There are reports that U.S. schools are dealing with yet another teacher shortage. It seems that many districts are facing the challenges of trying to fill classrooms with qualified teachers—with no easy fix in the horizon.
This is a significant shift from when teachers were being laid off 10 years ago, including the years after the recession. Teachers were being released from their teaching assignments due to reduction of force notices or pink slips. As a result, districts were forced to reduce new teacher hires, as well as educational support staff which resulted in higher class sizes (Huser, et. al., 2014).
As the economy has improved and educational funding has increased, teachers are now in serious demand. In the fall of 2015, thousands of teachers were hired to fill the need without necessarily being highly qualified. Many were educating students on emergency or temporary credentials.
In cases where schools could not fill vacant positions, they were forced to eliminate classes with with smaller class sizes, which resulted in increased student-to-teacher ratios. Short-term substitutes were called on to assume more full-time teaching positions. This issue is becoming problematic as districts and schools are continuing to focus on improvement without a stable group of teachers to lead the work necessary moving forward.
Why is There a Teacher Shortage?
In the case of Arizona, districts are experiencing a teacher shortage problem at a disproportionate rate, higher than that of any other state in the union. As a point of reference, during the first 90 days of school of the 2013-14 school year, 62% of districts had teacher vacancies (Arizona Dept. of Education, 2015).
To compound the issue, nearly 1,000 teachers were on substitute or emergency credentials. As a result, Arizona also has one of the highest teacher retention problems in the United States (Arizona Dept. of Education, 2015).
This retention issue should not be overlooked. It imposes a large burden on schools and students. If a teacher leaves, it’s clear that student success is negatively affected (Ronfeldt, et.al, 2013). If schools are struggling to hire teachers, a negative cycle occurs and is difficult to get out of. Most often, schools end up filling teaching positions with novice teachers who are typically prone to leaving the teaching profession at higher levels than more seasoned veterans.
The following are some of the main factors tied to teacher dissatisfaction, and ultimately, resignation:
Lack of Quality Preparation — Research suggests that teacher retention is associated with quality teacher preparation (Marinell, et. al., 2013). Teachers that receive a quality preparation program are 2 to 3 times more likely to remain in the profession as opposed to teachers that do not (Ingersoll, 2014). If teachers aren’t prepared to face the challenges of the diverse learning needs of students, they will become disenfranchised and seek options outside of the teaching profession.
Not Enough Pay — Individuals who choose to go into the teaching profession do so when they are paid competitively (Beteille, T., & Loeb, S., 2009). However, there is evidence that teacher pay is not competitive for those who remain in education long-term; in fact, it does not increase at the same rate as other professions.
In a study done by Boser and Straus (2014), it was discovered that there are states where 10-year veteran teachers are being paid lower than untrained or unskilled workers. Compounding the problem, teachers in 30 states that are heads of their family with four or more family members qualify for public assistance such as free or reduced lunch (Marinel, 2013). In the case of Arizona, teachers at the elementary and secondary level are paid amongst the lowest compared to other states when adjusted for the cost of living.
Poor Work Conditions — Teacher perceptions related to working conditions are integral to teacher retention, which can influence their decision to stay or exit the profession. Marinel found that positive working conditions related to teacher retention is positively impacted by the school’s administrative team and their overall support to educating students, while also heavily influenced by the quality of interactions with other teachers and having their voice being heard in important decisions as it pertains to the school.
Lack of Mentorship — Teachers who are thriving usually do not confine their success in the isolation of the classroom—they tend to work in meaningful teacher teams and collaborate about best practices. In a study conducted by Ingersoll and Strong, it was found that pairing novice teachers to veteran teachers in a mentorship relationship improved teacher retention.
But it’s not just any sort of “mentorship”; research does caution schools to ensure that the mentorship is purposeful and intentional. This means the mentorship should be based on teachers who teach the same subject, content area, or grade. Wang found that if mentorship is to accomplish its intended outcome, ongoing support is key. For example, if a mentor teacher is given a release period to coach a novice teacher, there are increases in both the novice pedagogical practice and ability to solve problems (Wang, et. al., 2008).
