Fewer young people training to be teachers, education schools report

If you want to be a teacher, you’re in a class all by yourself these days.

With pandemic-era policies, hybrid learning and emotional struggles adding to the nationwide teacher shortage, K-12 education programs are seeing fewer students enrolling.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education says the number of young people finishing teacher training programs fell by 30% between the 2010-2011 and 2019-2020 school years. In a fall 2021 survey of AACTE member schools, 55% said new undergraduate enrollment dropped even further as COVID-19 restrictions extended into last year.

“Our membership survey strongly suggests that the pandemic has accelerated the trend of declining enrollment in educator preparation,” said Jacqueline E. King, an AACTE consultant.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 300,000 teachers and staff quit their jobs between February 2020 and May 2022. Many have cited COVID-19 burnout for leaving.

The AACTE says the number of students in teacher preparation programs isn’t enough to replace them even if it holds steady this fall — something it won’t know until the states report their numbers.

SEE ALSO: K-12 schools fill the teaching void with classroom assistants, virtual lessons, military vets

Paul Gediman, executive director of marketing and advancement for Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, says the reigning public education model isn’t helping.

“It asks teachers to manage classrooms of 30 or more students, to be role models and social workers, to be data analysts, trauma interventionists and a host of other roles,” Mr. Gediman said. “In short, it is a recipe for burnout and attrition.”

Some education schools already see an enrollment dip heading into the fall semester, although most have not finished counting.

In Phoenix, Grand Canyon University’s undergraduate enrollment has fallen slightly, from 6,240 new students last year to 6,233 this year.

Spokesperson Bob Romantic says Grand Canyon’s teacher preparation enrollment went “relatively flat” during the past two years after growing previously. Strong interest in the school’s online programs has kept it from falling further, he says.

“COVID also played a significant role in universities’ ability to educate future teachers as many were forced to switch to remote modalities,” Mr. Romantic said.

SEE ALSO: K-12 schools scramble for teachers weeks before classes start because of COVID burnout

While enrollment has declined nationally, some online programs are seeing an uptick in new students.

That’s driven partly by existing teachers seeking a graduate degree for better pay and partly by young people avoiding the federal student loan debt they would need to attend a residential campus.

Western Governors University in Utah and the Indianapolis-based American College of Education, an online education program, are both seeing increases in enrollment.

Mike Cook, director of marketing operations at ACE, says its master’s-level and doctoral enrollment is already up by 20% over last year.

“We believe much of that can be attributed to our affordable and flexible online programs,” Mr. Cook said, noting that the low pay scale of teachers also drives some students to save money.

Former elementary school teacher Laura Linn Knight says it will take more than money for educators to enjoy their jobs again after two years of pandemic-related trauma.

“It is my hope, as a mother and educator, that we will continue to see as much social and emotional support given to teachers and students as possible,” said Ms. Knight, an Arizona-based parenting coach.

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