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Educators, administrators, students and parents have been utterly worn down by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on classrooms and schools around the country. In a broken industry that was barely pulling its weight pre-pandemic, the vulnerabilities have been exposed, and many teachers have decided the only viable option is transitioning out of the classroom, and in some cases, out of education altogether.
With no end in sight, this current mass exodus and teacher shortage promise to be a pivotal moment in the education industry, and we are going to have to face the dire reality: We have to change the system in order to support both teachers and students.
As of June 2022, The Wall Street Journal‘s Kathryn Dill reported that “Some 300,000 public-school teachers and other staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022, a nearly 3% drop in that workforce, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.”
With the upcoming school year fastly approaching and reports like the recent National Education Association’s poll conducted this year finding that 55% of teachers said they would leave education sooner than planned — a statistic now up from 37% last August — the education sector is desperate to fill vacant positions and welcome students back this fall without having to resort to substitute teacher coverage (another sub-group that’s experiencing massive shortages as well).
Every unfilled school staff vacancy means students are not receiving a high-quality education, which has a resounding effect on outcomes for years to come. Research has shown teacher absences have dire consequences for students. When schools and districts struggle to fill foundational courses like math and English classes, standard deviations decrease in test scores and learning achievements, respectively.
A recent article by Desiree Carver-Thomas for the Learning Policy Institute pointed out “teacher shortages can significantly depress student achievement, as schools often cancel courses due to vacancies or staff classes with substitutes and under-prepared teachers who are not certified to teach their subject matter.”
Some states like California and Connecticut have responded to shortages by reducing the qualifications and certifications to enter the classroom, but this undermines students’ opportunities to learn from expert teachers — which especially impacts students of color and those in economically disadvantaged areas.
Bodies in the building with students does not equate successful learning or even long-term education solutions. According to the research, “novice or unprepared teachers tend to leave their schools at 2 to 3 times the rate of those who enter with comprehensive preparation.” As a result, this creates instability for both students and teachers.
The answer is not going to be lowering the bar and recruiting anyone willing to take on the role. The truth is, we’re racing against the clock to resolve the teacher shortage for our students’ futures as the number of unfilled positions at schools and districts hits record levels. Nevertheless, despite another school year with huge losses and opportunities, administrators and districts do still have options.
These are modern times, and there are modern solutions that can bring education out of the dark ages and into the 21st century. While virtual learning has gotten a bad rap these last few years because of the pandemic scramble to launch virtual classrooms across the nation by unprepared (and untrained) districts, teachers and students, virtual learning can be the saving grace to fill teacher vacancies.
Here’s what did not work during the pandemic: moving traditional curriculum onto a Zoom call isn’t an effective virtual learning approach. From my perspective as a digital education entrepreneur, this is where many school districts struggled most. Most districts have attempted to take a curriculum developed for asynchronous learning (i.e., the click, click, next solution) and try to repurpose it for true virtual instruction, rather than investing in a dynamic online curriculum. Students are not going to log in, turn on their cameras or engage with content or teachers they cannot personally connect to.
I am a firm believer that nothing replaces a well-qualified and credentialed teacher, and we can bring those live expert teachers to students and districts regardless of geographic location. Live virtual teaching allows schools to draw from a national pool of qualified candidates. It’s been my passion and mission to introduce districts and administrators to stellar teams of teachers who just happen to be virtual educators — that’s literally what I do.
The technology is actually much simpler than it seems. By livestreaming teachers into classrooms or student homes, we do two things: eliminate the geographic barrier to finding educators within a given location and provide teachers the flexibility and working conditions they need and deserve.
Therefore, instead of being limited to the area around them, districts can even choose teachers with expertise outside the schools’ usual core curriculum, giving students expanded access to elective and enrichment courses for all grade levels.
And administrators and districts can choose to keep schools open, providing access to services and supervision while they receive live virtual teaching from credentialed, experienced expert teachers. This technology doesn’t replace teachers or brick-and-mortar schools — it adds flexibility as well as viable quality education options and alternatives for an otherwise hobbled industry.
Regardless of whether remote learning is taking place in the household or in the brick-and-mortar schools, parents, administrators and students know they are receiving a quality education. Technology and flexibility can go a long way toward relieving the limited teacher supply, and we have to get ahead of the limitations that have been set upon the education system in the past.
We have to move forward. We have to do better. And we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We have all the tools and technology we need at our fingertips right now to support struggling schools and districts. With the right virtual learning technology implementation, schools don’t have to dread their local teacher shortages. In this modern age, quality education and live expert teachers are just a click away.