The current teacher shortage facing the United States is a "five-alarm crisis," according to Rebecca Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union in the country.
“We have been sounding the alarm for almost a decade and a half that we have a crisis in the number of students who are going into the teaching profession and the number of teachers who are leaving it,” said Pringle. “But, of course, as with everything else, the pandemic just made it worse.”
Pringle spoke to ABC News’ “GMA3” Thursday about the shortage of nearly 300,000 educators and support staff across the country.
GMA3: How bad is the teacher shortage this upcoming school year?
PRINGLE: This is that time of year back to school when educators, parents, students are excited and they're hopeful. This year, of course, is good as students go back to school.
We are concerned about the teacher shortages and staff shortages throughout this country, in rural and suburban and urban areas. And I will tell you that we know that if we don't have enough educators, then our students aren't going to have the one-on-one attention they need and deserve.
GMA3: Is there a way for you to gauge how bad it is this year compared to previous years?
PRINGLE: We know that this has been a chronic problem. This is not new. We have been sounding the alarm for almost a decade and a half that we have a crisis in the number of students who are going into the teaching profession and the number of teachers who are leaving it.
But of course, as with everything else, the pandemic just made it worse. We are estimating about 300,000 shortages of teachers and support staff across this nation as students go back to school. But I will tell you that we have been sounding this alarm since last year and we have been working really, really hard to try to do something about it.
GMA3: According to the National Education Association, 55% of educators are saying that they are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they anticipated… You mentioned the pandemic as perhaps why this is happening, but how do you combat that?
PRINGLE: We were shocked when we saw those statistics of the number of educators who are planning on leaving the profession. And it's even higher for Black teachers and Latina teachers. We know how important it is to have a diverse workforce. We have been working to try to address those issues.
One of the things that I've learned from educators -- I traveled all over the country, from Kentucky to California to Maine to Wisconsin to Illinois -- and they all said the same thing. This is what they need to come into the profession and stay in the profession. They need professional respect.
For them that is three things: Professional authority to make teaching and learning decisions for their students. Professional rights to have the conditions and resources to do the jobs they love. And professional pay that reflects the importance of the work they do.
GMA3: What does a child's education, their day, their classroom look like with this type of teacher shortage?
PRINGLE: The concerns that our educators and parents have raised, which are playing out, [and] played out last year... is that we had to double-up classes.
[Also] we had to not necessarily offer the special education services that our special education students need. We knew that there were too many educators who were overwhelmed by the number of students that they were trying to meet the individual needs of, and we don't have enough substitutes.
So, we found that many of our educators were coming into school sick and they weren't taking care of themselves. We know that the well-being of our teachers and our educators absolutely impacts the well-being of our students. So, this is a huge problem.
But we are working to use the funding from the American Rescue Plan to actually bring the resources that we need into schools to make those long-term solutions work right now.
GMA3: And speaking of a shortage of resources, obviously, so many people are in financial distress during these economic times. And the average back-to-school shopping for parents sets most families back $864. That is a significant burden for so many families. Is there anything that can be done to ease that burden?
PRINGLE: We encourage everyone to continue to push to make sure their school districts, and use the American Rescue funds, to make sure that the schools have the resources that students need. And parents and families don't have to supply as much as they have been.
We also know there is an increase in the number of dollars that teachers are pulling out from their own pockets, taking away from their own families, to try to meet those needs and those gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, from food crisis to housing crisis, health care crisis.
We know all of that has impacted our communities of color, especially in those communities where they have been chronically underserved. So, we ask that people continue to raise their voices and join with us… to make sure that all of our schools are funded, so all of our students have what they need and they deserve.