Pandemic contributes to nationwide teacher shortages

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LaSalle Township, Illinois — When students recently returned to Illinois' LaSalle-Peru High School, the number of teachers didn't add up. The pandemic has accelerated a teacher shortage years in the making, superintendent Steven Wrobleski said. 

"It would not be uncommon to have between 50 and 100 applicants in years past," he said. "Now, if we get between one and five applicants, that's a good day." 

The school was not fully staffed when classes started, he said. 

Districts nationwide are facing similar problems. Nearly 30% of National Education Association members say the pandemic has led them to plan on leaving teaching earlier than expected. Almost all 50 states reported shortages for the 2020-2021 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Anthony Schnell retired from his teaching job in Wisconsin in June. He decided to dedicate himself full time to his family's bakery near Madison. 

"It's much earlier than I expected — at least five or six years earlier. I was a chemistry teacher, and you deal with numbers a lot. And numerically, it only made sense for me to leave teaching," he said. 

Some districts are tackling the problems with teacher bonuses. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has proposed service scholarships and loan forgiveness. 

Schnell called the incentives bandaids, explaining that his former colleagues are also looking to leave if they can find other jobs. 

"The common refrain was, 'If I had something, I would do it, too.' And that scares me. It worries me a lot about the system," he said. 

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