May 8-12 is our opportunity to recognize the extra challenges facing teachers


By Dr. K.L. Allen

Guest columnist

Teacher Appreciation Week, May 8-12, is just one chance for us to thank our teachers for the vital role they play in, literally, shaping our future.

They inspire and educate the next generation, guiding them toward achieving their dreams, while simultaneously helping create the workforce that drives our nation’s economy. Despite their essential role, however, teachers are often undervalued and underpaid, which contributes to a teacher shortage with potentially long-term impacts on our young people and America’s competitiveness.

The number of teaching graduates has been declining over the past 50 years, from 176,000 in 1971 to barely 85,000 in 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The shortage is particularly acute in math, science, special education, and rural areas. This not only impacts students’ educations, but also teacher turnover rates, as many become overworked as they are asked to fill in the gaps of staffing shortfalls. The result can be burnout and teachers leaving for less stressful, better paying jobs.

So, what can we do?

First, it is important to invest in teacher education and professional development. These help teachers improve their skills, stay up to date with the latest teaching methods, and feel more confident and supported in their work.

It is also important to do all we can to support teachers’ salaries. Research by the Economic Policy Institute highlights how much they have fallen behind other professions, with a gap growing from 23 percent to 33 percent between 1979 and 2021. In today’s tight labor market, any profession whose salaries lag others that much will face shortfalls.

Fortunately, our state’s leaders understand the teacher shortfall and are taking steps to begin addressing it. Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed legislation making it easier for former teachers to come back to the profession, including as substitute teachers, with new two-year teacher licenses. More teachers in classrooms can help relieve an entire school’s professional stress and give students more access to qualified instructors.

As the largest teacher education institution in the nation, WGU is committed to doing our part to help. We’re offering special $4,000 scholarships to help make a teaching degree more accessible—which can help bring more people into the profession. In addition, we’re offering a new Education Support Professionals Scholarship worth up to $5,000 for paraprofessionals who are currently working in Ohio’s schools and are dedicated to becoming a teacher and making a positive impact in students’ lives.

During Teachers Appreciation Week, WGU Ohio is also thanking teachers by delivering teacher appreciation packages to many K‑12 schools across the state.

Teacher Appreciation Week is a time to recognize and thank teachers for the work they do every day. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the unique challenges this crucial profession faces. Perhaps the best “thank you” we can give teachers is to take a close look at the barriers they face and come together to begin doing something about them. Teachers aren’t the only ones who will benefit — we all will.

Dr. K.L. Allen is chancellor of WGU Ohio, the state affiliate of online, nonprofit Western Governors University.

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