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A disturbing trend is gaining momentum across the education landscape, affecting thousands of students nationwide – and it is showing no signs of slowing down. It can be summarized in two newspaper headlines:

‘Never Seen It This Bad’: America Faces Catastrophic Teacher Shortage1

Teacher Turnover Hits New Highs Across The U.S.2

Thousands of teaching vacancies exist across America today with many school administrators calling it a crisis. Shortages are forcing schools to adapt to a new reality: 

  • College students in Arizona are allowed to teach on an emergency basis. 
  • Rural school districts in Texas have cut back to a four-day week. 
  • And an appeal was made in Florida for veterans with no teaching experience to step into the classroom.

“Right now it (the teacher shortage) is number one on the list of issues concerning school districts. If necessity is the mother of invention, hard-pressed school districts are going to have to come up with some solutions,” an official of the School Superintendents Association said.3  

Finding a remedy will not be easy; there are 500,000 fewer educators in 2023 than just three years’ previous. Nor is the exodus from the field of education limited only to teachers – a recent report revealed that nearly half of district superintendents plan to leave their jobs by 2026.4 

The crisis has many contributing causes, and solutions will require a variety of approaches to address the differing needs of rural and urban schools, special needs and gifted students, English as a Second Language (ESL) students, and the many permutations in between. The greatest subject areas of need are for special education and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers, with the shortage more acute in rural and inner-city areas.5

Why Is This Happening?

Low salaries and a demanding workload have always been a part of a teacher’s life. However, other variables are recently driving an increasing number of experienced teachers to change careers while drawing fewer teachers into the profession.

The impact of the COVID pandemic has been a significant factor. Academic progress was interrupted and even stunted with a corresponding impact on students’ mental health and social skills. Remedial teaching and revising expectations for students have placed an additional workload on teachers even as they guide their students back to the familiarity of the classroom.

Since COVID, nearly two-thirds of teachers describe their work as stressful and nearly 70 percent have voiced concerns about their own mental health. The rate of psychological distress among teachers is significantly higher than in the general population.6 Teacher job satisfaction is also at its lowest level in five decades, with the percentage of teachers who believe their job is worthwhile dropping from 81 to 42 percent in the last fifteen years.7

Besides COVID, today’s teachers deal with other challenges.

  • Fewer teachers and more students make providing individual attention to students difficult. Additionally, a rise in behavioral incidents by over 50 percent since the beginning of the pandemic taxes teachers’ ability to provide adequate classroom management.8
  • The mental health needs of students are intensifying, with more students requiring in-school support services. Unfortunately, the number of school mental health staff is far from adequate – leading to a shortage of approximately 200,000 counselors, psychologists, and social workers nationwide.9 As a result, teachers do not have sufficient backup to address the social-emotional needs of their students.
  • Another factor contributing to the loss of teachers is the current political and ideological atmosphere in the classroom. In some states, mandates have been implemented that both broaden the non-academic material that must be covered while at the same time imposing new rules for parent-teacher interaction. This can create tension for everyone, but it is the teacher who is required to manage sensitive subject matter and situations. This new role is challenging and can heighten teachers’ dissatisfaction and stress.
  • In addition, some states have passed legislation curtailing or prohibiting collective bargaining by teachers’ unions, further alienating teachers.10
  • Another factor is that public approval of teachers in the U.S. has diminished between 20 – 47 percent in the last decade, the lowest level in the past half-century.11 The profession no longer holds the respect it previously held, with teachers feeling increasingly alienated from their profession. Interest in becoming a teacher has reached the lowest levels in the past fifty years.12.

Teachers are feeling marginalized. Increased parental and political input in what is taught and how it is taught have created power struggles between teachers and parents. Teachers in this situation may feel their autonomy threatened. The negative perception of teachers and the lack of respect they experience may lead to teachers failing to make a long-term commitment to the profession. 

What Can Be Done?

Unfortunately, a comprehensive solution to reduce teacher vacancies does not appear to be forthcoming anytime soon.

The number of new entrants into the profession has fallen by nearly one-third over the last decade, and the proportion of college graduates that go into teaching is at a 50-year low.13 In response, some colleges are lowering teacher training requirements and shortening the length of study to speed up entry into the classroom and lessen financial hardships for students. 

Many measures, such as hiring more teachers, increasing pay, enhancing health and retirement benefits, removing arduous administrative requirements for teachers, and providing greater support to teachers by district leadership may help retain veteran teachers and encourage new ones to enter the profession.

Collaborative efforts within schools will be essential. Students do best when they see their parents, teachers, and principals working together in partnership to create the best possible school experience for them.

In a recent survey, teachers were asked why they had chosen their profession.14 The top five reasons cited were:

  • The desire to make a worthwhile difference in the lives of children
  • The desire to contribute to the greater societal good
  • To gain experience working with children and young adults
  • For a sense of personal achievement
  • Subject matter interest or expertise

Interestingly, the least influential factors were retirement and insurance benefits, lack of other job opportunities, and salary.

Helping teachers remember why they were drawn to their profession in the first place may reconnect them to their love and dedication to teaching, and result in a more positive school experience for everyone.


  1. Natanson, Hannah (2022). ‘Never Seen It This Bad’: America Faces Catastrophic Teacher Shortage. The Washington Post. 8/3/2022.
  2. Barnum, Matt (2023). ‘Teacher Turnover Hits New Highs Across The U.S.’  USA Today. 3/6/2023.
  3. Natanson, Hannah (2022).’Never Seen It This Bad’: America Faces Catastrophic Teacher Shortage. The Washington Post. 8/3/2022.
  4. Perna, Mark, C. (2023) ‘Why Almost Half of School Leaders Are Preparing to Call it Quits.’ Forbes. 8/2/2023.
  5. Grose, J. (2023). ‘People Don’t Want to Be Teachers Anymore. Can You Blame Them?’ The New York Times. 9/13/2023
  6. Agyapong B, Obuobi-Donkor G, Burback L, Wei Y. (2022). ‘Stress, Burnout, Anxiety and Depression among Teachers’: A Scoping Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Aug 27;19(17):10706. doi: 10.3390/ijerph191710706. PMID: 36078422; PMCID: PMC9518388.
  7. Grose, J. (2023). ‘People Don’t Want to Be Teachers Anymore. Can You Blame Them?’ The New York Times. 9/13/2023.
  9. De Leon, J. (2022). ‘7 Things We Learned About COVID’s Impact on Education From Survey of 800 Schools.’ The 74. (7/19/22).
  10. St. George, D. (2023). ‘In A Crisis, Schools are 100,000 Mental Health Staff Short.’ Washington Post. 8/31/2023.
  11. Strauss, V. (2023). ‘The Basic Rights Teachers Don’t Have.’ Washington Post. 1/26/2023.
  12. Grose, J. (2023). ‘People Don’t Want to Be Teachers Anymore. Can You Blame Them?’ New York Times. 9/13/2023.

  1. Ibid
  2. Ni, Y. & Rorrer, A.K. (2018). Why Do Teachers Choose Teaching and Remain Teaching: Initial Results from the Educator Career and Pathway Survey (ECAPS) for Teachers. Utah Education Policy Center: Salt Lake City, UT.    
Steven Baron, Psy.D

Steven Baron, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and was a school psychologist for thirty years. Dr. Baron has written articles and book chapters, and provides workshops for parents, educators, and mental health professionals about positive psychology, child psychotherapy, and child development. He is the author of the Teaching With A Strength-Based Approach: How to Motivate Students And Build Relationships, published by Routledge in 2023. Learn more at