Boston’s public schools haven’t been immune to the challenges of teacher retention that many school districts across the country are experiencing. As classes start this school year, the district is short 200 teachers, and readers say this shortage is indicative of a large-scale problem.
We asked readers to share their thoughts on the teacher shortage, and we heard from educators, parents, and other members of the public alike who said overwhelmingly they were concerned about what the shortage means for the state of education in the country.
Readers said while the reasons for this problem are complex, the solution to ending the teacher shortage is more straightforward: pay teachers more.
“Note that this teacher shortage is creating a vicious cycle. As good, competent teachers leave, they are being replaced with long-term subs who may not have teacher certification in the subject area (or who may not even have gone to school for teaching),” M.K., an educator from Rhode Island, shared.
“In addition, due to the shortage, many regular teachers are being asked to use their planning period to cover classes each day. These factors are adding to the woe of teachers and will drive more out of the profession and preclude others from entering the profession. And so on. And so on.”
One study found that there are more than 36,000 teacher vacancies in the nation. Even those that are filled may not be by the most qualified educators. The hardest hit areas include special education, high school math, and rural schools.
Some 163,500 positions are filled by teachers who aren’t fully certified or are not certified in the subject area they’re teaching, a problem mentioned by many of the educators who responded to their poll. A number said they’re regularly asked to fill in as substitutes for subjects they have little or no training in on top of an already demanding job.
The consequences of this are bearing out in students’ academic performance as national test scores have fallen during the pandemic and teachers are asked to play catch-up.
“Overall school funding needs to increase. Students are very, very needy right now, and teachers are increasingly expected to look out more and more for their students’ social/ emotional health,” said Kerry F., an educator and parent from Franklin. “Expectations are too high with the increased focus on [diversity, equity, and inclusion] and mental health (which are very necessary) while catching students up academically. We have no subs and have to do three jobs at once.”
Millions of teachers nationwide have left the profession since the start of the pandemic, and those that remain are saddled with large class sizes, long hours, too little pay, and mounting disrespect from their community. The most recent Merrimack College Teacher Survey found that more teachers are unhappy with their work than ever before. Just 12 percent of teachers were very satisfied with their jobs, according to the survey.
Michael S., an educator living in Lowell, said the larger issue is a lack of investment in public education.
“There’s a saying, ‘You get what you pay for.’ People are starting to see how historically underfunded education is turning out. We want our students to be the best and the brightest yet we refuse to attract the best and brightest professionals into the field,” he said. “Schools aren’t private companies striving to get the most for the least amount of money and shouldn’t be. The product is our children’s and country’s future.”
Below you’ll find a sampling of responses from readers sharing their thoughts on the teacher shortage and what they think should be done to attract and retain teachers to our public schools.
Some entries may be edited for length and clarity.
‘Teacher pay is insultingly low’
“Pay competitive salaries!!!! The job starts off at a miserably low wage for the level of education/certifications you need to get the job in the first place. For those that are in college to be a teacher now with inflation/cost of living expenses, etc., no way does this career make any financial sense to get into. The seasoned educator whose salary is capped is also struggling to make ends meet, as professions with master’s degrees pay way more and also offer overtime. This is only going to get worse.” — R.W., Middlesex County, parent and educator
“For the amount of education, training, and often debt they need to take on to be a teacher — not to mention how much is spent out of pocket on supplies — teacher pay is insultingly low. My wife gets a $100 yearly stipend from her public school (Salem system) which isn’t even a drop in the bucket. The hours at school are only part of it. Much work is taken home as well and often results in an additional 2 hours per weeknight to lesson plan and everything else. Not many in the public are aware of this. Add complaining parents, administrators interfering with teachers’ day-to-day, and a lack of support from already short-staffed schools, teachers aren’t making nearly enough for what they do. It isn’t worth the stress.” — Matt, Essex County
“PAY THEM MORE. A LOT MORE. The expectations that are placed on the overworked and underpaid teaching workforce are absurd. We are very lucky that anyone is still willing to take on these vitally important but criminally underfunded jobs.” — Shan, Medford
“I think the answer is fairly simple: Raise the pay of teachers substantially at all seniority levels, but particularly for entry-level teachers. For any other profession, the answer to an inability to recruit is to raise compensation. Right now, a new teacher can only expect to make roughly $45,000 in MA. That’s not remotely comparable to entry-level jobs across a range of industries in the commonwealth. If you make teacher pay at least relatively comparable with the private sector, it naturally encourages current teachers to stay, and younger potential teachers to decide to jump into the profession.” — Andrew, Natick, parent
“Raise pay. I know as a teacher I will never earn as much as my private sector peers but that gap makes me consider switching careers.” — Anonymous, MetroWest, educator
“Respect…respect through fair pay for the hours and days we put in. Not just in the classroom. Many teachers work all summer to make ends meet, working nights and weekends. We continuously take classes, most of the time out of pocket, to further our abilities. We have no delusions of grandeur; we are not in this business to become wealthy, but we deserve to be fairly compensated for the work we do.
