Will Teaching Become The New “Plan A” In A Post-COVID Economy?

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TO BE…OR NOT TO BE…A TEACHER?

As recently as March 2019, the not-for-profit, Washington-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI) published a six-part series aimed at examining the causes of — and solutions for — the national teacher shortage in U.S. public schools.

It was not all that long ago that teaching was considered a noble and highly competitive job within the United States workforce. Years of favorable relations between teacher’s labor unions and local school boards paved the way for competitive salaries and benefits that often surpassed those provided by businesses in the private sector up until the 1980’s. 

Between the 1980’s and mid 1990’s average pay rates leveled out across the country. On average state budgets were allocating nearly 50% of taxable revenue to support their education systems and as a result many taxpayers and organizations mobilized to prevent or limit additional spending and investments in education. Over time, with only modest spending increases annually, average earnings have steadily declined when compared to other areas of our economy. What this means from a pragmatic standpoint, for recent graduates entering the workforce, is that there are many other industries and jobs that may be considered more appealing when it comes to choosing a career path. 

Then, in 2010, the nation experienced a tidal wave of anti-union sentiment that impacted education, and in particular the teaching profession, in ways that have endured for nearly a decade. One of the most notable pieces of legislation was passed in Wisconsin under then Governor, Scott Walker. ACT 10, or as it was otherwise known as “The Budget Repair Bill”, crippled the Teacher’s Union ability to collectively bargain on behalf of their members. After the bill was passed, and later upheld by the State Supreme Court, many other states across the country passed similar pieces of legislation which has significantly impacted wages, benefits, and other various education investments, throughout the county. To many, this sequence of events was viewed as a “war on education”, and for many students and young professionals contemplating their career paths, teaching was no longer looked upon as favorably as a means to earn a living. 

 

PASSION vs. INCOME

In the years that followed ACT 10 (and similar pieces of legislation) many students and even current teachers were forced to make a very difficult choice. Would they continue to follow their passion and teach, or would they look for other opportunities that offered them a higher earning potential and/or quality of life?

If you look at employment data between 2010 and 2020 it is clear that the answer for many was – their INCOME and their livelihood. 

Since 2010, there have been fewer students enrolling in colleges and universities with the goal of becoming a teacher. Furthermore, many current teachers have been leaving the teaching profession in search of jobs in other industries at an unprecedented rate. As a result, our nation has continued to see a widening gap in the number of teaching vacancies posted and those that go unfilled year after year. According to the Learning Policy Institute the number of unfilled FTE teacher vacancies has grown from 20,000 in 2012 to over 120,000 as recently as 2019! 

 

THE COVID EFFECT

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Small Business Administration (SBA), small business make up 99.7% of U.S. employment firms, 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs, 49.2 percent of private-sector employment, and 42.9 percent of private-sector payroll. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans have currently been laid off or have experience a long-term furlough as of May 20, 2020. As of May 1st a confirmed thirty-million Americans have sought unemployment aid since states began issuing shelter in place orders. These unemployment figures are the worst since the Great Depression era numbers from the 1930’s. 

A significant number of small businesses that were required to close their doors will be forced to them permanently — and as a result, many of those closings will continue to impact our economy for months and even years to come. 

With the private sector of the U.S. economy taking a significant hit due to COVID-19, it could certainly be argued that teaching is looking like a better option today for many workers than it did even as recently as three months ago. While it is true that many school districts were forced to make some cuts to staffing, the reality is that there are mandates that districts are required to abide by when it comes to student teacher ratios, classroom sizes, and support that is offered to both general and special education students. In other words, despite how bad things have gotten economically, the need for teachers is not going away. 

 

THE DEMAND WILL BE THERE

When schools reopen their doors, and students return to classrooms, there will be a need for teachers. 

  • According to Census data, 17% of our K-12 teaching work force is made up of individuals that are age 55 or older. 
  • The Center for Disease Control has made it clear that those that are face the most significant risk to health from COVID-19 are the elderly and those with compromised immune systems; in many cases this means those that are age 55 and over. 
  • And then there is the increasing technology demand. For many aging teachers, being forced to learn and manage a multitude of new education technology platforms can be daunting. Yet, we have seen how the latest pandemic has proven the need for more technology – not less – and that demand for technology is more likely to increase in the days that follow rather than decrease. 
  • According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, nearly 100,000 teachers of a total of 3.4 million teachers nationwide were on schedule to retire at the end of the 2019/20 school year. 

If you consider how many teachers were already at retirement age, how many are near retirement age, how many teachers may be concerned about health risks associated with a return to the classroom, and how many may be disinterested about the prospect of having to up their technology games this late in their careers, it is certainly reasonable to conclude that we will see even more teachers choose to transition into retirement sooner than later, which will of course increase the demand for new teachers to take their place. 

For those that were a teacher, considered becoming a teacher, or those that buried a dream of becoming a teacher a long time ago, you can be reasonably certain that the demand for teachers will continue to be there. As other jobs in other industries take a longer period of time to recover, the question that you may want to ask yourself is – WILL TEACHING BECOME YOUR NEW ‘PLAN A’ IN A POST-COVID ECONOMY? 

 

Brian A. Peters, M.Ed., M.S.A., M.B.A.  Professor, Rader School of Business

Brian currently heads Swing Education’s school partnerships in Chicago, Illinois.  Brian has worked in various roles in education from school administrator, teacher, and consultant, as well as in the private sector as a business development manager for both education publishing and education technology companies. He has authored domestic and international award-winning books in education and personnel and professional growth.

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