Teacher shortage likely to outlast pandemic


Katie Pulvermacher /Advance-Titan – UWO Education sophomore Alaina Wagner works on a class assignment. She says pay won’t change her mind about her intended occupation.

Katie Pulvermacher, News Editor

School districts are searching for more teachers that do not exist. The pandemic’s consequences, disadvantages in pay and time teaching are contributing to a nationwide teacher shortage sure to outlast the pandemic. 

“Along with our peer districts, we are having trouble finding subs in all of our employment areas,” Oshkosh Area School District Superintendent Bryan Davis said. “[This includes] teachers, support staff, custodians [and more].”

According to Bloomberg, it pays more to work at McDonald’s than to be a substitute teacher in the United States. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, substitutes working in the fall of 2020 made between $93 and $103 a day. With McDonald’s raising its wages to an average of $13 an hour, one would earn more working there full-time than as a substitute teacher in one day.

The Oshkosh Area School District is doing the most it can to attract more teachers and substitutes, posting on job websites, increasing pay in certain areas for substitute teachers and keeping pay competitive for full-time teaching staff.

The district is continuing to be short in hiring teachers this year and is using substitutes where needed. 

Unfortunately, partially from the pandemic, substitute teachers have commonly been teachers subbing for their colleagues when they are out sick or short staffed. This equates to less prep time and longer hours.  

“Teachers are doing a great job supporting each other and our students, but the work is very difficult and not sustainable in the long run,” Davis said.

Currently, UW Oshkosh has a little over 1,300 undergraduate students majoring in one of the education majors in the College of Education and Human Services. There has been a slight decline of less than 10% in enrollment from the past few years. 

“Some of the drop in the number of education majors in Wisconsin over the past decade can be attributed to an overall decrease in college-age residents,” said Linda Haling, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. “However, legislative and societal changes over the past decade have changed the perception of the teaching profession and played a significant role in the decline of education majors across the state.”

Nationally, there were 575,000 fewer local and state education employees in October 2021 than in February 2020, according to the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total 65,000 public education employees left the industry between September and October alone.

To make up for the loss of teachers and substitute teachers in this mix, a significant influx of education students are needed.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects a 29% increase in the number of new teachers hired in public schools across the U.S. over the next five years. An estimated 2.2 million teachers will need to be hired and 700,000 of those will be new graduates.

“The College of Education and Human Services continues to graduate highly qualified teachers in a variety of fields,” Haling said. “Our graduates secure teaching positions, sometimes before they even finish their degrees. Currently, UWO is second largest in the state of Wisconsin for the number of education graduates … we work collaboratively with our K-12 school partners to help address their needs and to build programs that assist with a teacher pipeline.”

Sophomore Alaina Wagner is a physical education major and is not having second guesses about becoming a gym teacher and hopefully one day a coach.

She has an idea why there might be a teacher shortage.

“I think [the teacher shortage] has a lot to do with the financial situation and qualifications that a school is looking for in a good teacher,” Wagner said. “Many times a teacher might be asked to perform a certain job that they were not prepared for. I also think there’s a lack of experience for new teachers in classrooms and gyms.”

Oshkosh West English teacher Brenna McDermot agrees with this statement.

“Even though teaching is really difficult, for as much as I complain about how I have no time, or there’s way too much work, or we have way too many students per teacher … despite how much I complain about my salary, I never leave,” McDermot said. “[For] new teachers, it’s going to be very hard. You’re still just learning, so be kind to yourself and give yourself time.” 

McDermot has done all types of teaching on multiple subjects for both high school and middle school. 

She started her teaching career at a private school, then at a very small charter school, Omro High School, a year working remotely for an online school during the pandemic and is now teaching at Oshkosh West. 

As much as her year of online teaching had its benefits, the negatives outweigh the positives. 

“I think it’s hard to make a statement that’s appropriate for every student,” McDermot said. “Kids are all very different. I will say the majority of kids benefit from being in-person. I think it is a human need to be social and they need the accountability of a classroom.”

