How the pandemic has killed teaching as a career
The number of teachers is in freefall, but while efforts to stop the slide are focused on pay and workload, it’s one side effect of the pandemic that can still be deadly for recruiting: the rise of homework.
The shortage of qualified teachers is quickly becoming education’s biggest problem, with fewer people entering the profession and more leaving the classroom early.
The situation is particularly dire in secondary schools, where students are increasingly being taught by specialists and school leaders struggling to fill vacancies in some subjects, including physics, IT and foreign languages.
Almost the half US public schools have at least one teaching position, and a quarter have multiple positions. In the United Kingdom a the report This week they revealed that the number of vacant jobs is almost double the pre-Covid level.
Pay and workload are, as you might expect, contributing factors. Teacher pay, the subject of an ongoing strike in England, has lagged behind other professions, and workloads are the main reason teachers are leaving the classroom.
Salary and workload can be resolved, given the political will. But there is another factor that is more intractable and could end teaching as a career, at least as far as we know, and the pandemic is to blame.
The pandemic has been the tipping point that has taken work from home from a minority pursuit to the mainstream.
While most workers are now back in the office, for many it’s part of a hybrid model where they work from home two or three days a week.
More than four in 10 graduates in teaching-related occupations now work primarily from home, according to the analysis According to data from the UK Labor Force Survey, conducted by the independent National Foundation for Educational Research.
As the chart shows, this is a rapid increase from pre-pandemic levels, while the pandemic has not significantly affected the number of teachers working from home.
Underlying this trend is a shift in mindset: the expectation that a graduate job will include some element of working from home.
Many graduates who would never have considered working from home before would now take it for granted.
And many who enter with the desire to be surrounded by colleagues will find that enthusiasm diminishes as their careers progress.
Teaching no longer competes with various office-based professions, but with a variety of careers that offer the flexibility teachers can only dream of.
And while recent graduates may be particularly attracted to flexible work opportunities, even those who have spent some time in the classroom may start to envy their friends who spend more time at home.
Unlike other pandemic-related restrictions, there is no sign that this trend will reverse: once people have tasted the benefits of working from home, they are reluctant to give it up.
More parents working from home means it’s more feasible for students to learn from home, but not only will this deny children the opportunity to practice crucial social skills, it’s not an option that will work for everyone.
While some teachers are able to fill some contracted hours outside of school, particularly in activities such as lesson planning and grading, the nature of the work means that flexible working is often not a realistic option.
Changing this will require rethinking how schools operate, perhaps through distance learning. The use of technology in the classroom made great strides during the pandemic, but its biggest challenge may be yet to come.
If we are not to resign ourselves to a future with fewer teachers, schools will have to figure out how to adapt to a world where working from home is the norm.
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