Four Ideas to Take to Your District
There has been plenty of research to increase teacher recruitment and retention, but most recommendations are costly and unattainable in the short term. These types of recommendations include teacher pay increases, longevity bonuses, affordability stipends, housing support, child care or retirement benefits.
However, such resources are not always available to states or districts. So, what alternatives do districts and schools have to attract the best teachers and keep them in the profession without these additional resources or budgets? Here are some possible options.
1. Create clear pathways for teacher recruitment.
There is an emerging practice where states and local districts are developing local teacher preparation programs. The goal of such programs is to recruit and support current high school students and other community members into the field of education. This process establishes a teacher residency type of program, whereby allowing districts to intentionally place candidates into the candidate pool and fill the teaching shortage.
2. Improve opportunities for mentoring, induction, working conditions, and career development.
As stated previously, a teacher who receives mentoring, collaboration, and is part of a strong teacher team is more likely to stick around (Kini & Podolsky, 2016). In fact, first-year turnover is cut by more than half. School working conditions—including access to resources, administrative support, collegial opportunities, teacher input in decision-making, and pressure related to accountability measures—strongly influence teachers’ choices to continue teaching in their schools (Marinel, 2013). It’s important to set the tone from top-down by creating a vision in which teachers feel encouraged to take ownership of their careers.
3. Create productive and positive school environments.
Teachers—in conjunction with administrators—should develop a schedule that promotes collaboration, allows time to discuss best practices and learn from strategic professional development, and focuses on student need. This, in effect, will strengthen professional ties to other colleagues and nurture a culture of support for both students and teachers.
4. Strengthen leadership training programs.
Federal and state agencies offer technical assistance for creating and expanding high-quality leadership training programs. These programs are effective for emphasizing leadership skills to ensure teachers have a healthy environment to thrive while students are reaching their maximum potential. Check the programs available in your area to see if they could be applied to your district.
Beteille, T., & Loeb, S. (2009). Teacher quality and teacher labor market. In B. S. & D. N. P. (Eds. . In G. Sykes (Ed.), Teacher Quality and Teacher Labor Markets (pp. 596–612). Handbook of Education Policy Research.
Boser, U., & Straus, C. (2014). Mid- and late-career teachers struggle with paltry incomes. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.
Educator Recruitment & Retention Task Force. (2015). Educator retention and recruitment report. Phoenix, AZ: Arizona Department of Education.
Gray, L., Taie, S., & O’Rear, I. (2015). Public school teacher attrition and mobility in the first five years. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015337.pdf.
Hussar, W. J., & Bailey, T. M. (2014). Projections of education Statistics to 2022. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. https:// nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014051.pdf.
Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 499–534.; Loeb, S., Darling-Hammond, L., & Luczak, J. (2005). How Teaching Conditions Predict Teacher Turnover. Peabody Journal of Education, 80(3), 44–70.
Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201–233; Headden, S. (2014). Beginners in the classroom. Stanford, CA: Carnegie
Ingersoll, R., Merrill, L., & May, H. (2014); . What Are the Effects of Teacher Education Preparation on Beginning Teacher Attrition? Consortium for Policy Research in Education (Vol. RR-82). Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania.
Kini, T., & Podolsky, A. (2016). Does teaching experience increase teacher effectiveness? Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute
Marinell, W. H., Coca, V. M., Arum, R., Goldstein, J., Kemple, J., Pallas, A., Bristol, T., Buckley, C., Scallon, A., & Tanner, B. (2013). Who stays and who leaves? Findings from a three-part study of teacher turnover in NYC middle schools. New York, NY: Research Alliance for New York Schools.
Ronfeldt, M., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2013). How teacher turnover harms student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 50(1), 4–36.
Sutcher, Leib, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Desiree Carver-Thomas. “A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the US.” Washington, DC: Learning Policy Institute. Available at: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/A_Coming_Crisis_in_Teaching_REPORT. pdf (2016).
Wang, J., Odell, S. J., & Schwille, S. A. (2008). Effects of teacher induction on beginning teachers’ teaching: A critical review of the literature. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(2), 132–152.
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