America Is Facing a Teacher Shortage Crisis

By Neil Campbell | November 16, 2021
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
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Several school districts have suffered "sickouts" at the hands of bus drivers and faculty staff amid a teacher shortage attributed to labor union disputes.
Some Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, and Shipt workers protest during an organized sick out because they were upset that their employers didn’t impose enough COVID measures on May 1, 2020, in Hawthorne, California. America is facing a widespread disruptive teacher shortage. The crisis in some regions may be attributable to union-organized labor dispute actions. (Image: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

While 2021 has not been a pleasant year for U.S. families with widespread inflation, supply chain, and vaccine mandate woes, parents are also facing a new epidemic in the form of a teacher shortage that often extends to other faculty members. 

A basic search on Google-alternative DuckDuckGo for the keyword “School Staff Shortage” returns more than 25 relevant news article results over the last seven days alone referencing either closures of entire facilities or significant reduction in services offered

Areas affected are scattered throughout the country, such as North Carolina, Omaha, Missouri, Denver, Seattle, and Colorado.

In one example, the Omaha World Herald reported in a Nov. 15 article, based on testimony from a gym teacher at an undisclosed Omaha Public Schools (OPS) facility, that on an average day “there are six to 10 teachers absent with no substitute teachers available.”

The situation had become so pronounced that the staffer said students often had a new teacher each day, most of which were struggling to cover subjects they had no familiarity with.

When staff simply couldn’t be stretched, students were ushered into the cafeteria for what he described as “a glorified study hall period for as many as 100 students.”

Another OPS teacher interviewed in the article was paraphrased as stating that teachers were “exhausted” and “do not have time to do things like grade papers, plan, contact parents, attend meetings or even go to the bathroom.”

A Nov. 13 article published in the Portland Press Herald lamented, “Bus driver, ed-tech and substitute teacher vacancies are nearly ubiquitous among regional school districts striving to return to normal after more than a year of remote and hybrid teaching.”

The outlet attributed the staffing shortage to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, the contributing factor, the article says, isn’t teachers falling ill, but their own children testing positive and being required to home-quarantine, which results in staff being forced to take time off to attend.

Nonetheless, the piece admitted that one middle school was shuttered for remote learning after 19 staff members and 150 students tested positive. 

The problem is manifesting a unique set of symptoms. The Washington Examiner reported on Nov. 15 that the Northwest School District in Missouri had resorted to opening formal employment positions to high school students in order to fill vacant positions ranging “from custodial and maintenance to food service and child care assistant jobs,” with pay starting at minimum wage.

Although some schools have been able to remain open, services many students and families have come to rely on have been impacted. Raleigh-based CBS17 reported on Nov. 15 that the Wake County Public School System warned parents that more than 30 schools under its jurisdiction would not be able to provide meal services because of a coordinated “sickout” by cafeteria workers. 

School Board Chairman Keith Sutton told the outlet the District had begun “putting contingency plans in place to ensure that students will have a meal.”

The News & Observer said in Nov. 15 reporting that Wake County “had a 19% vacancy rate among cafeteria workers, forcing the remaining staff to do more to keep students fed.”

According to the outlet, the protest was timed for the same day the Board would vote on whether to distribute an additional $3,750 bonus to staffers, on top of a $1,250 bonus and a $13 minimum wage hike approved earlier in the month.

The report paraphrased the local union, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), as complaining that “the new round of bonuses isn’t enough.”

NCAE wants the minimum wage hiked to $17 per hour.

On Oct. 29, Wake County suffered a similar sickout at the hands of bus drivers, leading to 200 busses, or a third of the fleet, being grounded according to ABC11. The outlet attributed the cause only to “bus drivers,” who stated that “they are being worked to the limit without any compensation.”

“Because of the shortage, some of the drivers have gone from serving two schools a day to five or six — with no extra pay for the extra routes,” said the article.

In Nov. 15 coverage of the national trend, Breitbart noted that multiple teachers unions had cited a combination of fatigue and exhaustion as grounds for staff failing to attend at their positions. 

The article attributed staffing shortages in some districts to the result of union-based political pressure to establish and enforce mandatory masking and mandatory vaccination policies, while others were rooted in financial disputes.

On Nov. 10, Indianapolis PBS affiliate WFYI reported that Pike Township was forced to close “after 91 of its around 700 instructional staff called out sick.”

“The closure comes as some teachers continue to voice concerns over the ongoing collective bargaining dispute between the district and the Pike Classroom Teachers Association. Monday is the deadline for teacher unions and school corporations to approve compensation packages,” stated the outlet.

As with many other districts, the region suffered a bus driver shortage in September. As a result, some busses were almost three hours late for pickup. Pike Township switched to remote learning in response.

The same month, the National Guard was deployed in Massachusetts to cover a shortage of bus drivers.  

The Nov. 5 Employment Situation Summary for October, released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, revealed that while local and state education positions lost a combined 65,000 positions, private institutions actually gained 17,000 employees.

The statistics note, however, that since pandemic measures began in February of 2020, there has been no rebound. The public education sector has cleaved 475,000 jobs, and the private sector 148,000. 

On Nov. 8, a public school system in a Michigan township was forced to close all facilities suddenly for a day after multiple staff members called in sick after attending a COVID-19 vaccine booster injection clinic over the preceeding weekend.