Open Letter Regarding Teacher Turnover: The Problem is Bigger than HR

November 13, 2023

The national shortage of teachers has been headline news for the last several years. Rates of educators leaving the profession because of burnout and the struggle for districts to fill open spots with full-time, certified teachers is regularly referenced on local and national news sites, school board meeting updates, and reports demanding action from education-focused agencies and organizations. 

Though the crisis has received a great deal of national attention, what often gets lost in these statistics and reports is the depth of impact these vacancies have on individual students. It is important to note that each teaching vacancy represents a group of students who do not have a qualified and experienced teacher getting to know them; teaching content in a structured and sequential way; and simply being a consistent adult in their lives. And the impact is magnified when the open positions include members of the school counseling team or other critical support services that require specialized knowledge or backgrounds. 

A single long-term opening can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on individual student learning, completing critical college and career readiness steps, a student’s social and emotional wellbeing, and exacerbating burnout among other educators. We are calling on district leaders to approach filling shortages with the urgency, resourcefulness, and creativity that it demands; for not making this a top priority within a district risks compromising nearly all school and district goals and the long-term success and wellbeing of countless students.  

Relationships are core to student growth and learning. Over time, teachers become experts on the students they teach–identifying which techniques are most effective for their learning, how to quickly shift behavior with a quick glance, and how small changes in a student’s body language provide essential feedback on the instruction or convey important messaging about out-of-classroom situations. Students, too, develop a comfort with teachers. The longer that students are in a particular classroom environment, the more comfortable they become with asking and answering questions, articulating concerns, or just sharing anecdotes about who they are. This dynamic takes vulnerability and trust, and is an important part of the teaching and learning cycle. When this consistent network of support is not in place, students’ needs are not noticed and cannot be addressed in a timely and productive way. Instead, small issues grow to be large crises and students do not have a trusted adult to call upon when an issue emerges. 

Routine and consistency are integral to student success. Open positions within a school create gaps in routines and schedules for many. In some cases, classes are combined and become substantially larger. In other cases, teachers are spread thin to take on more instructional assignments with fewer prep periods. In some instances, different substitutes show up each day to follow hastily gathered lesson plans. Some classes are taught by under-qualified substitutes with little knowledge of the subject area or the art of teaching. Or elective classes and programs may get completely eliminated with no opportunities for students to explore different subjects or engage in a creative outlet. 

All of these changes result in a lack of consistency and clarity for students along with feelings of uneasiness not knowing what to expect on any given day. Students are left unsure of what they need to do–academically and behaviorally–to be successful. Because of this, students become less engaged in learning, feelings of anxiety increase, behavioral issues rise, and classroom learning is less productive.

The impacts are long lasting. Most people inside and outside of schools understand the immediate and direct implications to learning when students do not have access to a consistent, highly-qualified teacher. However, often missing from that conversation, are the long-term effects. When students do not have sequential academic learning that builds on previous knowledge toward clear, articulated learning goals, their foundation for learning is unstable. These gaps reappear each time the curriculum spirals to a related topic. This can happen year after year, with more advanced teachers ill-equipped to identify and support foundational needs, resulting in students unable to progress on their academic pathway. And, without consistent and qualified teachers and counselors, students risk not completing requisite courses, are not prepared for tests needed for college admissions, or simply miss taking actions necessary for their postsecondary next steps. In short, a gap in a critical course or support staff can throw a student off track in ways that some may not recover from prior to graduation. 

We are asking district leaders to broaden their framing of this critical issue and to approach it with an understanding that a qualified teaching force underpins nearly every element of district, school, educator, and student success. It is essential that leaders regularly share and reinforce the import and many layers of impact this shortage has on student outcomes and wellbeing. 

  • Please respond to this crisis with urgency, vigor, and hope. 
  • Take care of those who continue to show up each day so that they do not get burned out and can continue to do the meaningful work of supporting students and families. 
  • Do not get stuck with what has always been done or give up on finding new ways to approach this problem.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that the impacts do not disappear once a vacancy is filled. It is essential to build in systems and processes to support students impacted by these gaps so they do not internalize the struggles or be forced to go it alone. 

