By Michelle Lin
LOS ANGELES — National teacher shortages have occurred since the Great Recession and the pandemic has only worsened teacher-student conditions. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona argues that states should utilize federal COVID-19 relief money to alleviate the long-term national issue of teacher shortages, citing the importance of student needs and respect for teachers.
The consequences of the teacher shortage are alarming in Missouri, where school weeks are shortened from five to four days. Across the nation, students are months behind on curriculum due to the pandemic. In California, nearly twenty percent of teachers were unprepared, either lacking the credentials to teach a certain subject or state authorization, or are interns who have yet to complete teacher training.
While lacking credentials does not mean that these teachers are unable to provide a good learning experience, it does indicate that fewer people want to go through the process of becoming a teacher. Fewer people are interested in education and turn to more lucrative fields like technology or business.
Cardona wants to encourage more people to become teachers without dropping teacher qualifications: “For example, student training is four months of teaching without pay. I think we should use the American Rescue Plan dollars to get student teachers and give them a salary.”
The training cost to be a teacher is an obstacle for college students who already have student debt. Another way the government has been encouraging students to go into teaching is through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which provides relief for student loans to public servants who have worked ten years.
Cardona also said, “So let’s use the American Rescue Plan dollars to bring back retired teachers, to work with universities to make sure that our student teachers are starting a little bit earlier into their profession, using the dollars that were put forward by the federal government.”
While the attempt to solve these long-term issues with COVID-19 relief money is a good start, it needs to continue after these funds are exhausted.
Much of the teacher shortage issue can be traced back to unfair wages. The people who educate future generations of Americans should be well-compensated for their work.
Secretary Cardona said, “But let’s face it, this teacher shortage is a symptom of something that’s been going on for longer than the pandemic, and that’s a teacher respect issue. Unless we’re serious about providing competitive salaries for our educators, better working conditions, so that they can continue to grow, and then including teacher voices in this process of reopening and reimagining our schools, we’re going to constantly deal with shortage issues.”
Cardona believes low teacher salaries drive people out of the teaching field. It is not uncommon for teachers to take on second jobs, as their salary as a teacher is not enough. Americans cannot expect their children to receive a strong education without properly paying teachers.
The pandemic forced teachers to completely change their ways of teaching to online methods. Due to school closures creating an unstable environment, more teachers are considering leaving their profession. With fewer people interested in teaching and more people considering leaving the field, teacher shortages seem inevitable.
A good education is expensive. Cardona said, “Our students need additional support. They need smaller class sizes. They need tutors. They need after-school programs.” Teachers would have to be paid more to cover the work required to run these programs.
California has tried to remedy the low wages teachers receive, with the median wage being $77,429 per year, in comparison to the national median of $57,949. While these numbers seem to show improvement for California teachers, rent and basic necessities are much higher in California than anywhere in the country.
Teachers have an undeniable influence on their students and, with better pay, can continue to do so.