Tennessee Faces Critical Shortage of Teachers after COVID-19

By Amelia Alexopoulos / News Editor

As most Americans know, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and led to new national crises, the most problematic of which may be the national teacher shortage. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), for the past year or so, nine year old students have had “the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics.” 

Recently, American fourth grade students ranked lower than 15 countries when it comes to reading, found a study cited by the New York Times. 

These statistics are the direct result of the fact that over half of our country’s public schools began the 2022-2023 school year understaffed according to the NCES. But the even bigger problem is that there are not enough people who want to become teachers. The NCES found that 69% of public schools said their greatest challenge is that not enough candidates are even applying for teacher positions. 

Along with the schools of many other cities in Tennessee, schools in Nashville have also struggled to find staff. Metro Nashville Public Schools, commonly referred to as MNPS, has implemented outreach programs in order to recruit teachers. 

MNPS has been “partnering with local universities to recruit teachers, training existing Metro schools staff to become teachers through Tennessee’s Grow Your Own program, hiring college graduates who are not yet certified to teach but permitted to do so through temporary teaching licenses, and recruiting retired staff based on a new state law that allows them to return to work without losing their benefits” reported the “Nashville Scene.”

TEACHER SHORTAGE: Students working at a school in Pennsylvania. Credit: Bruce Matsunaga.

It is apparent that fewer and fewer young people view being an educator as a desirable profession. Rather than a shortage of teachers, the problem could be seen as a crisis of respect. Teachers, some of the worst paid professionals in the country (especially in public schools), often must put up with challenging conditions. These include underfunded schools with overcrowded classrooms, having to meet state and local education requirements when their students are falling behind because of conditions outside of their control and long hours with minimal assistance or breaks. 

Upper School French Teacher and Chair of the Upper School World Languages Department  Jenny Jervis, explained that while there are certainly many people who want to work for Harpeth Hall, there is an increasing number of less experienced applicants. 

Referencing the hiring needs of all schools, she said “there’s a smaller pool from which to draw…everybody is looking for new teachers.” While public schools are losing many more teachers than Harpeth Hall, there are some teaching spots that need to be filled. Jervis describes how a lot of schools are “vying for those same people, so it does impact us.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly impacted people’s desire to go into teaching, Jervis said. “It made things harder, being separated from our students and teaching remotely, and then coming back and teaching hybridly…especially teaching language behind a mask is hard,” she explained. “Needs have changed..everyone’s impacted in different ways.”

Additionally, Jervis said that some teachers throughout the country who are leaving their schools are also “leaving teaching altogether.”

When asked about teaching through a pandemic and in its aftermath, though, Jervis said, “I would actually tell you that I’m more excited about teaching than I’ve ever been.” Teaching after COVID is “a new challenge but it’s an exciting challenge.” 

While the current situation regarding teacher shortages seems bleak to many Americans, all hope for the future may not be lost as conveyed by Jervis’ positive sentiments.

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