This is so much more than an HR issue. We need to build a culture that values educators, prioritizes relationships, and embeds processes and systems that implicitly care for the people within school walls. 

The national shortage of teachers has been headline news for the last several years. Rates of educators leaving the profession because of burnout and the struggle for districts to fill open spots with full-time, certified teachers is regularly referenced on local and national news sites, school board meeting updates, and reports demanding action from education-focused agencies and organizations. 

Though the crisis has received a great deal of national attention, what often gets lost in these statistics and reports is the depth of impact these vacancies have on individual students. It is important to note that each teaching vacancy represents a group of students who do not have a qualified and experienced teacher getting to know them; teaching content in a structured and sequential way; and simply being a consistent adult in their lives. And the impact is magnified when the open positions include members of the school counseling team or other critical support services that require specialized knowledge or backgrounds. 

A single long-term opening can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on individual student learning, completing critical college and career readiness steps, a student’s social and emotional wellbeing, and exacerbating burnout among other educators. We are calling on district leaders to approach filling shortages with the urgency, resourcefulness, and creativity that it demands; for not making this a top priority within a district risks compromising nearly all school and district goals and the long-term success and wellbeing of countless students.  

Relationships are core to student growth and learning. Over time, teachers become experts on the students they teach–identifying which techniques are most effective for their learning, how to quickly shift behavior with a quick glance, and how small changes in a student’s body language provide essential feedback on the instruction or convey important messaging about out-of-classroom situations. Students, too, develop a comfort with teachers. The longer that students are in a particular classroom environment, the more comfortable they become with asking and answering questions, articulating concerns, or just sharing anecdotes about who they are. This dynamic takes vulnerability and trust, and is an important part of the teaching and learning cycle. When this consistent network of support is not in place, students’ needs are not noticed and cannot be addressed in a timely and productive way. Instead, small issues grow to be large crises and students do not have a trusted adult to call upon when an issue emerges. 

Routine and consistency are integral to student success. Open positions within a school create gaps in routines and schedules for many. In some cases, classes are combined and become substantially larger. In other cases, teachers are spread thin to take on more instructional assignments with fewer prep periods. In some instances, different substitutes show up each day to follow hastily gathered lesson plans. Some classes are taught by under-qualified substitutes with little knowledge of the subject area or the art of teaching. Or elective classes and programs may get completely eliminated with no opportunities for students to explore different subjects or engage in a creative outlet. 

All of these changes result in a lack of consistency and clarity for students along with feelings of uneasiness not knowing what to expect on any given day. Students are left unsure of what they need to do–academically and behaviorally–to be successful. Because of this, students become less engaged in learning, feelings of anxiety increase, behavioral issues rise, and classroom learning is less productive.

The impacts are long lasting. Most people inside and outside of schools understand the immediate and direct implications to learning when students do not have access to a consistent, highly-qualified teacher. However, often missing from that conversation, are the long-term effects. When students do not have sequential academic learning that builds on previous knowledge toward clear, articulated learning goals, their foundation for learning is unstable. These gaps reappear each time the curriculum spirals to a related topic. This can happen year after year, with more advanced teachers ill-equipped to identify and support foundational needs, resulting in students unable to progress on their academic pathway. And, without consistent and qualified teachers and counselors, students risk not completing requisite courses, are not prepared for tests needed for college admissions, or simply miss taking actions necessary for their postsecondary next steps. In short, a gap in a critical course or support staff can throw a student off track in ways that some may not recover from prior to graduation. 

We are asking district leaders to broaden their framing of this critical issue and to approach it with an understanding that a qualified teaching force underpins nearly every element of district, school, educator, and student success. It is essential that leaders regularly share and reinforce the import and many layers of impact this shortage has on student outcomes and wellbeing. 

  • Please respond to this crisis with urgency, vigor, and hope. 
  • Take care of those who continue to show up each day so that they do not get burned out and can continue to do the meaningful work of supporting students and families. 
  • Do not get stuck with what has always been done or give up on finding new ways to approach this problem.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that the impacts do not disappear once a vacancy is filled. It is essential to build in systems and processes to support students impacted by these gaps so they do not internalize the struggles or be forced to go it alone. 

This is so much more than an HR issue. We need to build a culture that values educators, prioritizes relationships, and embeds processes and systems that implicitly care for the people within school walls. 

