What Do We Really Know about the Teacher Shortage and What Can We Do?
By: Dr. Kay Shurtleff, Region 10 Research & Evaluation Analyst
Educator shortages are a topic of conversation and concern in schools and school districts across the country. We all know teachers who routinely cover other teachers’ classes, are overburdened with larger class sizes, and are unable to be away from the classroom for professional development or personal day. We know librarians, nurses, administrators, and others who are pulled away from their “day jobs” to fill in for absent teachers. We look around and see that the teacher shortage is real and is affecting all of us. But what do we really know from researchers studying the problem? Is it as bad as we think? We decided to dig into the research to find out just how extensive the shortage is, why there is a shortage, and how we might begin to address it. Here is what we learned.
Where are the shortages?
According to the U.S. Department of Education (USDE, n.d.), the most severe shortages in Texas for the 2021-2022 school year are in these areas:
- English as a Second Language (ESL) PreK-12
- Career and Technical Education (CTE) 7-12
- Special Education (SPED) PreK-12
- Mathematics 7-12
The USDE predicts those same shortages to exist next year (2022-2023), with additional shortages in Computer Science PreK-12, English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) PreK-12, and Science 7-12. These shortages appear across the entire country, and additional shortages exist outside of Texas in Fine Arts, Early Childhood, and World Language classrooms.
While there does not seem to be a particular demographic that is leaving their classrooms more than others, or a particular geographic area that is significantly harder hit (Harris, 2022; Rosenberg & Anderson, 2021), there are some takeaways we can consider from recent studies.
- First, turnover is greater in high schools than in middle schools and greater in middle schools than in elementary schools (American School District Panel, 2022).
- Schools in less affluent areas are experiencing bigger shortages than those in higher income areas (Garcia & Weiss, 2019d; Horn et al., 2021).
- Teacher turnover rates are increasing in all subject areas, but they are the worst among foreign language teachers (Horn et al., 2021).
- The two groups identified as the most likely to remain in their jobs are teachers who earned their credentials in a traditional university program (Guthery & Bailes, 2022; Horn et al., 2021) and those who teach at non-charter schools (Horn et al., 2021).
- Most significantly, early career teachers (those who have been teaching less than three years) are at the greatest risk of leaving their teaching jobs (Rosenberg & Anderson, 2021; Wiggan & Watson-Vandiver, 2020).
- Pandemic resignations differed by gender. This comes from one study involving six large urban school districts across the country (Rosenberg & Anderson, 2021). In the participating districts, during the 2019-2020 school year the rate of turnover for men decreased while the rate of turnover for women increased. In previous years, men resigned at a higher rate than women. It would be premature to generalize this phenomenon to the education sector, but it will be interesting to watch as more nationwide data becomes available
How many educators are leaving?
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) predicts that by 2024, the number of teachers available and applying for positions will be only one-third of the number of teachers needed to fill vacancies in classrooms (Harris, 2022). To compound the problem, fewer college students are choosing teaching as a career option. In 2019–just before the pandemic impacted education–the number of teacher certifications awarded nationwide was 20% lower than it had been just nine years earlier (Horn et al., 2021).
Our own Region 10 Teacher Job Network (TJN) data shows a 22% increase in the number of jobs posted this year, as compared to last year. We should point out that not all districts use this platform to advertise their vacancies, and some districts advertise only hard-to-fill positions on the TJN. Regardless, TJN postings provide another indicator of the trend in the educational job market. In many districts, job vacancies posted on TJN are exponentially higher than they were during this time period one year ago. For example, one district increased from eight job postings in March of 2021 to 110 postings in March 2022.
The grimmest data we found comes from the National Education Association (NEA) survey, which reported that 55% of teachers are planning to leave the profession earlier than expected (Walker, 2022). The Rand Corporation provides a more conservative, but still troubling, estimate of 25% (Steiner et al., 2022).
We looked specifically at teacher shortages, but clearly, there are shortages throughout the educational sector. One study (Schwartz & Diliberti, 2022) reported that the top four areas of need are substitute teachers, bus drivers, special education teachers, and paraprofessionals. The same study reported that 50% of the nation’s superintendents plan to leave their positions earlier than they had originally intended and within the next few years. Other shortage areas reported were administrators, curriculum specialists, and school psychologists (Harris, 2022).
Why are teachers leaving?
It is tempting to speculate that the Covid-19 pandemic is the cause of the teacher shortage, and certainly it has been a factor. However, the results of two major surveys (Schwartz & Diliberti, 2022; Walker, 2022) suggested that the pandemic magnified and accelerated an existing and ongoing problem.
Distilled into seven broad categories, here is what research is telling us about why teachers leave.
- Low pay and high stress were common reasons teachers are leaving the profession (see Diliberti et al., 2021; Garcia & Weiss, 2019a; Steiner & Woo, 2021).
- Stress is worse than low pay. As one study reported, 30% of teachers who left their professions before retirement age chose jobs outside of education with no health insurance or retirement benefits (Diliberti et al., 2022).
- Teachers are more stressed than adults in other professions. In one study, 78% of teachers reported elevated levels of work-related stress, as compared to only 40% of the general adult population (Steiner & Woo, 2021).
- A separate study showed that teachers’ personal purchasing power has declined over the past decade (Horn et al., 2021) regardless of their salary rate.
