Throughout the past decade the growing teacher shortage has become a persistent problem across the country. Now, as we continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this issue has only worsened. Many educators are leaving the academic workforce in hopes of better mental and financial stability. What does this shortage say about America’s demanding work culture? Should there be institutional or governmental changes to further accommodate teachers during this time?

The teacher shortage is one aspect of a general shortage of workers in the aftermath of COVID-19. The pandemic forced many people either out of the workforce or compelled them to work from home; many have now decided that there is more to life than underpaid and often risky drudgery. There are now about 10 million job vacancies.

Teaching is a special case of this general trend. Because of the perverse way that schools are financed, teachers with the hardest-to-teach kids often have the most arduous working conditions. Teachers in well-funded suburban schools, with motivated kids and AP courses, get to enjoy good salaries, small classes and appreciative kids. They are not the ones who are quitting. In high poverty areas, the salaries tend to be lower, the classes larger and the students more challenging to teach. That drives teachers out of the classrooms where they are most urgently needed. The system is backwards. The teachers with the most challenging students should have smaller classes, extra resources, better pay — and society’s thanks.

Robert Kuttner is a Meyer and Ida Kirstein professor of Social Planning and Administration at the Heller School.