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The national shortage of teachers has been headline news for the last several years. Rates of educators leaving the profession because of burnout and the struggle for districts to fill open spots with full-time, certified teachers is regularly referenced on local and national news sites, school board meeting updates, and reports demanding action from education-focused agencies and organizations. 

Though the crisis has received a great deal of national attention, what often gets lost in these statistics and reports is the depth of impact these vacancies have on individual students. It is important to note that each teaching vacancy represents a group of students who do not have a qualified and experienced teacher getting to know them; teaching content in a structured and sequential way; and simply being a consistent adult in their lives. And the impact is magnified when the open positions include members of the school counseling team or other critical support services that require specialized knowledge or backgrounds. 

A single long-term opening can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on individual student learning, completing critical college and career readiness steps, a student’s social and emotional wellbeing, and exacerbating burnout among other educators. We are calling on district leaders to approach filling shortages with the urgency, resourcefulness, and creativity that it demands; for not making this a top priority within a district risks compromising nearly all school and district goals and the long-term success and wellbeing of countless students.  

Relationships are core to student growth and learning. Over time, teachers become experts on the students they teach–identifying which techniques are most effective for their learning, how to quickly shift behavior with a quick glance, and how small changes in a student’s body language provide essential feedback on the instruction or convey important messaging about out-of-classroom situations. Students, too, develop a comfort with teachers. The longer that students are in a particular classroom environment, the more comfortable they become with asking and answering questions, articulating concerns, or just sharing anecdotes about who they are. This dynamic takes vulnerability and trust, and is an important part of the teaching and learning cycle. When this consistent network of support is not in place, students’ needs are not noticed and cannot be addressed in a timely and productive way. Instead, small issues grow to be large crises and students do not have a trusted adult to call upon when an issue emerges. 

Routine and consistency are integral to student success. Open positions within a school create gaps in routines and schedules for many. In some cases, classes are combined and become substantially larger. In other cases, teachers are spread thin to take on more instructional assignments with fewer prep periods. In some instances, different substitutes show up each day to follow hastily gathered lesson plans. Some classes are taught by under-qualified substitutes with little knowledge of the subject area or the art of teaching. Or elective classes and programs may get completely eliminated with no opportunities for students to explore different subjects or engage in a creative outlet. 

All of these changes result in a lack of consistency and clarity for students along with feelings of uneasiness not knowing what to expect on any given day. Students are left unsure of what they need to do–academically and behaviorally–to be successful. Because of this, students become less engaged in learning, feelings of anxiety increase, behavioral issues rise, and classroom learning is less productive.

The impacts are long lasting. Most people inside and outside of schools understand the immediate and direct implications to learning when students do not have access to a consistent, highly-qualified teacher. However, often missing from that conversation, are the long-term effects. When students do not have sequential academic learning that builds on previous knowledge toward clear, articulated learning goals, their foundation for learning is unstable. These gaps reappear each time the curriculum spirals to a related topic. This can happen year after year, with more advanced teachers ill-equipped to identify and support foundational needs, resulting in students unable to progress on their academic pathway. And, without consistent and qualified teachers and counselors, students risk not completing requisite courses, are not prepared for tests needed for college admissions, or simply miss taking actions necessary for their postsecondary next steps. In short, a gap in a critical course or support staff can throw a student off track in ways that some may not recover from prior to graduation. 

We are asking district leaders to broaden their framing of this critical issue and to approach it with an understanding that a qualified teaching force underpins nearly every element of district, school, educator, and student success. It is essential that leaders regularly share and reinforce the import and many layers of impact this shortage has on student outcomes and wellbeing. 

  • Please respond to this crisis with urgency, vigor, and hope. 
  • Take care of those who continue to show up each day so that they do not get burned out and can continue to do the meaningful work of supporting students and families. 
  • Do not get stuck with what has always been done or give up on finding new ways to approach this problem.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that the impacts do not disappear once a vacancy is filled. It is essential to build in systems and processes to support students impacted by these gaps so they do not internalize the struggles or be forced to go it alone. 

This is so much more than an HR issue. We need to build a culture that values educators, prioritizes relationships, and embeds processes and systems that implicitly care for the people within school walls. 

