Hiring & Retention
March 11, 2024

3 Educators on How Staffing Shortages Affect Their Day-to-Day Lives

It’s no secret that the education sector has dealt with intense staffing shortages over the past several years—and without intervention, it’s a trend that’s only expected to continue. More than half of educators report feelings of burnout and 35% of teachers say they plan to quit within the next two years.

We spoke with three educators at schools across the nation on how the industry has changed over the past few years, the biggest challenges they face, and how the profession will evolve. Perhaps telling for the state of the industry, all three of our participants asked to remain anonymous; knowing that while they’re not alone in their sentiments, the lack of help and resources available to them has created an isolating experience that’s left them feeling unsupported.

1. A lack of trained professionals makes learning less manageable

“We need more help; they need to hire people with the proper training. It’s frustrating when people come into your classroom to help, but they have no training to deal with certain scenarios.” ~ Paraprofessional and substitute teacher in New Jersey, 8 years in the industry

Paraprofessionals are unsung heroes of the classroom; working closely with clinicians such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and even school psychologists to assist students, often with special needs. 

We spoke with a paraprofessional based out of New Jersey with eight years of experience. She says that the shortage of paraprofessional educators makes classrooms an unmanageable environment for both teachers and students—and that she recently quit her job to start substitute teaching again due to the conditions.

“It became unmanageable,” she says. “If I did have help, it was general ed teachers who didn’t have the necessary training to help with these kids—in one month, I started to feel I couldn’t do the job, I was too exhausted.”

Without enough qualified paraprofessionals, students with special needs are not able to get the attention they deserve, and other students lack the one on one attention they need, too. Paraprofessionals become stretched too thin, and the learning environment suffers without the individual attention all kids need to thrive.

“It affected the learning environment for everyone,” she says. “And when teachers are less able to manage their classrooms, they’ll leave to go to other professions.

Today’s educators are working 54 hours a week, on average, for little pay. Burnout is skyrocketing, and staff are resigning to preserve their own mental health. The paraprofessional we spoke to says she hasn't received a single raise in eight years.

2. Large class sizes push teachers towards burnout 

“The ongoing shortages mean that my classroom sizes are getting bigger and bigger, yet I’m not given any additional resources to manage them.” - Public school ESL educator in Illinois, 5 years of experience.

A public school educator in Illinois who teaches English as a second language to a group of first graders notes that her class size has ballooned up to 30 students, creating challenges to the learning environment on a daily basis.

“I have 30 students now, all six or seven year olds. Some of them have never attended school consistently before arriving to me, and are also adjusting to a new country.”

Larger class sizes were one of the common themes we heard from all three of our interview subjects. In fact, studies show that nine out of 10 teachers report smaller class sizes are helpful to teachers—and they’d also help teachers. However, advocating for the proper resources has been hard for many educators, when their principals can’t adequately staff the schools to begin with.

“I recently had a sit down with my supervisor, where I asked for more resources, and I was told to just be more positive,” she says. “But all the positivity in the world isn’t going to change the fact that it’s gotten so hard to manage.”

Unfortunately, this level of burnout has pushed many educators to consider leaving the profession altogether.

“After five years post-grad I’m ready to leave teaching; it's unsustainable and I want better for myself.”

3. Additional responsibilities stretch educators thin

“Now more than ever, I wear a lot of hats. I’m a librarian—we don’t have a librarian anymore so I take my class to the library and check out all the books. I’m a parental figure for a lot of kids. I’m a teacher. I’m a social worker. I’m expected to do a lot more than what you learn or train for in college.” - Public school educator based in Minnesota, 13 years in the industry

An elementary school educator based in Minnesota notes that since the pandemic, students are dealing with more intense challenges, which has affected how much responsibility she takes on. A larger number of students are dealing with behavioral and mental health issues, and with a lack of help, she ends up trying to help them on her own, while still having to tend to the other students in her class. 

“Our biggest challenge is staffing, especially with specialized personnel. We have paraeducators who will come in to help support students, but if we don’t have enough or if someone is out for whatever reason, then there’s really no one to help or provide a break for me at all.”

She notes that it’s something that has made it harder on her own mental health; she’s the mother of a toddler and worries about having enough energy to give to her own family at the end of the day. 

“Right now I have a few kids who have really tough home lives, and it really affects their learning. And because of staffing shortages, I have to give all of my attention to them—I go home every day thinking about them and feeling exhausted.” 

When she was out sick earlier in the month, she noted it was difficult to find coverage due to the ongoing substitute teacher shortage, too. She’s also responsible for finding substitutes on her own to cover her absences, a process that’s gotten harder and harder as the years go by. 

When asked if she’ll stay in the industry, she points to the larger issues at hand that have contributed to staffing shortages—that’s where change needs to starts, she believes.

“The lack of funding, having to wear too many hats, and not feeling fully supported—those are the things that are at the heart of why so many teachers are leaving."

How staffing firms are providing more resources, meaningful benefits to educators

In recent years, staffing firms have played a more critical role in addressing educator shortages. Staffing companies can place educational professionals from all backgrounds, from teachers and substitute teachers to paraprofessionals and speech-language pathologists, helping relieve school districts from the burden of constantly trying to fill open roles—particularly for specialized positions.

Many of these companies are also learning that offering more modernized benefits and perks—such as added flexibility and faster payments—can be an important tool in recruiting and retaining high-quality educators, delivering incentives that have a more meaningful impact on their quality of life. 

The educator shortage wasn’t created overnight—a swirl of factors from pandemic-fueled learning gaps, ongoing burnout, and funding cuts have all contributed to the crisis we find ourselves in. Because of this, there is no easy, overnight fix. But shedding a light on these stories and understanding what educators need to be more supported—more help, specialized personnel, and more meaningful incentives, to start—educational organizations may start to turn the dial back on educator turnover and create a better learning environment for everyone involved. 

Learn more about how Branch supports educators.

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