Schools across the state welcomed students back to the classroom this school year with fewer teachers than needed, leaving many classes without certified educators. That’s because of a failure to address continuing and systemic challenges in our public schools, according to a new CEA survey of Connecticut educators.
The challenges, exacerbated by inadequate pay, poor working conditions, stress, and lack of autonomy and respect, all contribute to the continued teacher shortage crisis, with record numbers of educators eyeing the exits and fewer people entering the teaching profession. Teachers participating in the survey noted several solutions to the crisis, including raising salaries, more prep and planning time, limiting non-teaching duties, and other actions districts can take to make the profession more attractive.
Two of the most alarming findings from the survey:
- 77% of teachers are frustrated and burned out, up 8 percentage points from last year.
- Nearly three-quarters of educators (74%) say they are more likely to retire or leave the profession early.
“These numbers were shocking last year,” said CEA President Kate Dias, “and we sounded the alarm that something must be done to address our underpaid, undervalued, and under-resourced teachers. Unfortunately, actions to reverse the continued exodus didn’t materialize, and now we are faced with the same dire circumstances and a shortage of professional educators in our children’s classrooms. We must work together to make bold changes to improve working conditions, compensation, support, respect, and overall job satisfaction if we want to keep our teachers in the classroom.”
Among the many serious issues Connecticut educators identified as problematic for them:
- Nearly all educators surveyed (98%) identified stress and burnout as their top issue.
- 97% identified school and classroom decisions made by politicians and non-educators as a major concern.
- 95% identified staff shortages in schools.
- 94% pointed to the rising number of teachers leaving the profession.
- 94% identified the lack of respect for educators as a top issue.
- 93% pointed to student mental health.
“Teaching is a demanding job that was made even more difficult because of COVID, followed by intense, unwarranted criticism of our dedicated educators and school curricula,” said Dias. “Political and personal attacks, toxic disrespect, and threats leveled at educators during school board meetings all contribute to the rapid pace of educators quitting the jobs they love.”
“Our teachers feel the fallout from the pandemic every day,” said CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey. “They are facing increased student mental health challenges, worsening student behavior, academic challenges, and increasing pressure to meet all these needs.”
Teachers are disillusioned to the point that 64% say they would not encourage a friend or family member to enter the profession.
“This is so telling,” said DeLancey. “So many educators went into the field because of a teacher who made an impact on them, but if teachers can no longer promote the profession to new generations, the pipeline will continue to diminish as people select careers with less stress, more autonomy, and better pay.”
What would help address the shortage crisis and recruit new teachers?
- More competitive salaries (cited by 99% of teachers surveyed)
- More planning and prep time (97%)
- Limits on non-teaching duties and excessive paperwork (97%)
- More effective school policies to address student behavior (96%)
- Smaller class sizes (96%)
- Appropriate mental health and behavioral supports for students (95%)
- More teacher autonomy in instructional practices (94%)
“We know the importance of raising salaries, which are at least 25% lower for teachers than for other professionals with similar education and experience,” said Dias, adding that this is especially true of starting salaries. “Students entering the workforce in other professions are making upwards of $65,000, compared with teachers making in the $40,000 range. If nothing is done, college graduates will continue to seek more lucrative, less stressful careers and schools will struggle to find educators.”
Higher salaries are only part of the answer to the teacher shortage, adds DeLancey, noting that many solutions—such as providing student behavioral supports, reducing educators’ paperwork, and allowing for greater teacher autonomy—cost districts no additional money. “Teachers need working conditions that allow them to be effective in the classroom without sacrificing their own lives, happiness, and time with their own children and families.”
Respect for the profession, says Dias, is also crucial—and it must come in the form of actions as well as words. “Look at what happened with Connecticut’s pandemic Premium Pay program,” she points out. “The state provided additional funds to essential workers but intentionally excluded educators. Recognizing and compensating our teachers for the incredible efforts they put in throughout the pandemic would demonstrate that our state values them and their contributions.”
The vast majority of survey respondents, 86%, agree.
To give lawmakers a clearer view of today’s classrooms, CEA is organizing Bring Your Legislator to School week October 23–27, 2023. Legislators are invited to spend a few hours in a local teacher’s classroom to get a firsthand look at a day in the life.
“Teachers are responsible for helping the next generation reach their potential, but we are overwhelming our teachers and asking them to sacrifice their own needs to serve their students,” said Dias, adding, “The cost of these sacrifices is unsustainable. We must provide educators with the conditions they need to help students thrive, and we are hopeful that Bring Your Legislator to School week will show Connecticut’s lawmakers exactly what that looks like.”
The survey of 7,635 K-12 Connecticut educators was conducted September 13-19, 2023. It has a margin of error of +/-1% and a 95% confidence level.