The national shortage of teachers has been headline news for the last several years. Rates of educators leaving the profession because of burnout and the struggle for districts to fill open spots with full-time, certified teachers is regularly referenced on local and national news sites, school board meeting updates, and reports demanding action from education-focused agencies and organizations. 

Though the crisis has received a great deal of national attention, what often gets lost in these statistics and reports is the depth of impact these vacancies have on individual students. It is important to note that each teaching vacancy represents a group of students who do not have a qualified and experienced teacher getting to know them; teaching content in a structured and sequential way; and simply being a consistent adult in their lives. And the impact is magnified when the open positions include members of the school counseling team or other critical support services that require specialized knowledge or backgrounds. 

A single long-term opening can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on individual student learning, completing critical college and career readiness steps, a student’s social and emotional wellbeing, and exacerbating burnout among other educators. We are calling on district leaders to approach filling shortages with the urgency, resourcefulness, and creativity that it demands; for not making this a top priority within a district risks compromising nearly all school and district goals and the long-term success and wellbeing of countless students.  

Relationships are core to student growth and learning. Over time, teachers become experts on the students they teach–identifying which techniques are most effective for their learning, how to quickly shift behavior with a quick glance, and how small changes in a student’s body language provide essential feedback on the instruction or convey important messaging about out-of-classroom situations. Students, too, develop a comfort with teachers. The longer that students are in a particular classroom environment, the more comfortable they become with asking and answering questions, articulating concerns, or just sharing anecdotes about who they are. This dynamic takes vulnerability and trust, and is an important part of the teaching and learning cycle. When this consistent network of support is not in place, students’ needs are not noticed and cannot be addressed in a timely and productive way. Instead, small issues grow to be large crises and students do not have a trusted adult to call upon when an issue emerges. 

Routine and consistency are integral to student success. Open positions within a school create gaps in routines and schedules for many. In some cases, classes are combined and become substantially larger. In other cases, teachers are spread thin to take on more instructional assignments with fewer prep periods. In some instances, different substitutes show up each day to follow hastily gathered lesson plans. Some classes are taught by under-qualified substitutes with little knowledge of the subject area or the art of teaching. Or elective classes and programs may get completely eliminated with no opportunities for students to explore different subjects or engage in a creative outlet. 

All of these changes result in a lack of consistency and clarity for students along with feelings of uneasiness not knowing what to expect on any given day. Students are left unsure of what they need to do–academically and behaviorally–to be successful. Because of this, students become less engaged in learning, feelings of anxiety increase, behavioral issues rise, and classroom learning is less productive.

The impacts are long lasting. Most people inside and outside of schools understand the immediate and direct implications to learning when students do not have access to a consistent, highly-qualified teacher. However, often missing from that conversation, are the long-term effects. When students do not have sequential academic learning that builds on previous knowledge toward clear, articulated learning goals, their foundation for learning is unstable. These gaps reappear each time the curriculum spirals to a related topic. This can happen year after year, with more advanced teachers ill-equipped to identify and support foundational needs, resulting in students unable to progress on their academic pathway. And, without consistent and qualified teachers and counselors, students risk not completing requisite courses, are not prepared for tests needed for college admissions, or simply miss taking actions necessary for their postsecondary next steps. In short, a gap in a critical course or support staff can throw a student off track in ways that some may not recover from prior to graduation. 

We are asking district leaders to broaden their framing of this critical issue and to approach it with an understanding that a qualified teaching force underpins nearly every element of district, school, educator, and student success. It is essential that leaders regularly share and reinforce the import and many layers of impact this shortage has on student outcomes and wellbeing. 

  • Please respond to this crisis with urgency, vigor, and hope. 
  • Take care of those who continue to show up each day so that they do not get burned out and can continue to do the meaningful work of supporting students and families. 
  • Do not get stuck with what has always been done or give up on finding new ways to approach this problem.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that the impacts do not disappear once a vacancy is filled. It is essential to build in systems and processes to support students impacted by these gaps so they do not internalize the struggles or be forced to go it alone. 

This is so much more than an HR issue. We need to build a culture that values educators, prioritizes relationships, and embeds processes and systems that implicitly care for the people within school walls. 

