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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many educators have retired.
Worse, teachers of color—an already underrepresented group—are retiring at higher rates than their white peers, according to new research from The National Education Association.
Their poll found that 59% of Latino educators were planning on retiring earlier than they expected. This is a worrying statistic as we know that representation in the classroom can better student of color’s education outcomes.
The problem needs attention now, according to NEA President Becky Pringle.
“This is a five-alarm crisis,” Pringle said in a NEA press release. “If we’re serious about getting every child the support they need to thrive, our elected leaders across the nation need to address this crisis now.”
What is the Rate of Teacher Retirement among Latinos and Others of Color?
Latino teacher representation was already worrisome before the pandemic.
Throughout the US, “only one-tenth of 1 percent of Latino students attend a school system where the portion of Latino teachers equals or exceeds the percentage of Latino students,” according to the Washington Post.
That analysis showed that 85% of white teachers were teaching at the same school they taught in the year before, whereas only 79% of Latino teachers fell into that category.
Now, two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, things are worsening.
On top of the 59% of Latinos planning on retiring, the poll also found that a disproportionate percentage of Black (62%) teachers were also planning on retiring earlier than expected.
Moreover, 86% of the members surveyed said that “they have seen more educators leaving the profession or retiring early since the start of the pandemic in 2020.”
That data represents a “significant increase from 37% in August,” across age and years-teaching demographics, as well as these professions:
- Driving buses
- Serving meals to students
“According to the NEA Survey, three-fourths of members said they’ve had to fill in for colleagues or take other duties due to these shortages,” the NEA press release states. “Furthermore, 80 percent report that unfilled job openings have led to more work obligations for the educators who remain.”
What Are the Causes and Effects of Latino Teacher Retirement?
The NEA poll found that the largest contributing factors are stress and teacher burnout.
“Educator burnout is a very serious issue — 67% [of teachers are] reporting it as a very serious issue and 90% a very serious or somewhat serious issue,” the report states. “General stress from the pandemic is also a very serious concern, and student absences and unfilled job openings leading to more work for remaining staff are also key stressors.”
“It is preventing educators from giving their students the one-on-one attention they need. It is forcing them to give up their class planning and lunch time to fill in for colleagues who are out due to COVID,” Pringle explains. “And, it is preventing students from getting the mental health supports needed.”
This compounds early educational issues for Latinos.
Many Latino children are at risk of not getting the proper care, services, and environment they need for healthy formative development,” according to a Salud America! research review.
“Traumatic early experiences, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and low participation in preschool programs impair Latino children’s social and emotional development, academic achievement, and overall health and wellbeing,” the research review states.
What Can Be Done to Address the Teacher Shortage?
When it comes to teacher burnout, the NEA has several recommendations:
- raising educator salaries
- providing additional mental health support for students
- hiring more teachers
- hiring more support staff
- reducing paperwork load
The NEA also provides further guidance in four areas:
Opportunity: Ensure Competitive Pay and Benefits
- Increase base pay for all employees to eliminate the wage gap between teachers and comparable professionals and ensure a living wage for all education support professionals
- Raise substitute pay and provide substitutes with benefits and options for full-time work
- Reduce the time it takes to reach career-level pay
Opportunity: Improve Working Conditions
- Immediately implement all necessary safety and health measures in schools to protect students and staff
- Provide emergency sick leave for COVID related absences
- Provide paid health benefits and paid family leave for all staff
- Address staff mental health and burnout
- Increase staffing levels so educators can connect with students one-on-one
- Modernize school buildings and fix broken infrastructure
- Implement the Education Assistance Fund in all districts (Tax free employer student loan payments up to $5,200 per year)
- Fully fund Teacher Residency Programs
- Create and Fund Grow Your Own Programs
- Create paid Apprenticeship Programs for teacher and education support professionals
- Provide quality professional development opportunities
- Change district hiring practices
Opportunity: Increased Financial Support and Sustainable Education Funding
- Federal Emergency Funds can and should be used to ease the educator shortage
- These funds should increase base pay for all employees and when those funds are gone, states should continue to fund those increases with state funds, including rainy day funds
- Fully funding education is an effective economic development strategy
Minnesota provides a good example of using federal funding.
“A recent study for Minnesota showed a direct link between the tax revenue surplus created by the CARE’s and ARPA’s stimulus (over $7.7 billion) and the economic result of investing half of it half (roughly $1.6 billion per year) were applied to education salaries,” according to NEA.
What Can Be Done to Address Latino Child Health?
Having more bilingual and culturally relevant mental health resources is also important.
These bilingual materials from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) can help Latinos learn about mental health treatment.
We can also help children who witness traumatic events, like domestic violence or murder.
These kids still have to go to class or carry on while school is out for summer or due to the pandemic. They face a burden of stress and trauma that can interfere with their behavior and grades—and schools often aren’t even aware there’s an issue.
Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack.”
The Action Pack helps police, school, and mental healthcare leaders start the Handle with Care program, in which police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away. They can virtually support kids if school is out for summer or still closed due to COVID-19.