The Race to Fill Classrooms: Teacher Shortages Across the Nation

In Spring 2020, teachers packed up their classrooms without a clue about when they would return. Some returned many months later to in-person lessons. For others, they closed up their classrooms and, shortly thereafter, said goodbye to the teaching profession.

The onset of the pandemic forced many teachers around the world to do their job with unfamiliar tools, at a time of immense professional and personal challenge, and very few boundaries between their work and home life. Despite the difficulties, classrooms were up and running within days- if not the very next– thanks to their tenacity and dedication. Some of the pressing issues teachers faced were social-emotional in nature, such as student engagement, participation and attendance, and connecting with students. These difficulties can be cited as just some of the barriers that contributed to the spike in teacher attrition rates seen since the start of the pandemic.

There are an estimated 36,500 unfilled teaching positions nationwide currently with a combination of factors fueling the shortage. According to a survey conducted by McGraw Hill, 76% of teachers reported that COVID-19 related staffing shortages have been common. Compounded with issues of burnout– which 90% of teachers consider to be very serious because of the pandemic– and additional workload-related challenges (i.e. teachers wearing more hats than they can keep on) due to COVID related shortages, this has escalated to  more than half of teachers considering leaving the profession sooner than anticipated.

Responses to the Shortage

At the federal level, the White House announced new actions to address the teacher shortage (this fact sheet details public and private actions). On top of the changes already made to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) – which ensures educators can access loan forgiveness they are eligible for – they encourage states to use federal relief funds to competitively boost teacher salaries, and,through the Department of Labor, have committed to prioritizing the education sector in the next round of apprenticeship grant funding. On the private sector front, talent and job platforms – Ziprecruiter, Handshake and Indeed – announced they would offer support through creating an online job portal for educator specific jobs, helping college students gain access to the benefits of teaching, and facilitating virtual hiring fairs nationwide (respectively). In addition, national teacher unions and state organizations have partnered to offer expanded pathways to enter the field and professional growth. The public-private actions support the President’s call to address school teacher and staffing shortages.

The U.S. Department of Education has made a push to help combat the shortage by encouraging states to use federal relief funds to fill in gaps caused by shortages. The Department released a fact sheet that outlines a call to action to partner with states to support the recruitment and the retention of teachers. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called on states to invest in measures that increase the number of teachers in the pipeline including establishing apprenticeship programs, creating evidence-based residency programs and competitive pay and loan forgiveness measures. Examples of how to answer this call to action are outlined by the Learning Policy Institute, a think tank focused on improving education related policies. They illuminate the flexibility states have with federal dollars and provide specific areas states can use funds to bolster strategically.

Aside from leveraging this funding, states have varied in their response – through mostly short-term solutions – to the shortage. An increasing number of districts in Missouri and Texas have switched to four day school weeks. Other measures include widening the pool of applicants that are eligible to teach in classrooms; Arizona is allowing prospective teachers to simultaneously begin training while still completing their bachelor degree,and most notably, Florida is allowing military veterans who meet a minimum criteria (set by the state) to earn five year teaching certificates. Pennsylvania has launched a comprehensive Foundation of Our Economy Strategy program to ensure there are enough educators to meet the projected demand by 2025 via expanding access to high-quality teacher preparation and professional development opportunities. New York has adjusted certification requirements to allow teachers to finish training with 50 hours of in class teaching instead of 100, and the District of Columbia, along with districts in Connecticut and North Carolina are offering signing and retention bonuses to attract teachers to their schools that need them most. States are heavily leaning on emergency stop gap measures as they quickly try to staff as many open positions as they can.

The ed tech industry is leaning in to support teachers and students as well. D2L, which offers a learning management system for K-12 school districts, released a blog on how to help support K-12 teachers. They emphasize the need to support teacher’s individual strengths and the importance of a collaborative approach to prevent overwhelming individual teachers. edWeb, a community of over 1 million educators ranging from pre-K to post-secondary who engage in professional learning, launched Jobs4Ed where employers can freely share opportunities and recruit talent from their worldwide community. The Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, released a policy agenda which outlines a detailed multipronged approach to bolster teacher recruitment from the ground up including adding competitive benefits for teacher pay and retirement.

As the 2022-2023 school year gets underway teacher shortages will likely remain a top concern for districts and parents – with 76% of parents concerned about the shortage above all else according to a survey commissioned by Lexia Learning,Cambium Learning Group company. Increased efforts to attract and retain teachers will continue with states using everything at their disposal to fill much needed positions across the country. With the projected shortage of teachers to reach 300,000 by 2025, a joint effort –  across the learning ecosystem– will be needed in facing what is yet to come.

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