Over the past few years, the education industry has seen a major shift in the availability and retention of qualified K-12 teachers. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, low salaries, and declining working conditions, more and more teachers are deciding to leave the profession and the demand for educators is on the rise. The current teacher shortage has a significant impact on the quality of education that students receive, especially in low-income schools where teacher retention rates are often much lower (Podolsky et al., 2016).
These present-day hurdles that school districts face could lead educational leaders wondering where to go next. Furthermore, how can higher education leaders play a role in addressing the teacher shortage? As encouraging more students to pursue education-related majors goes hand in hand with recruiting more qualified teachers, it’s critical for both K-12 and higher education stakeholders to work together.
In order to solve a problem, it’s important to understand it. By evaluating and gaining deeper insights into the challenges that teachers face today and what motivates students to pursue careers in education, school leaders can identify pain points and develop strategies to address them.
Here are four key ways that educational leaders can attract more qualified individuals into the teaching profession:
Increase Starting Salaries for New Teachers
Raising salaries is perhaps one of the most effective ways to get more people interested in teaching. On average, even after accounting for the shorter work year and benefits, teachers make 11% less than those working in other fields with the same level of education (Podolsky et al., 2016). According to a study conducted by Croft et al. (2018), 63% of high school students who stated that they were not interested in becoming teachers cited low salaries as one of the primary reasons. Additionally, 72% of students who were potentially interested in teaching expressed that higher salaries would further increase their interest. Starting salaries would need to be between $50,000 and $90,000, depending on local standards and costs of living, to have an impact on student interest.
Remove Barriers to Entry
The process of becoming a teacher and earning the required credentials can come with a high price tag and often means taking on debt. This factor, coupled with low salaries, can cause students to decide that becoming a teacher requires too much of a financial burden. When educational leaders take steps to help teachers acquire credentials without going into debt, it not only increases the availability of qualified teachers in the market but can also expand diversity by making the profession more accessible for individuals from diverse backgrounds.
To achieve this, colleges and universities can partner with school districts to provide financial aid, scholarships, and forgivable loans for aspiring teachers. For these programs to be successful, research has shown that they should cover all, or at least most, of the cost of tuition. Some existing programs, such as loan forgiveness programs for teaching in low-income schools, could also be expanded to address the current shortage (Podolsky et al., 2016).
Expand On-the-Job and Pre-Training Opportunities
Exposing high school students to teaching early on could help them decide whether or not they’re interested in the profession. High school career pathways and “Grow Your Own” teacher programs can allow schools to provide early education and training to those interested in pursuing teaching careers and boost recruitment from local sources. Teacher residencies and paid apprenticeships are another great option when it comes to providing potential future teachers with hands-on experience and mentorship from seasoned teachers. Developing these programs presents a potential opportunity for school districts to partner with institutions of higher education to pool resources and funding (Croft et al., 2018; Podolsky et al., 2016).
Offer More Opportunities for Career Advancement
One factor that could be affecting interest in the teaching profession is the perceived lack of opportunities for career advancement. Internationally, some schools are combatting this by implementing new career pathways for teachers that provide options for both horizontal and vertical mobility. In Singapore, for example, teachers can choose between three different professional pathways that provide them with more freedom and control over their career (IIEP, 2020).
A study conducted by IIEP (2020) on these pathway programs found that teachers responded positively to having more room for advancement and felt an increased feeling of autonomy related to their career. By creating these opportunities for teacher advancement, schools can give teachers more flexibility to pursue their interests while increasing the appeal of teaching as a long-term career choice.
The ongoing shortage of qualified teachers can have a significant impact on student education. However, by leveraging an innovative mindset and new strategies, K-12 and higher education leaders can work together to attract more individuals into the profession. Focusing on fair salaries, better working conditions, and more opportunities for advancement will play a key role in developing the next wave of highly qualified, student-focused educators that yield positive impacts across student learning, success, and engagement.
Croft, M., Guffy, G., & Vitale, D. (2018). Encouraging More High School Students to Consider Teaching. ACT Research & Policy. https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/pdfs/Encouraging-More-HS-Students-to-Consider-Teaching.pdf
International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP). (2020). 3 ways to attract future teachers. UNESCO. https://www.iiep.unesco.org/en/3-ways-attract-future-teachers-13489
Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Solving the Teacher Shortage: How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators. Learning Policy Institute. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/solving-teacher-shortage-brief