Axios’ Erin Doherty reports schools are hurriedly navigating the shortage of teachers by switching to virtual learning or closing down on certain days entirely. The quality of students’ education is at stake.

McDermot does not necessarily believe the quality of learning is diminished through online learning, but acknowledges it does pose more challenges.

“What’s really hard with online is that kids have to rely on themselves more to be responsible and to keep themselves accountable,” McDermot said. “It’s so easy because the kids were doing their school from bed. Of course they’re going to fall asleep. It’s too easy to get distracted; it’s too easy to not do what you’re supposed to be doing.”

A positive of online teaching for McDermot was how it eliminated students’ social rank.

“It was a very level social playing field,” McDermot said. “I felt like I could be a lot more of myself. I didn’t have to keep such a stern presence in the classroom because I didn’t have to manage 30 kids in one room. I got to be more fun and silly in my demeanor.”

The hardest part of teaching online was how socially isolating it was, McDermot said. Having no colleagues to talk to and not physically interacting with students was hard. Living on her own, she was alone all day for work and at night. During the pandemic, people were not going out and doing things, so isolation was very real for her. 

Two other women were hired at the same time as McDermot for the online school she taught at for a year before starting at Oshkosh West. They all left at the same time for different reasons. 

“One woman said the workload was too much and she could not be the mom she needed to be and have that kind of work load,” McDermot said. “The other woman, the experience was so emotionally difficult that she was totally burnt out. It was kind of traumatic.”

According to USA Today, recent data from the National Survey of Teachers and Principal showed nearly one in five teachers have a second job during the school year. Some teachers even do as much as using their summer break to work a second job.

“I know a lot of teachers who had summer jobs,” McDermot said. “I don’t. Financially I probably should, but I don’t want to because it’s so taxing during the school year that I need that break. I pour my mental and emotional and physical health [into teaching]. I need that time off. Even if I wanted to get a second job for the money, there’s no way. I fall asleep at seven.”

She believes she lives life not driven by money.

“I do not make my life choices with the goal of obtaining money,” McDermot said. “However, the lack of it in my life, terrifies me. It really scares me that I will not be able to provide the type of childhood I had for my own children should that day hopefully come.”

The two biggest questions students have when going into education are how long does it take to finish the program and perceptions of pay, Haling said.

“People often believe that it will take five or more years in college to earn a teaching license. However, that is not the case,” Haling said. “Many of our education majors can be completed in four years. Only majors that lead to multiple licenses, or very broad licenses, take 4.5 to 5 years to complete.”

Questions related to perceptions of teacher pay are harder to address because there are many factors involved in total compensation. 

“Although the average starting salary for a teacher may be a few thousand dollars less than the average starting salary for majors in business or nursing, it doesn’t reflect differences in benefits, for example, health insurance, or a 9-month versus 12-month contract,” Haling said.

McDermot said her salary is not the best, but she does her best to work on it. She has had a lot of health issues the past two years and is spending the majority of her money on healthcare. 

“I think burnout is a really hard thing for teachers,” McDermot said. “We don’t get paid for all that work that we do outside [of the classroom]. I know we’re salary, we’re not hourly, but it feels like if [teachers] actually calculated the amount of hours we work versus the amount we get paid, I could go work at Target and get the same amount of money.”

Ultimately, McDermot believes that teaching is her purpose in life and that it is hard to walk away from.

“I truly love working with students, they are hilarious,” McDermot said. “I have this kind of maternal instinct. I don’t have children, but I have this motherly instinct to take care of them academically, but also as humans. I think I am equally concerned with their academic growth as readers and writers as I am with their growth as human beings.”

Ultimately, she said you need to choose your struggle in life. Yes, statistics can show that teachers do not have great pay, but if you believe your passion in life is teaching, stick with it.

“No job is ever going to be perfect,” McDermot said. “I’m choosing fulfillment and purpose over time and money. I can imagine in other jobs, people are choosing time and money over fulfillment and purpose. If you can find all of it, that’s amazing. You have to make choices. You have to ask yourself what you’re willing to struggle for.”