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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Absent teachers: Why learning is still disrupted

School leaders say their schools are short-staffed, but they're employing "more teachers than they did before the pandemic, while serving fewer students." Bilingual, special education, and STEM teachers may be hard to find, but there is no widespread teacher shortage.

Even before the pandemic, nearly a third of teachers missed more than 10 days of work, considered "chronically absent," and one in four students attended a school where more than 40 percent of teachers were chronic absentees, reports TNTP. "Lower-achieving schools and schools with lower achievement growth tended to have more disrupted classrooms."

Teacher absenteeism rose from 2019 to 2022 in two large districts TNTP analyzed. In one, chronic absenteeism was up by more than half, affecting more than one in four teachers.

Teachers should be able to miss work when they are sick or require a personal day, the report emphasizes. But students suffer when teaching is inconsistent. (Student absenteeism has soared post-pandemic.)

The one-teacher, one-classroom model is obsolete, TNTP suggests.

Teacher absences are so disruptive because . . . one teacher is responsible for everything — from planning to instructional delivery to grading to following up with students when they are behind. Expanding the teacher role to a team of adults with shared responsibility for the learning in a particular grade level or subject area would help make one educator’s absence far less disruptive.

For example, TNTP envisions "one skilled secondary math teacher may take the lead on designing instructional materials, while a small team of novice or student teachers delivers lessons."

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