A Future Where No One is Left to Teach Our Kids
Nicola Soares | President, Kelly Education
Americans are quitting their jobs in record numbers. Some economists call it The Great Resignation, others the Big Quit, and few workers are fleeing their professions faster than those across our nation’s education sector. As American Education Week kicks off, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s at stake.
One recent headline read: “Exhausted and underpaid: teachers across the US are leaving their jobs in record numbers.” And the shortages go beyond full-time teachers as other essential preschool through high school staffers – principals, substitutes, counselors, paraprofessionals, nurses and more – are also saying they’ve had enough.
This alarming exodus of education talent brings us back to a question we’ve been asking ourselves as a nation for generations––when will we finally start to reward and recognize education-sector workers commensurate with the value they provide to our kids, our communities and our economy? I firmly believe that education is the bedrock of a thriving society. We are at a crossroads.
"If we choose to keep kicking the can down the road, we can expect a future where no one is left to teach our kids and our ability to innovate and compete in the global economy declines." But if we decide that now is the time to act, we can stop the exodus and start retaining and recruiting more of the talent we need to foster student achievement, enrich lives and create the skilled workforce our nation needs.
Fortunately, education and policy leaders are stepping up to help turn the tide. Our team at Kelly Education partners with more than 7,000 schools nationally and we’re encouraged by the actions we see districts taking to value education talent by increasing pay and knocking down barriers for education-sector workers. Much more needs to be done, but we can see the pay-to-value ratio of the profession finally starting to move.
For example, several states and districts across America have responded to talent shortages by increasing full-time teacher pay. In addition, substitute teachers are increasingly being recognized for the value they bring to classrooms. Earlier this month, 500 substitute teachers in an Indiana school district came back from fall break to a 20 percent pay increase. And last week, one school district in Pennsylvania increased substitute teacher pay by nearly 30 percent.
In addition, Congress seems poised to act on President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda by approving investments needed to help address labor shortages in our education system. One area of great promise is the potential expansion of Grown Your Own (GYO) programs focused on developing and retaining educators in local communities. GYO programs have proven successful in recruiting overall and they can also increase diversity at a time when we desperately need more Black men entering the profession.
Congress also seems likely to partner with states on making universal preschool a reality. And while that’s an important step forward, such action would also create increased demands for workers and new approaches to how we compensate preschool staff across America. Several communities have already been increasing pay to compete for talent, but most Amazon delivery drivers still make more than early childhood educators and that’s just wrong.
Overall, we’re encouraged by the actions being taken and the agendas being proposed to invest in educators. But for now, the trendline continues to be challenging with Department of Labor reports showing more and more educators walking away from positions nationwide. In the most recent monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), another 30,000 state and local education workers voluntarily left their positions.
We must do more, and we need to make it personal because it’s too easy to grow numb to facts and figures anymore. So, I encourage you to stop for just a minute to think of a teacher, principal, counselor or childcare provider who touched your life in a positive way growing up. Think of that special someone who believed in you, helped you learn and inspired you to pursue your dreams. Now, imagine that person never existed.
If we don’t do more to value our education-sector workers, that’s the trajectory we’re on across America. Momentum is growing to recruit and retain education talent, but nothing is guaranteed. Let’s act now to avoid a future where no one is left to teach our kids.
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