- Teachers need on-the-job support and professional development (Garcia & Weiss, 2019c; Garcia & Weiss, 2019d; Guthery & Bailes, 2022; Walker, 2022).
- Concerns over Covid-19 caused teachers to leave because they felt underprepared and overworked. (Garcia & Weiss, 2019c; Garcia & Weiss, 2019d; Guthery & Bailes, 2022; Walker, 2022).
- Another major reason for teacher attrition was a general lack of respect for teaching as a profession (Coffey et al., 2019; Garcia & Weiss, 2109a; Garcia & Weiss, 2019e; Lachlan et al., 2020; Rosenberg & Anderson, 2021; Steiner & Woo, 2021). Teachers expressed feeling unappreciated, misunderstood, and neglected.
What can we do?
Despite the gloomy findings in recent research, there are inventive steps we can take to try and mitigate our current circumstances. In the short term, we can pay attention to teachers currently in the classroom. We are at the end of what is arguably the two most difficult school years teachers have experienced. We need to recognize and applaud their extraordinary efforts and encourage them to keep going. Beyond that, we can provide job embedded support in the form of time and resources for networking, planning, collaborating, and learning (Garcia & Weiss, 2019c; Guthery & Bailes, 2022).
In the long term, we can find inventive, creative ways to attract people to the education profession. One such model targets high school students and offers them dual credit in education-related courses with the long-term goal of supporting their transition to a partner university’s college of education where they earn teaching credentials in a traditional way (Coffey et al., 2019; Lachlan et al., 2020). Other approaches, including our Region 10 teacher pipeline project, involve the alternative certification pathway to attract teachers (Garcia & Weiss, 2019d; Guthery & Bailes, 2022).
The Region 10 Teacher Pipeline Program: Answering the Call for More Teachers
In early October 2021, Dr. Bud Nauyokas, the Director of the alternative certification program for teachers, and Dr. Gordon Taylor, Region 10 Executive Director, met with Dr. Laura Isbell, Abbie Harper, and Rene Martinez from Texas A&M University – Commerce (TAMUC) to discuss ways to encourage more Hispanic students to attend college. When they scheduled that meeting, they had little idea they were about to launch a program to address the shortage of teachers in Texas! Their discussion led them to the need for speed and affordability in a college degree program, particularly for first-generation college students. As their conversation progressed, they recognized the potential for a partnership that could not only encourage Hispanic and other minority students to attend college, but also redefine the path of teacher certification for all students in this area. Dr. Nauyokas was excited to take on the project because, as he put it, “TAMUC was looking at education in a different way. They were willing to let go of the traditional four-year model.”
Here is how it works.
A high school graduate enrolls in the online Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) program at TAMU-C. This degree can be completed in two years for under $10,000–less if the student brings dual credit or AP test credit with them from high school. Classes cost $750 per term, and there are twelve terms, each lasting seven weeks. Students take courses in core content areas, as well as courses in leadership, data-based decision making, and organizational structure and change. As Dr. Nauyokas points out, “These are all skills needed in teaching, and sometimes traditional education programs don’t include all of those.”
Throughout their university coursework, students work with a TAMUC academic advisor who works in tandem with Region 10 staff to prepare them for working in a school. Once the 2-year BAAS is completed, students enroll in the Region 10 alternative certification program, which costs around $5,500, where they will complete the required three hundred hours of coursework and then be eligible to be hired in a school. At that point, the student is on a paid contract with the district as the teacher of record but is still completing a practicum. Students have the huge benefit of a year-long mentor/field advisor, to help them navigate the first year of teaching, provide feedback on their teaching, and give them support that early career teachers need but are not always provided. The first students to participate in this program began classes in January 2022. (See the program web page here: Teacher Pipeline – Region 10 Website )
Districts are excited about the possibilities and have already begun to explore ways they can help. One district is offering their graduating seniors accepted into the program positions as teacher aides or bus drivers. Those students will be able to earn income and enroll in the Teacher Retirement System while they are completing their BAAS coursework. This gives them the chance to learn practical things such as the district protocols, systems, and the day-to-day operations of a school. Once they obtain their BAAS degree and complete the Region 10 alternative certification courses, the students will be hired as teachers in the district and complete their practicums. After that, they will be fully credentialed educators.
Another district is exploring subsidizing the cost of a student’s BAAS degree, provided the student will sign a 3-year contract to teach in the district upon completion of the program. Other districts are using the program as a path for their current paraprofessionals, many of whom already have some transferable college hours, to become certified teachers.
The teacher shortage is a well-documented concern that calls for innovative, research-backed solutions. We believe that the Teacher Pipeline Program answers that call by combining the benefits of a traditional Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited university with the hands-on, expedited pathway to alternative certification for teachers. We are excited to see where this venture takes us!
What is most clear is that swift intervention is critical. Education affects every sector of society, and so it will take an integrated effort on the part of multiple institutions and stakeholders to solve our shortage of teachers (Garcia & Weiss, 2020; Lachlan et al., 2020).
Coffey, H., Putman, S. M., Handler, L. K., & Leach, W. (2019). Growing them early: Recruiting and preparing future urban teachers through an early college collaboration between a college of education and an urban school district. Teacher Education Quarterly, 46(1), 35-54.
Diliberti, M. K., Schwartz, H. L., & Grant, D. (2021). Stress topped the reasons why public school teachers quit, even before covid-19. Www.rand.org. https://doi.org/10.7249/rra1121-2
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