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The national shortage of teachers has been headline news for the last several years. Rates of educators leaving the profession because of burnout and the struggle for districts to fill open spots with full-time, certified teachers is regularly referenced on local and national news sites, school board meeting updates, and reports demanding action from education-focused agencies and organizations. 

Though the crisis has received a great deal of national attention, what often gets lost in these statistics and reports is the depth of impact these vacancies have on individual students. It is important to note that each teaching vacancy represents a group of students who do not have a qualified and experienced teacher getting to know them; teaching content in a structured and sequential way; and simply being a consistent adult in their lives. And the impact is magnified when the open positions include members of the school counseling team or other critical support services that require specialized knowledge or backgrounds. 

A single long-term opening can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on individual student learning, completing critical college and career readiness steps, a student’s social and emotional wellbeing, and exacerbating burnout among other educators. We are calling on district leaders to approach filling shortages with the urgency, resourcefulness, and creativity that it demands; for not making this a top priority within a district risks compromising nearly all school and district goals and the long-term success and wellbeing of countless students.  

Relationships are core to student growth and learning. Over time, teachers become experts on the students they teach–identifying which techniques are most effective for their learning, how to quickly shift behavior with a quick glance, and how small changes in a student’s body language provide essential feedback on the instruction or convey important messaging about out-of-classroom situations. Students, too, develop a comfort with teachers. The longer that students are in a particular classroom environment, the more comfortable they become with asking and answering questions, articulating concerns, or just sharing anecdotes about who they are. This dynamic takes vulnerability and trust, and is an important part of the teaching and learning cycle. When this consistent network of support is not in place, students’ needs are not noticed and cannot be addressed in a timely and productive way. Instead, small issues grow to be large crises and students do not have a trusted adult to call upon when an issue emerges. 

Routine and consistency are integral to student success. Open positions within a school create gaps in routines and schedules for many. In some cases, classes are combined and become substantially larger. In other cases, teachers are spread thin to take on more instructional assignments with fewer prep periods. In some instances, different substitutes show up each day to follow hastily gathered lesson plans. Some classes are taught by under-qualified substitutes with little knowledge of the subject area or the art of teaching. Or elective classes and programs may get completely eliminated with no opportunities for students to explore different subjects or engage in a creative outlet. 

All of these changes result in a lack of consistency and clarity for students along with feelings of uneasiness not knowing what to expect on any given day. Students are left unsure of what they need to do–academically and behaviorally–to be successful. Because of this, students become less engaged in learning, feelings of anxiety increase, behavioral issues rise, and classroom learning is less productive.

The impacts are long lasting. Most people inside and outside of schools understand the immediate and direct implications to learning when students do not have access to a consistent, highly-qualified teacher. However, often missing from that conversation, are the long-term effects. When students do not have sequential academic learning that builds on previous knowledge toward clear, articulated learning goals, their foundation for learning is unstable. These gaps reappear each time the curriculum spirals to a related topic. This can happen year after year, with more advanced teachers ill-equipped to identify and support foundational needs, resulting in students unable to progress on their academic pathway. And, without consistent and qualified teachers and counselors, students risk not completing requisite courses, are not prepared for tests needed for college admissions, or simply miss taking actions necessary for their postsecondary next steps. In short, a gap in a critical course or support staff can throw a student off track in ways that some may not recover from prior to graduation. 

We are asking district leaders to broaden their framing of this critical issue and to approach it with an understanding that a qualified teaching force underpins nearly every element of district, school, educator, and student success. It is essential that leaders regularly share and reinforce the import and many layers of impact this shortage has on student outcomes and wellbeing. 

  • Please respond to this crisis with urgency, vigor, and hope. 
  • Take care of those who continue to show up each day so that they do not get burned out and can continue to do the meaningful work of supporting students and families. 
  • Do not get stuck with what has always been done or give up on finding new ways to approach this problem.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that the impacts do not disappear once a vacancy is filled. It is essential to build in systems and processes to support students impacted by these gaps so they do not internalize the struggles or be forced to go it alone. 

This is so much more than an HR issue. We need to build a culture that values educators, prioritizes relationships, and embeds processes and systems that implicitly care for the people within school walls. 

