CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania is facing a teacher shortage, and now it is a crisis — something the governor, state lawmakers, and the teachers union can agree on. But why are teachers leaving and can this trend be reversed?

“I thought this would be my career from pretty much the moment I stepped foot in college,” Jake Miller, a former social studies teacher, said.

Jake said for him, teaching was a calling.

“I feel like my teacher saved my life,” he said. “So I wanted to be that type of person for kids as well.”

He spent 15 years as a teacher, 13 in the Cumberland Valley School District, teaching mostly social studies.

“Teaching here was truly the most remarkable experience in my life,” Jake said.

However, when COVID hit, he said things started to change.

“I loved it and then COVID came and just upended that year,” he said.

Jake said teaching online stopped him from making personal connections with students.

“I spent a lot of time putting my knee down next to someone’s desk, just talking to them about, of course, the schoolwork, but more than that, what’s going on in their life?” he said. “I lost that and it really hurt.”

That was the first time he considered leaving the field, but in 2021, he gave it one more try, hoping things would get better as schools returned in person. They did not.

“It was worse than teaching online. People just forgot how to operate with dignity,” Jake said.

Jake said the final push for him was the growing political battles in schools over issues like teaching about gender identity and sexuality or critical race theory.

“I was teaching about the Civil War, which was fought over slavery, and Reconstruction, where newly freed African Americans are trying to find their place in the sun as citizens of the United States, and in doing so, I was accused of teaching critical race theory,” he said. “This really foaming-at-the-mouth group of people who go to school board meetings was just a straw too much.”

Jake left the classroom in March 2022.

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“I still gave it my all, but I didn’t think it was enough and I felt like the magic that I had had almost dried up,” he said.

However, his impact has continued.

“It was teachers like Mr. Miller and Mrs. McVitty that really influenced me and made me want to join the same profession,” Shippensburg University student Abbie Miller said.

Abbie — no relation to Jake — spent her childhood in Cumberland Valley schools with teachers like Jake.

“Mr. Miller always was doing something unique to keep his students engaged,” she said. “He wanted us to have fun and really enjoy learning.”

Now, Abbie is a sophomore at Shippensburg, studying to be a teacher.

“I want to be a teacher to teach kids to be kind people,” she said.

She does know teachers are facing a lot, and she has some concerns.

“Teachers are being spread too thin and asked to do too much,” she said.

However, it has not changed her mind, and Abbie said being around her classmates also gives her confidence.

“It brings me joy seeing in the classroom that my classmates care about these kids as much as I do,” she said. “It just seems like something I could see myself enjoying every day and continuing to enjoy and not getting tired of.”

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Abbie said she also would love to return to Cumberland Valley — this time, on the other side of the classroom.

“I just have so much love for where I’m from and the people that supported me throughout my educational career, I just would love to give back to that same community,” she said.

Even with people like Abbie and her classmates, the number of people getting into teaching has sharply declined and teachers continue to leave. Jake said he frequently hears from teachers asking about leaving and his experience.

“When they see people like me, they kind of get a little encouraged that there can be more outside the classroom where they do make more money, and they have more control over their lives and a bit more flexibility and don’t feel like their job owns them,” he said. “If we don’t support them, I really fear for the future.”

Jake said teachers need the respect they deserve to keep good teachers in schools. He hopes more people outside the classroom see teaching the way Abbie does.

“If you can do, teach because you are teaching the future to do,” he said.