. The job generally requires more degrees for a lower salary – a disadvantage that’s exacerbated by ballooning student loan costs. In addition, 77% of public school teachers are women, who face additional obstacles to financial security.

Those factors add up to an alarming outlook on the future for the education profession. More than 60% of educators have an exit plan or are considering leaving their chosen profession in the next few years, according to a November 2022 educator survey conducted by Horace Mann.

The solution is two-fold, according to educators. First, a shift in community thinking to acknowledge education as a professional career and respect for educators’ role in preparing students for a successful future. The second, broadly, is better compensation. While a higher salary is the most obvious component of total compensation, educators are open to other elements that are more likely to be in administrators’ scope of control, such as a stronger benefits package and specific financial resources.

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