An ongoing teacher shortage across the United States is forcing officials to act quickly to come up with solutions before the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
"We're seeing what I guess we could call a mad scramble to try to fill classrooms," Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, told NBC News reporter Jesse Kirsch in a special report that aired Monday on TODAY.
The teacher shortage is nothing new, but the number of open positions — more than 8,000 in Florida alone — is now spelling trouble for many school districts.
“There’s been a teacher shortage for years. What you’re seeing now is that it’s reached a tipping point,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Low pay, disrespect and COVID-19
The AFT lists dismally low salaries as one of the top reasons people are steering away from teaching careers. A lack of respect for teachers, some believe, may also fuel today’s teaching shortage.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic, with all of its extra pressures on educators, has also helped push current and potential teachers away. "Teachers have assumed so many more responsibilities in the aftermath of COVID and yet have to do all the old things (too)," said Weingarten.
With so many open teaching positions in school districts across the U.S., it is the students who have so much at stake.
Maria Zuniga, a high school teacher in Nevada, told TODAY that ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, she’s already worried about the kind of education students in short-staffed school districts will get.
“Our classes are going to be packed to the max and unfortunately kids are going to have long-term (substitute teachers) or teachers who are not qualified to teach those specific classes,” said Zuniga.
Solutions to the shortage
The AFT said one of the best ways to get teachers into the classroom is simply to offer better salaries.
School districts in Nevada and Texas have already raised their starting salaries for teachers. The Dallas Independent School District is now offering a $60,000 starting salary as well as signing bonuses and other incentives to new hires. The district reports that it now has 98% of its positions filled.
Some school districts have relaxed teaching qualifications to make it easier for new teachers to begin their careers. That can mean anything from allowing teachers into the classroom before they're fully certified, as school districts in Texas, Arizona and Alabama are doing, to hiring those without any degree at all.
In Florida, military veterans who have served four years can now become teachers even if they don't hold a bachelor's degree. The state's education commissioner reports that more than 80 veterans have already applied for positions.
However, Weingarten, believes that reducing job requirements to teach young people sends a negative message to an already bruised profession.
"Would we even be thinking about this if it was a pilot? Or an engineer? Or a doctor?" asked Weingarten. "It's part of the disrespect that you think that you can just put a body in front of kids."