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The national shortage of teachers has been headline news for the last several years. Rates of educators leaving the profession because of burnout and the struggle for districts to fill open spots with full-time, certified teachers is regularly referenced on local and national news sites, school board meeting updates, and reports demanding action from education-focused agencies and organizations. 

Though the crisis has received a great deal of national attention, what often gets lost in these statistics and reports is the depth of impact these vacancies have on individual students. It is important to note that each teaching vacancy represents a group of students who do not have a qualified and experienced teacher getting to know them; teaching content in a structured and sequential way; and simply being a consistent adult in their lives. And the impact is magnified when the open positions include members of the school counseling team or other critical support services that require specialized knowledge or backgrounds. 

A single long-term opening can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on individual student learning, completing critical college and career readiness steps, a student’s social and emotional wellbeing, and exacerbating burnout among other educators. We are calling on district leaders to approach filling shortages with the urgency, resourcefulness, and creativity that it demands; for not making this a top priority within a district risks compromising nearly all school and district goals and the long-term success and wellbeing of countless students.  

Relationships are core to student growth and learning. Over time, teachers become experts on the students they teach–identifying which techniques are most effective for their learning, how to quickly shift behavior with a quick glance, and how small changes in a student’s body language provide essential feedback on the instruction or convey important messaging about out-of-classroom situations. Students, too, develop a comfort with teachers. The longer that students are in a particular classroom environment, the more comfortable they become with asking and answering questions, articulating concerns, or just sharing anecdotes about who they are. This dynamic takes vulnerability and trust, and is an important part of the teaching and learning cycle. When this consistent network of support is not in place, students’ needs are not noticed and cannot be addressed in a timely and productive way. Instead, small issues grow to be large crises and students do not have a trusted adult to call upon when an issue emerges. 

Routine and consistency are integral to student success. Open positions within a school create gaps in routines and schedules for many. In some cases, classes are combined and become substantially larger. In other cases, teachers are spread thin to take on more instructional assignments with fewer prep periods. In some instances, different substitutes show up each day to follow hastily gathered lesson plans. Some classes are taught by under-qualified substitutes with little knowledge of the subject area or the art of teaching. Or elective classes and programs may get completely eliminated with no opportunities for students to explore different subjects or engage in a creative outlet. 

All of these changes result in a lack of consistency and clarity for students along with feelings of uneasiness not knowing what to expect on any given day. Students are left unsure of what they need to do–academically and behaviorally–to be successful. Because of this, students become less engaged in learning, feelings of anxiety increase, behavioral issues rise, and classroom learning is less productive.

The impacts are long lasting. Most people inside and outside of schools understand the immediate and direct implications to learning when students do not have access to a consistent, highly-qualified teacher. However, often missing from that conversation, are the long-term effects. When students do not have sequential academic learning that builds on previous knowledge toward clear, articulated learning goals, their foundation for learning is unstable. These gaps reappear each time the curriculum spirals to a related topic. This can happen year after year, with more advanced teachers ill-equipped to identify and support foundational needs, resulting in students unable to progress on their academic pathway. And, without consistent and qualified teachers and counselors, students risk not completing requisite courses, are not prepared for tests needed for college admissions, or simply miss taking actions necessary for their postsecondary next steps. In short, a gap in a critical course or support staff can throw a student off track in ways that some may not recover from prior to graduation. 

We are asking district leaders to broaden their framing of this critical issue and to approach it with an understanding that a qualified teaching force underpins nearly every element of district, school, educator, and student success. It is essential that leaders regularly share and reinforce the import and many layers of impact this shortage has on student outcomes and wellbeing. 

  • Please respond to this crisis with urgency, vigor, and hope. 
  • Take care of those who continue to show up each day so that they do not get burned out and can continue to do the meaningful work of supporting students and families. 
  • Do not get stuck with what has always been done or give up on finding new ways to approach this problem.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that the impacts do not disappear once a vacancy is filled. It is essential to build in systems and processes to support students impacted by these gaps so they do not internalize the struggles or be forced to go it alone. 

This is so much more than an HR issue. We need to build a culture that values educators, prioritizes relationships, and embeds processes and systems that implicitly care for the people within school walls. 

