Teachers are burned out. Here’s why there’s no quick fix

New teacher salaries rose by more than they had in a decade during the 2021-2022 school year, according to a recent report by the National Education Association (NEA). But while the 2.5 percent increase is significant, average overall teacher salaries have struggled to keep up, especially with inflation, NEA President Becky Pringle said.

“Overall, over these last 10 years, salaries have actually declined,” she said.

Pay is one of the leading reasons teachers have said they are leaving the profession, according to a 2022 NEA survey, which found that nearly 55 percent of teachers were considering leaving the profession earlier than they’d planned. Pandemic-related stress and burnout were also factors.

Pringle says the compounding effects of a “lack of professional pay, lack of respect, lack of time, and lack of resources,” has made it hard to keep teachers and disincentivizes college graduates from pursuing careers in education to begin with.

“Shortages are a massive problem on the national scale,” said Desiree Carver-Thomas, a researcher at the Learning Policy Institute, adding, “we see shortages in almost every state when it comes to math, science and special education.”

PBS NewsHour digital anchor Nicole Ellis spoke with education experts across the country on challenges with teacher pay and what it means for retention. Watch the video in the player above.

Administrators have also been feeling the pressure to recruit and retain teachers. Michelle Reid, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, oversees more than 13,000 teachers in one of the largest school systems in the country. “Many of our teachers currently actually take a second job to support their families, and that’s, I think, a real challenge for our staff,” Reid said.

Teacher resignations in Fairfax jumped 45 percent last year compared to average resignation rates from 2018 to 2020, according to a Washington Post analysis. Reid says the shortages forced Fairfax County to change its hiring approach in many ways, including pivoting from seasonal recruiting to year-round recruiting.

”We’re constantly in a recruitment format and we’re really starting to look at nontraditional candidates because we know there are not enough traditional graduates coming out of education programs,” Reid said, “so we’re also being asked to look at career switchers.”

But as school administrations pivot to prioritizing staffing up with new teachers, Carver-Thomas said, retaining educators is also critical because high teacher turnover makes it difficult to create a stable school environment, which “has a detrimental impact on student achievement.”

“Excellent recruitment really supports retaining teachers over time,” she said, because “one of the strongest predictors of whether or not a teacher will remain in their classroom is how supportive they find their school leaders.”

The NEA report on pay also showed that 40 percent of education support professionals (ESP) nationwide — like interventionists or special education aides — make less than $25,000 a year.

“We know those are poverty wages. We know they can’t raise a family on that amount of money,” Pringle said.

It’s an issue Reid sees in her own district in Northern Virginia, where she said those ESPs do critical one-on-one work with students.

“I do believe that those salaries have lagged here in Virginia and in particular here in Fairfax County. And it’s going to be one of those things we’re going to have to work to catch up [on] because we really value our instructional assistance,” Reid said.

Pay equality across the landscape is essential, Carver-Thomas said.

“When one state raises salaries or one district raises salaries it can actually exacerbate inequalities because then you have teachers moving from schools in one state to another state,” she said.