More than half of public school educators in the U.S. are so burned out from the pandemic that they are prepared to leave the profession, a new poll released Tuesday suggested.
According to the poll, 55 percent of public school teachers, administrators and other staff said they were planning to leave the field sooner than they’d planned because of the crushing additional stresses brought on by the pandemic.
The survey was conducted by GBAO Strategies, a Democratic polling firm, on behalf of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the U.S. The firm polled 3,621 active NEA members across the country.
That number was a substantial uptick from the 37 percent of respondents who said in a poll in August that they were planning to leave the field because of Covid.
Educators widely pointed to Covid — and to insufficient actions taken by their schools to combat it — as the reason behind their increased disillusionment with their jobs.
For example, only 38 percent of respondents said their schools had improved ventilation during the pandemic, and just 28 percent said they felt their school’s ventilation systems provided enough protection to help combat the spread of Covid.
School districts in states across the U.S. faced substantial teacher shortages even before the pandemic, particularly in areas like math, science and special education. But the shortages have grown over the last two years as an increasing number of educators leave the profession due the substantial stress and potential safety hazards the pandemic introduced into the classroom.
As of Tuesday, there were currently 567,000 fewer educators in public schools in the U.S. than there were before the pandemic, according to an NEA analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The projected number of retirements and pandemic- and burnout-related exits from the field in coming years far exceeds the declining number of students pursuing teaching preparation programs.
Since 2010, the amount that the demand for teachers has exceeded supply has approximately quadrupled, according to the Learning Policy Institute, a Washington-based education policy think tank. More than 270,000 public school teachers are projected to leave the profession from 2016 to 2026, according to government data, and recent polling by a prominent national teachers union showed that nearly 1 in 3 teachers said Covid-19 had made them more likely to resign or retire early.
Meanwhile, 90 percent of respondents in the latest poll said burnout was a serious problem for educators, while 91 percent said pandemic-related stress was a serious problem.
“This is a five-alarm crisis," NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement. "We are facing an exodus as more than half of our nation’s teachers and other school staff are now indicating they will be leaving education sooner than planned. 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."
Among the potential solutions to ease burnout and keep teachers from quitting, raising salaries received the strongest support (96 percent of respondents said pay raises would help keep them from leaving), the poll suggested.
President Joe Biden had initially proposed, as part of the first iterations of his Build Back Better plans, spending billions of dollars to address the teacher shortage. Hopes of passing the bill died in December, after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he would not support it.
Some states, however, have taken the lead in trying to put forth incentives for teachers to stay in the profession. In January alone, bills proposing to raise public teacher pay advanced in state legislatures in blue states, like New Mexico, and red states, like Mississippi and Tennessee.