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The Education Sector Has a Short-Staffing Problem

The Education Sector Has a Short-Staffing Problem

The education sector has a short-staffing problem. As reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, which surveyed 904 principals across the country, 53% experienced an acute staff shortage, with 60% unable to fill non-teaching roles and 48% struggling to fill teacher vacancies. Research from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University approximates that there are 36,500 teacher positions vacant across the nation and more than 163,500 positions filled by under-qualified staff. Certain staffing areas were hit harder; for example, 65% of schools report lacking special education faculty. 

It’s not all bad news, as educators have persevered amid crises and worked overtime to deliver top-tier experiences for their students. The COVID pandemic underscored the importance of teachers’ expertise, and institutions rushed to provide support as teachers transitioned to online learning. While the initial shift to online learning was rough, educators adapted as best they could, always striving to provide quality learning experiences and opportunities for socialization.

Still, persistent staff shortages put further pressure on institutions to provide quality educational experiences. The Learning Policy Institute found that teacher shortages can “significantly depress” student achievement, as schools often are forced to cancel classes and/or fill roles with underqualified applicants. These employees leave at two to three times the rate of experienced educators and can exacerbate issues caused by high staff turnover. Some of the most common consequences of this turnover are:

  • Disrupting student-teacher relationships and relationships between staff
  • Undermining a professional learning environment
  • Impeding collaboration between students and staff
  • Unproductively expending instructional time for students 

Combined, these factors create a learning environment that makes it difficult to ensure student success. Moreover, research also shows that high turnover disproportionately impacts schools serving low-income families and students of color. As positions are left unfilled and turnover gets more severe, institutions need to understand why the staff shortage is occurring – a task that requires them to delve deeply into their faculty’s experiences.

Understanding the “why”: the experience of the modern educator

The staff shortage problem will only get more severe if untreated, as the issue arises from decades of pressure from various social and economic factors. Surveys suggest that a competitive outside labor market, the challenges facing teachers’ unions, low funding, declining wages, and a rise in school shootings all push people away from the profession. 

Struggling to perform in the face of these challenges, teachers’ job satisfaction rates are falling while their overall levels of stress and burnout are increasing. Today, only 40% of educators agree that their jobs are worth the stress — meanwhile, 44% of K-12 educators and 35% of college professors claim that they are “always” or “often” burnt out at work, making them one of the most burnt-out sections of the workforce. Research shows that this long-term, unalleviated stress is detrimental to both educators’ health and student performance and is one of the primary causes of high turnover.

As a result, interest in teaching is at its lowest point in 50 years among high school seniors and first-year college students, falling 50% since the 1990s and 38% since 2010. Correspondingly, the number of new teachers entering the field has also fallen by about a third over a decade, with the number of newly licensed teachers dropping to 215,000 in 2020 (as opposed to 320,000 in 2006). All of this occurs amid a backdrop of souring public perception of the role, with only 59% of survey respondents agreeing that teaching is a profession of at least “some prestige” (again, compared to 78% in 1998).

This isn’t a problem that institutions can realistically tackle alone. A proper solution will need years of collective support and input from government entities, communities, and other key stakeholders. But schools need relief now — so what can they do?

Salesforce empowers teachers to provide personalized student support and relieves the burden of clerical work

An immediately implementable solution, capable of impacting the “now” and the long-term, is to make the burden of practitioners’ day-to-day duties and responsibilities less overwhelming. From an on-the-ground perspective, instructors’ passion for the profession and heartfelt concern for their students aren't always enough to sustain them. April Bollwage, Gerent’s Sr. Director of Education and Training, expanded upon this point in a recent white paper.

“It's no longer enough to care; love for the kids and the job can only carry you so far,” Bollwage stated. “People get into teaching to help others, but they’re human, too. If you give 110% of yourself at work without proper support, you’re eventually going to wear yourself down. It’s a bit like what flight attendants say on a plane: you can’t help someone else put on their oxygen mask if you don’t have one yourself.”

"Teaching is a hard job by definition. You're not just imparting material — you're helping students grow," Bollwage concluded. "There's a lot of interpersonal and nonacademic legwork that goes into the role. Data-rich digital enablement platforms can provide teachers with the timely information and practical insights they need to manage potentially sensitive situations before they cause unnecessary friction or anxiety."

To provide the support instructors need and relieve as much stress as possible, we at Gerent recommend leveraging digital collaboration platforms like Salesforce Education Cloud. Platforms like Education Cloud provide practical daily support for instructors by reducing the time teachers spend chasing down crucial information about their students. 

Without a centralized system like Salesforce in place, teachers often working in solos (think subject matter teachers, guidance counselors, and nurses, for example) assemble contextual pictures of students’ circumstances in isolation. As a result, practitioners may struggle to uncover crucial information they need to empathetically and academically support their students. Richard S. Carter, Ed.D, Gerent’s Director of Education (K-12), elaborated on the missed opportunities for student support caused by this patchwork approach in an interview.

“Early on in my tenure as a middle school administrator, I noticed a student, Prince, who frequently kept his head down. He was demonstratively bright and had an engaging personality, and I am embarrassed to admit that I initially labeled him as a sixth grader who was not working ‘diligently’ enough,” Carter explained. “But one evening, as I was driving home from school after a PTA meeting, I stopped at a traffic light and, after looking to the right, saw Prince unloading clothes from a washing machine in a laundromat with two children who appeared to be his younger siblings. I saw no adults with the children.”

“If I and others on my team had access to student databases, we could have listed observations about pupils and used those observations to coordinate resources to support them and their families. Maybe we gently broach Prince’s responsibilities with his parents. If this evening duty is unavoidable gets to take a nap in the nurse’s office the morning after evening laundry duty; we make sure that Prince is registered for tutoring, and we alert Prince’s siblings’ school(s) of the family’s realities so that they may plan to provide support. Perhaps we assume that this situation affects other students, do an analysis, register those impacted pupils with supports similar to those we offered Prince, and consider offering families opportunities to wash clothes at school,” Carter proposed.

With Salesforce, teachers have a single 360-degree view of everything related to their students in one place. They aren’t playing catch-up with students’ records, trying to assemble a complete picture of the circumstances informing students’ education. It’s all there in an easy-to-navigate interface that produces a full profile of every student – all without an ounce of manual work from the instructor. 

As a result, teachers are less stressed, more capable of providing the support students need, less overwhelmed by tedious data entry, and have more energy to be creative problem-solving practitioners. Most importantly, students also naturally benefit as their instructors gain the necessary tools to meet them where they are to ensure their growth. Systems like Salesforce can alleviate burdens that might otherwise tip the scales of a teacher’s decision to leave the field. Moreover, with unparalleled insight into student needs and visibility into student journeys, educators can help shape a new gold standard for education. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how Salesforce can support institutions through staff shortages, check out our white paper “Bolster Staff Retention and Maximize Productive Collaboration with Salesforce,” or give us a call to speak with one of our industry experts.

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