Effective solutions for school staffing shortages
Across the country, we’ve seen no lack of creative solutions for school staffing shortages. But what does it take to turn the tide for the foreseeable future?
Currently, seemingly unorthodox stopgap solutions created by quick-thinking district administrators and government leaders are keeping schools running. For example, in some states, the National Guard was activated to fill in for roles ranging from bus driver to substitute teacher. In Utah, the governor even gave state workers time off to work in schools.
Although staffing shortages have impacted several aspects of school operations, teacher shortfalls represent a particularly acute challenge in many areas. Nationwide, principals and superintendents served as subs to keep classrooms open.
Sometimes, you have to move fast to respond to a sudden shift in need—but the bigger conversation centers on sustainable solutions for school staffing shortages. We’ll explore the root causes of this problem and highlight what district leaders are doing today to solve it.
Why is there a teacher shortage?
The teacher shortage is a problem of both recruitment and retention. The National Education Association (NEA) described how, on the one hand, large numbers of teachers are considering a career exit. Simultaneously, fewer college students are studying education.
According to the NEA, preexisting teacher shortages have worsened during the pandemic, further squeezing the educators who remain as they step up to fill in the gaps. These stalwarts are looking for additional support. At the same time, some students in higher education are weighing their college debt against the pay rates for new teachers—along with the need to take on unpaid teaching work during their already costly degree tracks—and deciding to go a different route.
There are also indications that staffing shortages could expand into previously stable areas, as American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education researcher Jacqueline King told the Associated Press in an article about teacher shortages and solutions.
“What we seem to be seeing now is more widespread shortages in areas like elementary education and secondary English,” said King.
Why is the teacher shortage a problem?
Teacher shortages can make it difficult for schools to fully serve their students in the near term, shifting the burden to remaining staff members. Over time, it’s easy to see how this problem could perpetuate itself—with overextended teachers leaving the profession early.
In addition to affecting student achievement, there’s a real financial burden. As of 2017, the Learning Policy Institute estimated that the cost of teacher turnover was substantial, with urban school districts shelling out approximately $20,000 for each new staff member brought on. The institute also notes that these big investments fail to pay off when teachers leave within just one or two years of signing on.
The teacher shortage could also further hamstring initiatives to diversify school faculties. As such, it’s essential that efforts to recruit and retain teachers amid the shortage are designed in an inclusive manner.
Large-scale programs to address teacher staffing shortages
The good news is that school districts, state agencies, and the federal Department of Education are taking strides to help support robust talent pipelines that nurture the growth of tomorrow’s educators. Two prominent types of initiatives that are gaining steam and generating interest are “Grow Your Own” programs and teacher residencies.
Grow Your Own programs
Grow Your Own refers to the process of establishing local partnerships that bring together K-12 schools, higher education institutions, and other groups in the community to help build pathways into the teaching profession, often beginning in high school.
The idea is that districts are able to pull from the local community to develop robust talent pipelines. This process also helps ensure the school’s faculty is more reflective of the student body. Programs can be tailored to address specific subjects or grade levels where there are projected local shortages, filling the gaps with a dedicated group of qualified, licensed teachers.
In addition to providing interested future educators with a clear career pathway, Grow Your Own programs may also offer various forms of financial support, helping rebalance the cost-benefit analysis for prospective teachers.
While discussing the problem of teacher shortages at a conference in San Diego, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona emphasized the benefits of teacher residencies and noted that federal relief dollars could be used toward teacher shortage solutions.
Similar to Grow Your Own programs, teacher residencies rely on collaboration between higher education and K-12 districts to give future educators the chance to work in schools. These teachers-in-training gain experience while providing a vital service for the school—and receiving a paycheck. This detail is critical, as Cardona underscored the importance of ensuring financial mechanisms are in place to encourage skilled professionals to enter the field and remain there.
Recruiting talented teachers
What do these teacher recruitment initiatives look like in action? Here are a few concrete examples of proactive recruitment efforts on the ground.
The Empire State grows their own
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) announced that local unions, along with college and university organizations in the state, would receive money through a National Education Association grant to implement and expand Grow Your Own programs. Many projects that received grants are associated with NYSUT’s Take a Look at Teaching initiative.
Teacher apprentices shine in the Lone Star State
Teacher residency apprenticeships are about to open up in Texas via Dallas College. The apprenticeship model is intended to help schools fill immediate staffing shortages while giving education students practical professional experience as they complete their studies, setting the stage for a strong talent pipeline in the future.
Ways to support teacher retention
Since the teacher shortage issue stems from shortfalls in both recruitment and retention, solutions can’t end with getting teachers into the classroom and hoping they stay put. Retention strategies are also vital. Schools have to provide teachers with the ability to thrive in their careers, giving them a reason to continue helping students reach their full potential.
Mentorship perks set the stage for long-term success
Mentorship programs, when executed well, can help teachers stay in the profession longer, boosting retention efforts. Effective school mentorship programs can also serve as a useful recruitment tool for new teachers. If candidates have the choice between two districts—one that will support their professional development in concrete ways, or one in which they may feel like they’re left to figure things out on their own—the choice is obvious.
Providing growth opportunities for those in the classroom
As the California Department of Education noted when describing teacher retention strategies, sometimes it can feel like the only way for an experienced educator to progress further in their career is by pursuing an administrative role. What about all the dedicated teachers who want to stay where they are, but who also want to take the next step in their professional journeys?
Providing avenues for teachers to become leaders within the school can be an effective tool for keeping educators engaged. This could take the form of a mentorship program. It might also mean offering teachers the chance to take on additional instructional coaching or professional development leadership opportunities.
Focus on teacher well-being
Finding ways to alleviate the stress and strain of teaching, so that committed educators are able to be fully present at work, can go a long way toward retention. To help bolster teacher well-being, focus on providing compassionate support for educators’ job satisfaction, resilience, peer relationships, emotional wellness, and physical health.
Find thoughtful ways to lighten educators’ workloads
Teachers are looking for room to grow, but that doesn’t mean extra responsibilities should be weighing them down. With care and attention, district leaders can work closely with educators to discover the additional roles they’ve taken on, collaborating on opportunities to scale back the seemingly endless list of tasks that can quickly overrun a teacher’s day.
Academic supports like Paper, which can provide unlimited, online 1:1 tutoring for every student in a district, can shoulder some of the burden. For example, when Paper launched in the Mohawk Area School District, a high school biology teacher was initially skeptical. Once his students started receiving inquiry-based support from skilled tutors, however, the educator was won over.
“I have found in the few short days that I’ve deployed the Paper app that the stress of my workload has dropped substantially,” said the teacher.
Solving teacher staffing shortages: In it for the long haul
Although creative short-term solutions to the staffing shortage are getting schools across the finish line today, it’s clear that more sustainable answers have to take hold. We can’t always call up the National Guard or count on state workers to take some extra time off.
As states and districts focus on forging local pathways that help encourage future educators to enter the field, retention efforts will play an equally important role in keeping these teachers committed to the profession.
Solving the teacher shortage is a complex process. Check out our free ebook to find out why 24/7 tutors should be part of your strategy to empower teachers.