The teacher shortage crisis: Where do we go from here?

by Sydney Jensen

As a teacher, instructional leader, and a parent: I’m scared.

Anecdotally, each time over the past year a colleague shared they were Googling “jobs for former teachers,” weighing the financial implications of taking a leave of absence, or considering early retirement, the fear that we are heading toward a reckoning brewed with a bit more tenacity in the pit of my stomach.

Then, right here in Nebraska, NSEA released the results of their fall 2021 member survey. The results should have all of our stomachs doing backflips.

The following results stand out:

  • 84% of respondents say they had an increase in student mental health concerns;
  • 64% report an increase in personal mental health concerns;
  • 57% of teachers said they are working more hours than last year;
  • 64% are more stressed; and
  • 30.2% are actively planning their exit from the profession.

The survey results confirmed what many of us with boots on the ground already knew to be true. Teachers are quitting. They are choosing new jobs that offer higher pay, better health benefits, the ability to work from home, and lower stress occupations.

This leaves me wondering: where do we go from here?

When we factor in the low enrollment in teacher prep programs and the potential 1,000-plus teacher exodus in May 2022, we find ourselves in a challenging situation.

My fear is that this opens a large window of opportunity for vouchers and other privatized education options to take root in Nebraska, a threat to public education that voters and policy makers have thus far been able to prevent.

If charter schools and schools-for-profit make their way into Nebraska, then public education stands to lose even more funding, adding more to the plates of an already overwhelmed teacher workforce. Additionally, it leaves our teachers facing a drastically more difficult school year on the coattails of an already historically demoralizing 2021-22 year.

And it’s not just a teacher shortage.

The survey also revealed that 88% of the NSEA members surveyed said their districts have a support staff shortage and 97% said their district is experiencing a substitute teacher shortage.

Teachers are covering classes at a frequency that is unprecedented. This looks like combining classes when subs are not available, covering classes during designated planning hours, and shouldering the load that is normally shared between two co-teachers when one is absent. We have support positions going unfilled due to a combination of low pay, nominal pay increases over time, and the high stress that these jobs present as an occupational hazard.

These additional challenges make the day-to-day of teaching more exhausting, overwhelming, and mentally draining than ever before.

It also begs the question, when everywhere is hiring, what are our school districts doing to attract and retain high-quality teachers and staff? What's luring candidates to the classroom when seemingly greener pastures are in such great supply?

Our federal, state, and district leaders must hold teachers in high regard as practitioners who are trusted to do their job effectively, or this staffing shortage will continue to worsen.

That sounds simple enough, but the actions that communicate a high regard for teachers take a little more than donuts in the staff lounge every quarter. For starters, here’s what I propose:

  • Compensation that is competitive, exceeds a living wage, and honors the value of a masters degree or greater when one is held.
  • At least 40% of daily contract hours dedicated to protected time to plan lessons, give feedback, grade, communicate with families, and observe colleagues as a means to improve instruction.
  • Access to high-level professional development opportunities that allow teachers to connect with and learn from others in their field.
  • Fully funded classrooms – no teacher should be purchasing Ticonderoga #2 pencils using their own paycheck.

I want this to be the new normal. I want post-pandemic public education to shine a new light on the magic that teachers create in their classrooms every day, and provide the tools and resources to multiply that magic exponentially. Is that where we’re going from here?

Sydney Jensen is the 2019 Nebraska Teacher of the Year. She teaches high school English in Lincoln, is an adjunct professor at Doane University in Crete, and is an advocate for teacher and student mental and emotional wellness supports. Her TED talk, “How can we support the emotional well-being of teachers?” is available at, and follow her on Twitter @sydneycjensen.