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Worker shortage in education | How can we support teachers in Maine?

According to state government retirement data, Maine lost more than 1,200 school employees last year.

MAINE, USA — There are some staggering numbers as kids head back to school. In the last two years, an estimated 300,000 teachers and staff quit or retired from public schools across the country.

According to state government retirement data, Maine lost more than 1,200 school employees last year, and the number of those training for a career in teaching is dropping. 

Under an emergency response, schools are hiring people without a degree to work as educators, as long as they pass a background check. There are more than 200 of those employees working in Maine schools. 

Where are the educators going? 

A survey from the American Federation of Teachers found that 80 percent of educators are not satisfied with working conditions.

Nadine Levitt, an education advocate, said there are things school districts and parents can do to retain their teachers -- and believe it or not, it doesn't all come down to pay. 

"Having an increase in salary just consistent with the cost of living going up, which is 3 percent, it’s a big ask. It’s like $10.8 billion, I think, if we just do that. It would be nice, right? But it’s not the only part of it," Levitt said. 

So, what would help keep teachers and ED techs in classrooms? During the pandemic, a lot of employees discovered a healthier work/life balance. Many left their jobs to find that. Levitt said that includes school staff.

"It’s important to remember that things like anxiety and stress and overwhelm, these are emotions that are really contagious, so we have to figure out a way to sort of interrupt that cycle," she said.

"I think inspiration is a really great way to interrupt that cycle and then shift those mindsets, and from there you can use community building exercises to strengthen community show purpose and then show appreciation with thank you's and listening to people," Levitt added. 

Schools should also work to build a culture in which teachers aren't in competition for the best test scores, but instead are sharing ideas and support. 

RELATED: 'Substantial' need for ed techs, bus drivers as Maine schools struggle to hire before school starts

Part of that support comes from also having the right tools and training. 

"I think there are a lot of teachers who, because of the shortages, they’ve been taking on things they don’t normally take on. So for example, in special education, there is a huge shortage and what we’re seeing is teachers being asked to deal with behavioral interventions that they’re just not equipped to do and that doesn’t set them up for success because they don’t feel like they are doing their job appropriately," Levitt explained. "But they’re not trained in that." 

"On top of that, there’s this growing mental health crisis that we are seeing, so there are more and more kids affected by it. So thinking about how do we take some of that stress away and properly provide the support that teachers need so that they can do their job?" Levitt said. 

That said, what can parents do to support their teachers? 

"While teacher outlook on life and job satisfaction is, in part, an influencer in student outcomes, it is not the only part," Levitt said. "So remembering that if there are student outcomes that are declining, the blame game doesn’t have to point to the teachers alone. We should all be thinking of it as, how can we parents and teachers and everyone ... all work together toward that common goal?"

Nadine Levitt has created a website with workshops and resources to support education staff. Click here to view it.

RELATED: Free Dunkin' coffee offered for teachers on Thursday

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