Apr 5, 2021 - Economy

Pandemic fuels staggering teacher shortages across the U.S.

Illustration of a teacher carrying a giant apple on their back.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The pandemic has pushed teachers out of the workforce in droves, and many schools don't have a strong safety net to fill the gaps as children come back into classrooms.

Why it matters: Teaching has been one of the toughest pandemic-era jobs, with pivots to remote learning and then risk of infection with school reopenings.

  • Teacher retirements are up 44% in Michigan since August, Chalkbeat in Detroit reports. “The pandemic is a game-changer. I think there’s going to be record retirements," Dwight Pierson, a high school teacher in St. Johns, Michigan, told Chalkbeat.
  • Long Beach Unified, one of the largest school districts in California, saw teacher leaves of absences spike by 35% this year, per EdSurge.

There's also no safety net, with substitute teacher shortfalls in many districts.

  • 73% of districts said their need for substitute teachers was more dire in 2020 than in 2019, per a recent Education Week survey of principals and school administrators. And 74% said the number of applicants for sub positions dropped.
  • Case in point: Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, which is one of the country's largest districts, with about 178,000 students, is dealing with a 30% drop in the number of available subs, according to the New York Times.

What to watch: Schools are hiring. While many industries are still recovering from the initial pandemic crash, job openings for teachers are actually 2% higher than pre-pandemic levels, AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the jobs site Indeed, tells Axios.

Go deeper: America's massive teacher shortfall is stunting student learning

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