Teacher shortage, Covid-19 create perfect storm for education system

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The debate over how and where to educate students, from preschool to university, has been among the fiercest fought throughout the pandemic. Nearly every solution presents challenges for parents, students and teachers alike.

The Covid-19 crisis and an ongoing nationwide shortage of qualified teachers have created a perfect storm in the education system that may only worsen in the months to come.

Educators such as Cynthia Robles are feeling it firsthand.

Robles is a special education teacher at Roger Williams Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island, with more than two decades of experience. She is currently working in school, doing both in-person and remote learning, while helping to cover other classes during unassigned periods to make up for a lack of substitute teachers in the district.

“It’s truly a challenge every day. Teaching is challenging anyway, but with the lack of teachers in some rooms, and the rest of us having to kind of pick up the slack. … It’s exhausting. Honestly, it’s even heartbreaking,” Robles, a union member, said. “You sit back and you really look at these children. And you end the day with, ‘Did I give them everything they need?'”

The district is currently short some 100 teachers and could use an additional 100 to fill substitute needs, Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro said.

Educators are being forced to make tough decisions about their own health and safety, and that of their family members, simply by going to work.

Data from the American Federation of Teachers, the national labor union, shows that 1 in 3 teachers say the pandemic has made them more likely to retireĀ earlier than planned, particularly among those over age 50 and with more than 20 years’ tenure. The American Enterprise Institute projected that more than 18% of all public and private