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The national shortage of teachers has been headline news for the last several years. Rates of educators leaving the profession because of burnout and the struggle for districts to fill open spots with full-time, certified teachers is regularly referenced on local and national news sites, school board meeting updates, and reports demanding action from education-focused agencies and organizations. 

Though the crisis has received a great deal of national attention, what often gets lost in these statistics and reports is the depth of impact these vacancies have on individual students. It is important to note that each teaching vacancy represents a group of students who do not have a qualified and experienced teacher getting to know them; teaching content in a structured and sequential way; and simply being a consistent adult in their lives. And the impact is magnified when the open positions include members of the school counseling team or other critical support services that require specialized knowledge or backgrounds. 

A single long-term opening can have far-reaching, detrimental effects on individual student learning, completing critical college and career readiness steps, a student’s social and emotional wellbeing, and exacerbating burnout among other educators. We are calling on district leaders to approach filling shortages with the urgency, resourcefulness, and creativity that it demands; for not making this a top priority within a district risks compromising nearly all school and district goals and the long-term success and wellbeing of countless students.  

Relationships are core to student growth and learning. Over time, teachers become experts on the students they teach–identifying which techniques are most effective for their learning, how to quickly shift behavior with a quick glance, and how small changes in a student’s body language provide essential feedback on the instruction or convey important messaging about out-of-classroom situations. Students, too, develop a comfort with teachers. The longer that students are in a particular classroom environment, the more comfortable they become with asking and answering questions, articulating concerns, or just sharing anecdotes about who they are. This dynamic takes vulnerability and trust, and is an important part of the teaching and learning cycle. When this consistent network of support is not in place, students’ needs are not noticed and cannot be addressed in a timely and productive way. Instead, small issues grow to be large crises and students do not have a trusted adult to call upon when an issue emerges. 

Routine and consistency are integral to student success. Open positions within a school create gaps in routines and schedules for many. In some cases, classes are combined and become substantially larger. In other cases, teachers are spread thin to take on more instructional assignments with fewer prep periods. In some instances, different substitutes show up each day to follow hastily gathered lesson plans. Some classes are taught by under-qualified substitutes with little knowledge of the subject area or the art of teaching. Or elective classes and programs may get completely eliminated with no opportunities for students to explore different subjects or engage in a creative outlet. 

All of these changes result in a lack of consistency and clarity for students along with feelings of uneasiness not knowing what to expect on any given day. Students are left unsure of what they need to do–academically and behaviorally–to be successful. Because of this, students become less engaged in learning, feelings of anxiety increase, behavioral issues rise, and classroom learning is less productive.

The impacts are long lasting. Most people inside and outside of schools understand the immediate and direct implications to learning when students do not have access to a consistent, highly-qualified teacher. However, often missing from that conversation, are the long-term effects. When students do not have sequential academic learning that builds on previous knowledge toward clear, articulated learning goals, their foundation for learning is unstable. These gaps reappear each time the curriculum spirals to a related topic. This can happen year after year, with more advanced teachers ill-equipped to identify and support foundational needs, resulting in students unable to progress on their academic pathway. And, without consistent and qualified teachers and counselors, students risk not completing requisite courses, are not prepared for tests needed for college admissions, or simply miss taking actions necessary for their postsecondary next steps. In short, a gap in a critical course or support staff can throw a student off track in ways that some may not recover from prior to graduation. 

We are asking district leaders to broaden their framing of this critical issue and to approach it with an understanding that a qualified teaching force underpins nearly every element of district, school, educator, and student success. It is essential that leaders regularly share and reinforce the import and many layers of impact this shortage has on student outcomes and wellbeing. 

  • Please respond to this crisis with urgency, vigor, and hope. 
  • Take care of those who continue to show up each day so that they do not get burned out and can continue to do the meaningful work of supporting students and families. 
  • Do not get stuck with what has always been done or give up on finding new ways to approach this problem.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that the impacts do not disappear once a vacancy is filled. It is essential to build in systems and processes to support students impacted by these gaps so they do not internalize the struggles or be forced to go it alone. 

This is so much more than an HR issue. We need to build a culture that values educators, prioritizes relationships, and embeds processes and systems that implicitly care for the people within school walls.