High and rising teacher vacancies coincide with a steep decline in the overall well-being of the teaching profession

In a recent EPI report investigating the national teacher shortage, we documented a large and growing number of teaching vacancies, which we linked to poor compensation and highly stressful working conditions. The data we assembled show that teacher pay has been falling relative to college graduates in other fields since 1979, and reported levels of teacher stress are comparable to other jobs that are typically recognized as being stressful, such as nursing or being a manager or executive. A recent working paper by Matthew A. Kraft and Melissa Arnold Lyon has similar findings after casting an even wider net over the data.

In their report, Kraft and Lyon examine four broad sets of indicators of the overall well-being of the teaching profession: professional prestige, interest in teaching, enrollment in preparation programs, and job satisfaction. They compile nationally representative time-series data and find compelling evidence of four distinct periods in the status of teaching over the last half century: a rapid decline in the 1970s, a quick rise in the early- to mid-1980s, no significant change over the next 20 years, and the start of a steep decline around 2010. Kraft and Lyon’s findings since 2010 are very similar to what we found: While the pandemic exacerbated challenges facing teachers, “most of these declines occurred steadily throughout the last decade suggesting they are a function of larger, long-standing structural issues with the profession.”

Across every one of the four dimensions they examine, the data reveal a sharp decline since the 2010s. With respect to prestige, an annual survey by Phi Delta Kappan International found that the share of parents wanting their child to become a teacher, which had remained above 65% between 1993 and 2011, fell to just 37% by 2022. Interest in teaching as a profession also fell. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the share of high school seniors who expected to be teaching at age 30 was “almost 7% in 1992 only to fall to around 3%…in the mid-2000s where it has remained.”

Given these declines in prestige and interest, it is unsurprising that Kraft and Lyon present government data showing a decline in the number of college graduates preparing to enter teaching. At its high point in 2006, the number of teaching licenses issued was equal to 22% of the total number of college graduates, but the rate fell to just 11% by 2020.

Trends in job satisfaction follow the same pattern. Kraft and Lyon cite the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which found that the percent of teachers who were “very satisfied” fell from 62% in 2008 to 12% in 2022.

The strong decline in the well-being of the teaching profession since 2010 coincides with the rising number of teaching vacancies documented in our report. However, like Kraft and Lyon, we maintain optimism that we can reverse the declining well-being of the teaching profession and resulting growing teacher shortage by addressing the root causes. With intentional action, we can restore the education system’s core goal: to provide a sound education equitably to all children.