A confluence of events over the last year, punctuated by the lasting impact of COVID, is creating a nationwide teacher shortage. With growing class sizes, extensive workloads, and a growing number of emergency substitutes filling in, educator burnout has ballooned to affect nearly 80% of educators, according to a recent NEA survey. More than half of educators in the same NEA survey indicated they are ready to leave the profession earlier than originally intended. 

What does this look like in schools? 74% of NEA members indicate they’ve had to fill in for other teachers or take on extra duties because of broader shortages, and 80% cite unfilled job openings as the main reason educators are being asked to take on new responsibilities. At least in the short term, there’s no indication that the problem will get better. Over the last 40 years, there has been a 55% drop in the number of education degrees awarded per year, and only 10% of current educators indicated they would recommend the profession to young adults. 

This all begs the question: what can we do to better support teachers, reduce the impact of burnout, and address the growing teacher shortage?

Addressing the Challenges Faced by Today’s Teachers

The first step is to fully recognize the challenges faced by teachers that are driving many of them to consider leaving the profession. Because so many teachers have already left and so few are preparing to enter the field, a growing percentage of teachers are long-term substitutes, teaching aids, and emergency certified teachers who don’t have the experience or resources many teachers have in the classroom. 

Combined with larger class sizes, underqualified emergency teachers don’t have the time needed to develop materials and subject matter expertise. What little additional time they have needs to be spent building relationships with students. Without a baseline of support, many teachers are struggling to keep up. 

Creative Solutions to a Growing Teacher Shortage 

Many schools have started developing triage plans to “stop the bleeding” and reduce the risk of losing more teachers. While state and school district level decisions impact what is feasible, many schools are looking at solutions such as flexible Friday scheduling, increased half-days, an increase in the use of remote learning tools once a week, and other ways to reduce teacher workloads. 

Creative approaches are cropping up throughout the country. In a statement released in March, US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona pushed for several possible ways to address the shortages, including establishing apprenticeship programs for new teachers, increasing compensation, and expanding student loan forgiveness. In a recent WBUR interview, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, Penny Schwinn, describes the challenge of having 1,200 vacancies in the state. Tennessee is the first state to successfully launch the kind of apprenticeship program called for by Secretary Cardona, which allows new teachers to apply to study under an established teacher for up to three years while they get their degree. The apprenticeship program helps cover many of the costs of learning the trade that new teachers cannot afford. 

How Dedicated Curriculum Support Can Help

Time is one of the biggest pain points cited by teachers, creating high burnout rates and increasing the turnover rate. Teachers, especially those new to the profession, simply don’t have enough time to create high-quality, interactive content, build relationships with students, and evaluate how best to structure lessons to achieve results. A curriculum supplement like Boardworks is a short-term solution to a massive problem that has only gotten worse as the shortage has grown. Providing thousands of standards-aligned presentations, Boardworks offers the high-quality, interactive, and engaging content teachers need for each lesson, along with teaching notes to elevate the quality of instruction. Built into Boardworks presentations are suggestions on how to structure lessons, suggestions for extension questions to increase the rigor of lessons, and all the materials needed to fill crucial instruction time. 

With a turnkey curriculum support platform like Boardworks, teachers no longer spend time creating lesson materials from scratch and can focus more intently on building relationships with students. 

Carlton McMillen, Principal of Highland Park ISD in Texas, recently described how Boardworks impacted a teacher who had less than two years of experience:

“In the pre-conference before her formal TTESS observation, one of our teachers didn’t have plans to incorporate Boardworks into her lesson, but after a quick check for understanding during class, she recognized that students were struggling to understand the overall concept of a food web within feeding relationships. Instead of continuing with the lesson, she accessed an interactive presentation that she had previously saved in her Boardworks library. This allowed students to see a visual representation of a food web and how different species are connected in the food chains. What an awesome way to incorporate some differentiation on the fly without disrupting the flow of the lesson! In the post-conference, this teacher told me she always checks the lessons in Boardworks for material that will enhance her student’s learning. It was evident that she uses this valuable resource to improve her teaching and benefit students.”

Implementing New Tools to Support Struggling Teachers

As the teacher shortage worsens and teachers are asked to take on more responsibilities, adjust to larger class sizes, and adapt to constantly changing expectations, giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed is more important than ever. While adjustments to scheduling and long-term programs like those recommended by Secretary Cardona will hopefully start to ease the pressure of current shortages, districts should look for ways to support teachers as best they can in the short term. This includes the implementation of resources and technology supplements that reduce the time needed to prepare lesson materials, elevate the overall quality of instruction, and provide starting points for new lessons. Learn more about how Boardworks is helping support teachers in more than 4,000 schools around the country, and try one of our sample lessons to see Boardworks in action.