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Teachers around the United States have been quitting or retiring early as schools reopen for the new academic year and COVID-19 cases among children surge in recent week as some states ban mask mandates.
More than 200,000 weekly cases among children in the past five consecutive weeks have been reported, as most cases spread in areas that chose not to implement a mask mandate and have low vaccination rates. Vaccines for children under age 12 are still pending federal approval.
Numerous schools and school districts have been forced to close in-person learning due to Covid exposure and high infection rates, which have left teachers struggling to continue their lessons given the disruptions.
U.S. teacher shortages were already a growing problem before the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly in high-poverty schools, yet the shortage has devolved during the pandemic. Many schools have had to close when too many teaching positions could not be filled, and others struggle with higher than normal teacher vacancies, meaning remaining teachers are overworked.
This year, teacher vacancies in Florida have increased by more than 67% compared with August 2020, and a 38.7% increase from August 2019.
Amanda Tower, who teaches elementary school in Collier County, Florida, resigned from her position before the 2021-2022 school year, which would have been her 12th year of teaching.
Tower said her district stopped applying COVID-19 safety protocols; the classrooms were tightly packed and poorly ventilated; students were not required to mask and often came into class while sick, and teachers were receiving too much pushback from science deniers. She alleged that curriculum changes, lack of training, and new mandated procedures with little to no communication from administration prompted her resignation.
"According to a survey of @NEAToday members, 32% said the pandemic drove them to plan to leave the profession."
“I needed a change for my physical and mental health and that of my family, some of whom have conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid. There was a lack of transparency in the reported numbers and the push to do business as normal. It was all far too much,” said Tower. “I did not want to be a martyr. I loved my job. I’ll miss my kids, but I can’t pour from an empty vessel.”
In Providence, Rhode Island, nearly 10% of teachers either quit or retired early from the school district before the year began. In comparison, public schools in Michigan saw a 44% increase in midyear teacher retirements this past school year compared to the 2019-2020 school year. Similarly, in Fort Worth, Texas, the school district had 314 vacant teacher jobs at the beginning of this school year, compared with just 71 during the school year before the pandemic.
In addition to teacher vacancies, schools nationwide face food supply shortages and cannot find enough bus drivers, janitors and other support staff. Most also face shortages of substitute teachers, who are needed now more than ever to cover for sick or quarantined teachers.
At least 378 active teachers have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic, along with hundreds of other school workers. Surveys continue to show teachers are more likely to leave the profession because of worsening stress and burnout during the pandemic, along with pre-existing issues such as a lack of resources and low pay.