BALTIMORE, Md. — Most teachers will tell you the best part of their workday comes from their students.
"They're so funny, so smart. They can do so much more than I think people give children credit for being able to do and think about,” said Carissa Ruffin, a first-time teacher.
Ruffin teaches third-grade math in one of Baltimore's public schools.
"I believe that everyone deserves a high-quality education," she said. "I knew that I wanted to be part of that change to help make sure that all students are getting the future that they deserve and that they are able to achieve."
In schools around the country, though, there is a problem—there are not enough teachers and staff. The nation is seeing an education exodus, exacerbated by the pandemic.
Several states are taking steps to deal with the issue. In Florida, the state’s Department of Education is issuing "temporary teaching certificates" to veterans with no teaching experience and no college degree. In Arizona, they changed state law to remove the requirement that teachers have a bachelor's degree. Meanwhile, in Texas, some districts are moving to four-day school days to deal with the teacher shortage.
Though brand new to the profession, Ruffin understands what may trigger some teachers to leave.
"It's easy to see why teachers might quit. There's a lot of things up against you,” she said. “Like the standards; there's testing. There's not always pay. There's not always resources. There's not always staff to help support you in the building."
"It's a compounding of challenges, I think,” said Francesca Gamber, with Urban Teachers in Baltimore and a former school principal.
Urban Teachers is a nonprofit program that works with new teachers in school districts in a number of cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Dallas.
"Many of them are recent college graduates. We have some career changers,” Gamber said. “They are folks who are who are passionate about working with young people and about supporting our public education system."
The four-year program guides new teachers through those crucial early years in the classroom with a lot of support, including one-on-one mentoring and training.
"What we really strive to do is wrap our teachers in a community of support," Gamber said. “They spend the first year as a resident teacher with a host teacher. So, they really get a year to get the experience and take on increasing degrees of independence in the classroom."
Carissa Ruffin is one of 30 teachers in Baltimore with Urban Teachers. She is paired up in a classroom with an experienced educator. She said it's invaluable support new teachers everywhere could use in their districts.
"I think the first thing that people can do at all levels is just to believe in the teachers," she said, adding, "I think it's very important that parents are involved in the classroom."
Educators believe it helps when people think back on their own time in school.
"Hopefully, all of us can remember at least one teacher we've had in our lives who was really there for us, who really said that thing that made a difference to us and maybe set us on a path for the rest of our lives," Gamber said.
As she looks to the future, Ruffin hopes to be that teacher for her students, saying, "I see myself teaching forever!"