The best thing for a teacher’s future, says one expert, is a school-based learning plan that can help them find a career.
The other, says Laura Minton, is to take a proactive approach to helping teachers manage their careers.
A new study by the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress found that in states that mandated paid family leave, the share of teachers returning to the classroom fell by 25 percent in two years.
But even though many educators were prepared to work longer hours, many were hesitant to take the step, which might be why the report notes that only 11 percent of teachers returned to their classrooms in 2017.
“This is not surprising, as many people who have not taken time off are hesitant to return to work, even in states with paid family and medical leave,” the report concludes.
“Many people who had a hard time accepting a pay raise were not willing to return and have taken time away from their classrooms.”
The authors also noted that many teachers are hesitant or reluctant to return because of fear of losing their jobs, even if they have experienced no negative impacts on their careers, such as a reduced pay grade.
“Even if you are on a very short-term leave plan, you still need to make a conscious decision to return,” says Minton.
“It’s important that you find the time to get back to work and do it well.”
The report recommends a school systemwide initiative called the National Student Opportunity and Workforce Strategy that would provide paid parental leave and help teachers transition to a career in teaching.
“In states where teachers are eligible for paid family or medical leave, it’s clear that teachers are making an important contribution to the national economy and the American economy as a whole,” said Brookings President David Karp.
“But we need more.”
The Brookings report found that while there is no official national school-wide gap in teaching, the most likely candidates for an increase in the number of teachers who return to classrooms are those with a background in teaching and who have experience with working in a small classroom.
In states that do not mandate paid leave, there is evidence that a higher proportion of teachers are returning to their classroom after a one-year leave period than those who are still in the classroom.
“Teachers with prior teacher-initiated leave have been the most visible sign that paid leave is a strategy to address teacher shortages,” said the report.
“That has been particularly true in states where there is a need for increased teacher numbers, particularly among the young and the low-income.”
It also found that teachers who took more time off after leaving the classroom in 2017 have also experienced a drop in pay grade and higher absenteeism rates.
Minton agrees that teacher shortage is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“I would say there is definitely a teacher shortage,” she says.
“There’s certainly a teacher need.
We’re not talking about having all the teachers who can teach all the students in all the classrooms, but that is an important thing.
We need to be able to provide that to teachers.”
The researchers suggest that states adopt policies that require teachers to return for a minimum of two years after their first year of employment and allow teachers to take two additional years of leave after their second year of teaching.
Mouston also supports a national teacher shortage strategy, noting that the lack of teachers in many classrooms is a national problem.
“The real question is whether it’s a problem of education or whether it has something to do with the culture of the nation,” she said.
“You have this huge gap of teachers, teachers who are leaving the profession, teachers whose teaching is being displaced.”
Minton and other experts say that states that require paid leave to help teachers manage the challenges of the job and that have more diverse workforce should also consider offering additional paid leave options, such a flexible leave policy or an annual leave plan.
The Brookings researchers also note that teachers should not be forced to take paid leave.
They should be able, for example, to take time off to care for a loved one, care for their newborn, or take time to go to the doctor or attend a medical conference, and they should be given a choice on when to return.
“We are at a time when we are going to have to be much more deliberate about how we support and empower our teachers and to give them more flexibility,” said Minton when asked if there is room for teachers to remain in the profession.
“What are the kinds of things we need to do to support teachers?
It’s not just about providing more paid leave for teachers, it has to be about supporting teachers as well.”
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