Looming teacher shortage worries school administrators

BOSTON — Monday is the beginning of Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to say thanks for all the hard work taking place in schools.

Especially this past year, with all the challenges educators faced with the pandemic. Education was turned upside down.

Concerns are growing about the profession’s future as more teachers retire and fewer college students major in education.

“We’re going to be losing a lot of veteran teachers,” said Patricia Fontaine, a professor of clinical education at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

For example, retirement applications jumped 44% in Michigan this year.

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Fontaine says losing all that experience at once is tough. For young people coming into the profession, “It’s really important that those teachers learn from, and are being mentored, by professional teachers.”

Nick Kerrigan of North Attleboro will graduate soon with a degree in education from UMass Lowell. He says being a student teacher this year was rewarding but challenging.

“I learned a lot about classroom management while being online with one set of children and then having the other half of the class still right there,” Kerrigan said.

More teachers leaving and fewer like Kerrigan coming on board is making school systems confront a perfect storm.

Fontaine says students are not pursuing careers in education in large part because of the salaries.

“Students get out of college undergrad with debt. They’re looking at the salaries of different occupations,” said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

Scott says shortages were already critical in certain areas.

“I suspect we’ll have a continued shortage, particularly in math, science, special needs, and bilingual education categories. The question will be whether it goes any deeper. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go deeper into that problem,” explained Scott.

This trend raises the issue of quality and whether the right people are getting hired in these specialized areas.

“That’s my worry,” said Fontaine. “That the children in America are not going to be taught by highly qualified teachers.”

Scott says that’s a particular concern in urban districts.

“We’ve seen a continued problem, particularly in high poverty school districts, of being able to recruit and retain teachers,’ he said.

There is hope, however, when you talk to someone like Leslie Marrero. She’ll also graduate from UMass Lowell this month.

“I’m excited to help my students grow,” Marrero said.

Marrero already has a job lined up at a charter school in Lawrence. “These are students who speak the same language as me, came from the same country as me,” she said. “I think it would be nice to connect in that way too.”

Both Fontaine and Scott believe more resources need to be dedicated to increasing teacher salaries and improving working conditions, like modernizing old schools.

It’s a little early to know what the retirement situation will in Massachusetts this year.

Scott told Boston 25 this is the time of year when teachers are generally notifying districts about their intentions.