“Teachers have been unfairly demonized for several years. The overwhelming, vast majority of teachers do the job correctly. We are not ‘indoctrinating’ anyone. There is no ‘woke agenda.’ We care about kids and try to work to have them enter a world where they are respected, valued, and treated with equity and fairness — ironically in an environment where we do not receive the same treatment.” — Jason, Peabody, educator
‘This is not a teacher shortage issue; this is an education issue’
“Until teachers are paid for their work appropriately, given the proper tools to do their jobs, and treated the same as other professionals, the decline will continue. The other factor is that we have been grossly underfunding our educational system for years. The buildings are crumbling, in some cases, unsafe, unheated, and possibly dangerous. The textbooks and technology are far behind modern standards. When these problems are eliminated, and we teachers are no longer blamed for student failure, then and only then can a discussion occur regarding hiring and retaining teachers. This is not a teacher shortage issue; this is an education issue.” — Gail G., Marblehead, educator
“Allow us paid family leave under FMLA. Teachers are not eligible for this, but it would be a good way to attract younger educators to the profession. The Legislature could make this change, and it would entice people who might otherwise be drawn to the private sector. Expand public daycare — I’ve had multiple colleagues leave teaching because they couldn’t find reliable daycare.
“There’s also a lot that can be done at the state level that would fix the overall ways in which schools are funded. For example, too much of the burden is on the local taxpayer. More should be shifted toward the state budget as it is in places like Vermont. The state should also be responsible for funding over 50% of charter school tuition. Where I work and live (rural, western MA), one student enrolling in a charter school can decimate a rural budget and make things very difficult for the students and staff in the local school — all on the back of the taxpayer. The state should also fund regional district transportation as it promised to do when it was first attempting to entice districts to regionalize. These would all make the working conditions of teachers more bearable because we would have the money we need to fully staff schools and keep building conditions safe.
“Finally, if the state wants to mandate things like MCAS they need to actually give us the test results. I still haven’t received the results from LAST YEAR’S test. If it took me six months to grade a mostly multiple choice test I would be disciplined for incompetence, and rightly so. Why won’t DESE hold itself to the same standard?” — Danielle, Turners Falls, educator
“Ineffective administration is a huge problem. Many administrators forget — or never knew — what it was like to be in a classroom. If it were up to me every administrator would be responsible for teaching one class. As it stands, top-down decisions are made regarding outcomes that the decision-makers haven’t played a role in for a generation, if ever. Major curriculum changes and course restructuring without meaningful input from those who know best is commonplace. Activist administrators, who take their position just to promote their own selves and their own goals, and not champion the existing greatness of a school, get hired all too often. “ — Bill, East Bridgewater, educator
‘The bottom line is that we aren’t respected’
“If schools want to attract and retain teachers, they need to realize that they are asking too much of us. In addition to our own teaching, we are now being asked to act as subs…more teaching (mainly outside our disciplines). The district, of course, saves money by not using subs, but it is just one more duty on a long list for teachers. The expectation is that we will take the work we would’ve done during that time home with us to complete. The phrase “other duties as assigned” has made us a dumping ground for all sorts of non-teaching tasks that shouldn’t be expected of us. The bottom line is that we aren’t respected. ‘Those who can’t do, teach’ pretty much sums up how society feels about us, so why would we want to stick around?” — Laurie, Dunstable, educator
“Students need to show respect to everyone, not just teachers, but to one another! Trust needs to be in classrooms [as well as the] community.” — Brian, Dorchester, educator
“Stop the teacher bashing. Teachers deserve our respect. It’s one of the few professions where the ‘client’ constantly second guesses the professional abilities of the people who have gone through years and years of schooling (especially in Mass.) to become experts in their craft. Parents need to back off a little. That doesn’t mean we don’t get a say, but go through the usual channels: talk to the teacher. Also, general teacher disrespect trickles down, so if the parents are bashing the teacher(s) at home, the kids are certainly not going to make life any easier in the classroom. All over the world, teachers are respected [but] not here. I’m so grateful for my child’s teachers, all of whom have thus far been incredible, but I know one year we may get one we don’t like. However, that won’t make us malign the entire profession. The vast majority of teachers are good people who care about students.” — Cassie, Framingham, parent
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinions.