The Teaching Shortage Crisis

Steven Craig
5 min readMay 23, 2024

My grandfather used to have a saying, “You get what you pay for.” I know it was hardly unique to him. It is, after all, a fairly common turn of phrase, but it always seemed particular to his being. My grandfather was a genius in the business world, serving as a consultant for Hunter Douglas years after his retirement where he would make the top company brass fly to him in Hilton Head once a year just to solicit his thoughts, so esteemed was his business acumen. So when he spoke those words to me at some point during my teenage years, I don’t remember the specific context, but I do recall immediately grasping their import. They seemed to be delivered more as a philosophy of life, a truism of the universe and how it functioned, than a mere figure of speech. I knew that they contained a guiding principle of wisdom that would shed light on a host of issues throughout my years. In particular, they have shaped my understanding of why the field of education in this country is so damn screwed going forward.

When I went to file this piece under the tag “teacher shortage”, a previous file reminded me that I wrote about this very subject just two years ago. Since 2022, the problem has only widened. When I then Googled “teacher shortage” to start research for this column, articles from around the country started popping up like undesirable Tinder profiles flooding your inbox. Seems that teachers from around the country have had enough of this crap. Currently, 45% of school districts from across the country are reporting significant staffing issues with an estimated 55,000 vacant full-time teaching positions in the U.S. Worse yet, school districts in many states such as Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma are now hiring uncertified teachers to fill the glaring needs they have for educators. Yeah, you have a BA in Communications and never stepped foot into a high school classroom? How about teaching Calculus? That’s right, we’re down to the precept in American education that a warm body with a Bachelor’s degree will do. And now in many schools, you don’t even need that. A nearby mountain town that has struggled to attract teachers has recently taken to hiring unqualified Filipinos to fill vacancies. Yeah, you get what you fucking pay for.

And if you don’t think teacher shortages, and the performance compromises they have spurred, aren’t having a devastating impact on our kids’ educations, you must have been taught by an uncertified teacher. My son’s school is one of the top high schools in the state, but even they have been stricken by widespread teacher shortages. Unable to find competent candidates to fill the vacancies they had in their Chinese department, they shut it down entirely, taking the remains holdovers and transitioning them to teaching Spanish. So right now my son’s Spanish teacher doesn’t even speak, you know, Spanish. For two months now, they have been working on a “language immersion project”, a fancy term for play. In it, he plays the role of Cat. He has one line in the play: “Meow”. That’s right- “Meow”. His one line isn’t even in Spanish. I asked him how it felt to be a gato. He just stared at me, befuddled. She hadn’t even taught him the word for cat in Spanish.

All over the country, students are encountering this kind of gross incompetence, walking into classrooms with well-meaning folks who just shouldn’t be there. That’s because all the people who used to teach are now doing something else, you know something that pays them a living wage. A former colleague of mine starting doing remodels when the pandemic compromised his ability to work in the classroom. Making double what he earned as a teacher, he has never looked back. Unfortunately, he is not alone. When the average teacher salary is just $68k a year, there are a lot of former teachers who won’t be coming back. I’ve always hated the oft-repeated axion, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” But maybe there’s some truth in it. Not because teaching isn’t a demanding and rewarding profession, but rather because those who can do it well, simply refuse to do it for that kind of shit pay anymore.

Enough already about that preposterous nonsense about having summers off. Teachers work the same number of hours as the average American (around 1900–2000), but their pay is not the same. Teachers earn 8% less than the average American, not less than the average American with a college degree- the average American period. Even worse, the gap has actually widened from the 3% figure from January 2018. No wonder teachers are walking away en masse. How many jobs require a college degree and pay under $70k/year? And yet here are just some of the jobs that make far more than teachers without even requiring a college degree: fire chief, policeman, real estate agent, makeup artists, and elevator repairman. Shoot, even farmers and ranchers earn more than teachers on average. I am not saying that any of these jobs are not absolutely essential to our society. But aren’t our teachers?

Well, not according to what we pay them. Our society has told teachers all they need to know about how we value their importance in our community by paying them a wage that reflects their diminished status. Municipalities like Breckenridge and Aspen, where palatial estates line the hillsides, have had to take to building tiny 200 square foot homes for teachers who cannot afford to live in the communities in which they teach. I think those micro-dwellings say it all about how we value our teachers.

But perhaps there is a silver lining in all of this after all. I don’t teach Economics, but I have a grandfather who could have, and he was a firm believer in the forces of supply and demand righting the wrongs of an unjust labor market. As the teacher shortage deepens, and more and more students eschew education degrees in favour of more lucrative vocations, the demand for qualified educators will skyrocket as the supply dwindles even further, which can mean only one thing: We’s about to get paid up in here, bitches!

Of course, I’ll probably be retired by then….

Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com

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Steven Craig

Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY. Read his blog TRUTH: IN 1000 WORDS OR LESS on Thursdays at www.waitingfortoday.com