There is ample anecdotal evidence that the stresses of teaching in the Covid-19 environment are leading to larger than usual numbers of teachers exploring and taking their retirement options. The National Rural Education Association and Rural Schools Collaborative recently surveyed 100 rural school leaders, teacher educators, and community advocates in an effort to assess their perceptions on how Covid-19 could impact the ongoing rural teacher shortage and rural teacher retention. This informal exploratory survey specifically asked how Covid-19-related teacher retirements might ultimately affect the rural teaching workforce.
Although this is a relatively small sample, it is apparent that there is a growing concern about a possible wave of rural teacher retirements. These concerns would suggest that a surge in teacher retirements due to Covid-19 has the potential to exacerbate an already troubling rural teacher shortage.
Here are some highlights from the survey findings:
- When asked to define how severe they felt the rural teacher shortage was before the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 80% of all respondents considered the shortage to be “very problematic.” Moreover, half of all respondents stated that the shortage could be seen in all aspects of their local school district: elementary school, middle school, high school, and special certifications. 25% of respondents felt that “special certifications” were where they felt the greatest need for teachers.
- After the onset of the pandemic, 61% of all respondents felt that Covid-19 was having a direct impact on the rate of teacher retirements in their region or district. When further prompted to state the severity to which they felt the pandemic impacted retirements, a quarter of respondents felt the impact was “severe,” while 48% of respondents rated the impact on retirements as “moderate.”
- As to overall teacher retention, nearly half (48% )of all respondents felt that the Covid-19 pandemic would also directly impact teacher retention in rural schools.
- Lastly, respondents were asked to evaluate what they felt was the most challenging aspect of sustaining the supply of teachers in rural areas. 58% of all respondents indicated that both recruitment and retention of teachers were equally challenging aspects of the teacher supply, but 35% of respondents did specifically highlight recruitment as the primary challenge.
This informal survey offers a quick "snapshot" of what a limited number of rural educational thought leaders are seeing throughout the country. It is impossible and inappropriate to draw strong conclusions from this kind of informal survey. However, where there is smoke there is fire, and we strongly urge research institutions, state departments of education, and other regional entities to explore more thoroughly the initial and long-term impact of Covid-19 related retirements on the rural teaching force. This is certainly an issue that warrants a proactive approach to problem solving.
The complete survey results are here.