Teachers point to lack of support, negative perception of job as factors impacting teacher shortages

As schools around the country struggle with teacher shortages, a new watchdog report is shedding light on the areas most impacted and the reasons why schools are dealing with the problem.

The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said: “Negative perception of the teaching profession and perceived lack of support for current teachers are among key recruitment and retention challenges.”

“There were a set of overarching challenges that came up again and again, particularly the negative perception of the teaching profession as well as a lack of respect for current teachers in general,” said Jackie Nowicki, a director in GAO’s Education, Workforce, and Income Security team.

The report said schools in urban and rural areas are feeling the pinch from teacher shortages the most, as well as states in the west and schools mostly serving minority students.

It said certain subjects are also getting hit harder by the teacher shortages, like foreign language, science, and special education.

“As an eighth-grade science teacher for over 30 years, I have watched this chronic shortage of educators,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association. “But the reality is that the pandemic just like everything else, it made it worse.”

Pringle said she has traveled the country talking to teachers about why schools are facing teacher shortages.

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“What educators said to me, they were experiencing a shortage of respect,” said Pringle. “When I ask them what does that mean for them, they shared with me something I wasn’t surprised to hear. For them, respect looked like them being treated as the professionals they are. Being able to make teaching and learning decisions for their students. Making sure they could for example teach the complete history of this country.”

The report said the U.S. Department of Education has taken steps to address teacher shortages.

The GAO calls on the Department of Education to do a better job of tracking the effectiveness of federal resources to help fix the problem.

“We’re asking them to develop a way to know kind of when they’ve achieved success,” said Nowicki. “What does success look like? So, they’re lacking a way to figure out how they know that their initiatives are working.”

In response to the report, the Department of Education said it “agrees that teacher shortages are a significant issue of concern and appreciates GAO’s attention to it.”

“From the very first days of this Administration, we have taken substantial steps to address teacher shortages through guidance, technical assistance, discretionary grant competitions, budget requests, presentations, and additional information on the Department’s website, including a section called ‘Elevating the Teaching Profession,’” wrote Mark Washington, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

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