Truck drivers are paid more than teachers. Why America's educators are leaving classrooms.

America is in crisis this holiday season. Why? Because we may not have enough truckers to deliver our gifts in time. To calm a stressed-out nation, President Joe Biden said this fall he might call up the National Guard (the White House quickly backed off from that idea).

Wouldn’t it be great if the federal government could help fix the supply-chain problem in our schools, too?

Yes, what the world needs now is more teachers and truckers. But while our students will likely recover just fine if all their gifts don’t make it in time for the holidays, they – and the communities they call home – will be hurt for the long term if we don’t find new ways to recruit and retain more educators.

How bad is it? Schools across the nation are being forced to close temporarily because faculty and staff are exiting the profession. There aren’t enough substitute teachers to fill in now – or in the foreseeable future – and the talent pipeline is drying up as fewer people enroll in teacher certification programs.

Opinions in your inbox: Get a digest of our takes on current events every day

The most important piece in ensuring we have enough teachers is compensation, and educators have suffered under years of stagnant wage growth. Now, with the inflation rate at a 30-year high of 6.2%, modest pay increases are offset by the rising cost of living.

I applaud school districts that were able to provide special incentives and pay rate bumps, but district administrators know this isn’t enough.

Heather Miller, a first grade teacher in Austin, Texas, works with a small group of students in her classroom on reading skills.
Heather Miller, a first grade teacher in Austin, Texas, works with a small group of students in her classroom on reading skills.

According to Truck Driver Salary, Wal-Mart truck drivers now make $86,000 annually. By comparison, salary.com says teachers with college degrees average from $53,489 to $70,681 a year.

Educators leaving the profession

More than 1 million workers in educational services and state and local government education positions voluntarily left (read quit) their positions through September of this year, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.

To make the profession more attractive, accessible, rewarding and sustainable, we must act at the federal, state and community levels.

At the federal level, we need Congress to act on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act. Doing so will improve pay rates for early childhood educators and deliver the resources we need to increase the number of people entering the education field.

Why isn't Biden doing more to tout wins?: Jobs, jabs, infrastructure, prosperity, peace

At the state level, we need legislatures to increase funding for teacher salaries. In addition, states should make it easier for people to become substitute teachers and create more expedient and affordable pathways for them to become certified as full-time teachers. And states should also make the process easier for teachers to obtain certifications when they move to a new state.

At the local level, we need districts to increase pay for all employees, including principals, teachers, substitute teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, nurses, and food and nutrition workers.

Communities need to support teachers

But it’s not just government, our communities and businesses can do more, too. If you thanked the delivery heroes who brought you items during the pandemic, what more can you do for teachers who mask up every day to inspire our next generation? Local retailers could offer special discounts. Parents and students could write thank-you letters with gift cards this holiday season.

As a former educator myself – and one who now leads the largest education talent provider in America – I’m thankful for everyone who answers the call to lead in school districts and work in classrooms.

This holiday season, we all owe a debt of gratitude to our teachers and our truckers. The greatest gift for our society would be bigger federal, state and local investments in the sustainability of our educator supply chain.

Nicola Soares is president of Kelly Education.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Teacher shortage: Why America's educators are fleeing the classroom