Teacher job study: Employment steady but could change due to pandemic, retirements

A study of national teacher employment trends for more than three decades shows a changing landscape for instructors before the coronavirus pandemic, some of which is reflected in local school systems.

The study, which was largely based on data collected by the by the National Center for Education Statistics, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education, analyzed teacher job trends from 1987 to 2018 and is one of the most recent studies of its kind.

The onset of the coronavirus in March 2020 appears to not have altered employment trends prior to the pandemic, said Richard Ingersoll, the study’s author and a University of Pennsylvania professor.

But aging demographics of many Baby Boom-era teachers locally and nationally may soon change that, Ingersoll said.

During the pandemic, many education leaders feared a massive wave of teacher retirements, said Ingersoll, but he added he has not seen evidence of such a wave.

However, findings in his new report show that many experienced teachers are at or near retirement age and suggest such a wave could be coming in the near future.

“In general, employees do not leave their jobs during economic downturns. This includes teachers who have the seniority to retire from the classroom but might want or need to work elsewhere, or beginning teachers who want to change careers,” Ingersoll said.

“Post-pandemic, as more middle-class jobs become available, I predict there will be a large increase in turnover. Older teachers will retire, and some newer teachers will leave the profession.”

As for the employment patterns within the 31-year study scope, many continued steady, said Ingersoll.

“Many trends he has tracked since publishing his first study continue to hold true, and in some ways have deepened: The number of teachers has increased faster than students; those teachers, in general, are less experienced than their peers from three decades ago; more of these teachers are women; there are more teachers of color, if still not enough; and teacher turnover remains a problem,” according to a statement released with the study.

The 16,800-student Lakota Schools – the largest suburban district in southwest Ohio – has not seen an unusually large exodus among its nearly 1,000 teachers, said Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for the school system.

“This has been a normal hiring season for us. We haven’t seen any significant changes compared to previous years,” Fuller.

But the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools, which employs 571 teachers, is seeing an uptick in teacher attrition, said Katie Myers, director of human resources.

“It’s a very busy hiring season but we are not scrambling. The candidate pool is slim compared to past years,” said Myers.

“Teachers stayed put last year with COVID and the unknown compared to this year. Our hiring data shows around 56 positions that we have filled so far.”

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