School is back in session across Massachusetts in the coming days, but a shortage of teachers may stand in the way of a smooth transition back to pre-pandemic learning.
The nation is facing a critical teacher shortage as fewer people enter the profession and more choose to leave citing low pay, long hours, and general dissatisfaction. Here in Boston, many teachers left over the course of the pandemic, leaving a shortage of more than 200 teachers.
The district has hosted job fairs, worked with community organizations to recruit, and reached out to retired teachers, but the gap remains.
“There will be some hiccups, but we are ready to meet the moment and are quite confident that it will be a strong start to the year for our 49,000 students,” acting Superintendent Drew Echelson told the School Committee earlier this month.
But concern about teacher retention is on the minds of some of our readers. In a recent interview with Geoff Diehl, the Republican nominee to become the next governor of Massachusetts, our reporters asked Diehl a reader-submitted question about the issue.
Sean McMahon from Hudson asked, “Teachers feel disrespected by their students, parents, and administrators. What steps would you take to retain these teachers and attract new teachers to Massachusetts?”
Diehl acknowledged that tensions between teachers and parents have been high, particularly during the pandemic, but said the solution is to give parents more of a say in what happens in schools.
“We saw in Newburyport, down in Cohasset, Worcester — a lot of areas where parents created groups to really challenge what was going on with schools and try to win some seats on school boards to have more of a voice about what’s going on with their kids,” he told Boston.com. “I think we have to have a much better open dialogue about what parents are expecting from the schools, and just at least be that release valve during those meetings to feel like parents and kids are being heard.”
Unfortunately, when school boards and parents are venting that steam toward teachers, it can exacerbate the problem, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers — especially in districts and states that have enacted policies about what teachers can say in the classroom about issues like U.S. history, racism, and sexual orientation.
“The political situation in the United States, combined with legitimate aftereffects of COVID, has created this shortage,” Weingarden told the Washington Post. “This shortage is contrived.”
A recent Merrimack College Teacher Survey found that more than half of teachers don’t feel respected by the general public and are less satisfied with their work than they have been in the past. Between instructional time, grading, lesson planning, and meeting with parents, students, and colleagues, most teachers work more than 50 hours a week, according to the survey, but many still have low salaries.
Meanwhile, national test scores have fallen during the pandemic, and as kids get back to normal in the classroom, having well-staffed and resourced teachers will be a key component to making sure children are learning.
If you’re a parent or educator in the public school system, are you concerned about the teacher shortage? What do you think districts and local leaders should do to address this problem?
Let us know your thoughts by filling out the survey below or emailing us at [email protected] and we may feature your response in a future article or on Boston.com social media channels.