Although workers in nearly every industry have faced hardships during the pandemic, teachers have undoubtedly struggled more than others. Those who continued to teach in-person faced nearly constant exposure to COVID-19, while those who began teaching remotely found themselves navigating this shift with little to no support. Many also lacked childcare for their own children during this time.
Despite some recent improvements in COVID-19 transmission rates and the reopening of schools in many areas of the country, 90% of educators still report feeling burned out. Add to this the fact that teachers’ pay remains abysmally low given their job demands and the long hours they work, and it’s no surprise that this sector has experienced alarmingly high quit rates during the pandemic.
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlights that last year, nearly 600,000 teachers in the private education sector and more than 900,000 in state and local education resigned. In 2021, the rate of people quitting in private educational services rose more than in any other industry.
For the educational system, this trend is contributing to a severe staffing shortage that’s left many schools scrambling to fill roles and provide coverage in classrooms. As of January 2022, 44% of public schools reported at least one teaching vacancy, and 61% identified the pandemic as a cause of those vacancies.
And unfortunately, this trend shows no signs of slowing down. A January poll from the National Education Association found that 55% of teachers say they’ll leave teaching sooner than planned, up from 37% in August. Although some educators are retiring, many are opting for a new profession where they hope for better treatment and compensation. In fact, LinkedIn reports that the number of teachers on the site who left for a new career increased by 62% last year.
This is clearly bad news for the educational sector. However, for other companies this mass exodus has proven to be a surprise blessing as they navigate their own struggles to attract and retain talent amidst the Great Resignation. Organizations in IT, consulting, healthcare, professional training, and many other industries are snapping up teachers who’ve called it quits, with offers of higher pay, flexible or remote working arrangements, and other attractive benefits and perks.
And make no mistake, this isn’t just an act of desperation — businesses have much to gain from hiring former educators. After all, teachers are experts at multi-tasking, dealing with stressful situations, and listening and communicating effectively. They also have high levels of emotional intelligence (required to manage diverse personalities in the classroom), they’re quick to learn and pick up new information and skills, and of course they’re adept at teaching and coaching others.
For the educational sector as well as the companies hiring teachers into new professions, these workforce shifts have significant implications. Let’s take a look.
How should the corporate sector adapt for the newest members of their workforce?
Although teachers offer an impressive set of skills, transitioning them to the world of corporate work doesn’t come without its challenges. Some educators don’t even know where to start in their job search, and when they do find a role, they struggle to adjust to corporate life. Many report feeling overwhelmed with the enormous number of online training programs and coaching options that are available.
With this in mind, companies should take extra steps to help former teachers adapt to the workplace — not only by offering the right training, but also by helping them learn the ropes of corporate culture and politics. It’s not a bad idea to offer in-house career coaching and personalized mentorship programs, as well as targeted training programs for their role.
Organizations should also be realistic in their expectations and not attempt to recruit teachers into roles where they’ll be overwhelmed and unlikely to succeed. As one article noted, teachers are seeing more and more companies advertising jobs and programs with slogans like, “Teachers, this is great for you!” But if your company isn’t truly equipped to help educators thrive, then reconsider whether this is really the right approach for you and for them.
At the same time, business leaders should seize on the opportunity to prioritize learning and development at their company. After all, many teachers will find themselves in corporate training jobs, as these roles clearly align with their experience and skillsets. Now could be the perfect time for employers to reinvigorate programs designed to reskill or upskill their workforce — a win-win-win situation for teachers, companies, and employees.
How can the educational sector reverse this trend?
I also want to discuss what needs to change in order for the educational sector to turn things around. In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Brenda Cassellius, the superintendent of Boston Public Schools, laid out some common-sense ideas to address the current teacher shortage. She notes that retention bonuses are a critical first step that can prevent this crisis from worsening and keep teachers from jumping ship.
From a broader policy standpoint, she believes we should offer free college tuition to students who commit to public education careers and loan forgiveness to current teachers who remain in the profession for 10 years. She also advises a national minimum starting salary for teachers of $75,000 per year and eliminating fees for teacher’s licenses and tests.
Suggestions from other sources include improving teaching conditions, for example by upgrading school facilities and classrooms. There’s also a pressing need to offer greater mental health and wellness support, help teachers access childcare, and ensure they have the right tools and training to teach remotely.
The bigger picture
Taking these steps will surely help reposition the teaching profession in a better light and help schools attract and retain talent. But let’s not forget the root issue here, which is that teachers have long been undervalued and underappreciated. As a society, it’s important that we take this opportunity to reevaluate our deeply-held beliefs about educators and move toward a new understanding of their role in shaping our country’s future.
Whether they’re transitioning to a new job in the corporate world or choosing to stay in a teaching career, our educators bring an immense skillset to the table and they deserve the tools and support to thrive in their careers and their personal lives.
Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this topic!