The teaching profession is in crisis, and the U.S. education system is to blame.

Raleigh Singer, Contributing Writer

Of our country’s most prolific recent debates- critical race theory, pandemic restrictions, gun legislation- teachers have sat at the center of focus, whether we see them there or not. And unfortunately, as the pressure on teachers continues to mount, few are inclined to pursue the profession. Enrollment in teaching programs has declined rapidly in response to the pandemic, with numerous small-town colleges shutting down education programs due to lack of enrollment. However, this decline in interest for the teaching profession has raised concerns since long before the pandemic hit, and only now are we being forced to confront the reality of our dissipating population of educators. 

It is no secret that COVID-19 struck the education world in a severe and detrimental way, leaving a significant portion of the system floundering. Teachers across the country were forced to figure out how to approach education from across a screen largely by themselves, often under vague and oft-changing instruction. People passionate about working with children were deterred from the profession, and the additional demands put on teachers from COVID-19 only drove more away from pursuing the profession. 

COVID-19, however, is not where this decline began. It only exacerbated factors that have been driving the interest in teaching down dramatically over the past decade. 

In the year 1980, about one-third of women enrolled in college were education majors, and for a long time, women had few other choices in career paths. The profession of teaching has remained a female-dominant profession, as the effects of gender norms and pay-scale distortion of decades past still linger. However, this reality has been rapidly dissipating into a new one, where women have access to far more choices in their economic path, and the ability to hold much higher expectations in terms of compensation. With this change in economic opportunity, it is becoming readily apparent how profoundly the profession of teaching has relied on the inability for women to work in other fields for its success, and that it is now suffering because of it. 

Most teachers must make their way through entry-level education, including earning a bachelor’s degree and specific education certification programs, the latter of which costs upwards of $100k alone. These costs, which can together reach up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, keep many capable individuals out of the profession, and the compensation awarded to teachers, an average of $63,000 per year, is certainly not adequate to make up those costs. In other words, it is financially costly to become a teacher, and society is relying entirely on individuals’ personal desire to teach for the guidance of our youth, despite the current system’s incapacity to foster that desire. 

Not only is there a failure to encourage an interest in education, but there is also a clear lack of concern for the ability of teachers to adequately educate their students, which in turn results in more pressure put on teachers to make their own solutions. In 2008, 92.4 percent of teachers are said to have at some point in the year used their own funds on classroom materials, averaging at $450 spent by each teacher over the span of one year- funds which were never reimbursed.

In 2020, this figure was $745, a two-thirds increase from just 12 years prior. 

The fact that teachers are solely responsible for preparing our young generation to establish the world of tomorrow is not awarded the respect and recognition it merits, and the immense effort and workload that the role calls for is often left unnoticed, not to mention the critical responsibility of working with vulnerable adolescents. Within the education world, the profession is known to be one that imposes an abundance of work and invariable stress and offers very little pay in return. As the complexities of education emerge, the pressures put on teachers increase persistently, and thousands are simply getting fed up and leaving the profession, or are deciding not to join at all. Many teachers who chose to remain in the field during the pandemic felt the same desire to leave but ultimately remained out of concern for their students and a desire to do right by them. 

The unfortunate reality that lies beneath this epidemic is the extraordinary lack of investment from our country into the education of the next generation, whether it be in lack of funding, in failing to create a curriculum that adequately prepares its students or in failing to invest in the individuals who will shape our future generations. 

In response to the ongoing shortage of available educators, some institutions are waiving certain requirements and allowing less heavily certified individuals to begin teaching, with others offering financial support to students who commit to pursuing education. However, without a fundamental change in the education system, the interest in the teaching profession will continue to decline along with the quality of students’ education. 

College administrators say that the pandemic’s acceleration of an already declining interest in the teaching profession has shed a light on the pressing need for a change in how we treat our educators, and how we foster good educators. However, a broken system cannot produce adequate results, and the decline in America’s teachers is a symptom of much greater issues. The pandemic has given the country its first push towards facing the dire need for a fundamental change in our education system. It’s time for our country to change its conception of education as a problem to be solved, and recognize it as an opportunity to foster a better future and create change in the place where it begins. 

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