What could be worse than a classroom of students, eager to learn, with no one to teach them?
The ongoing teacher shortage in the U.S. has had a dramatic impact on students. At the beginning of this school year, some Philadelphia students lacked teachers for 50% of classes. The multi-faceted problem has proved challenging to solve.
It's clear that high teacher turnover has a negative impact on student learning. There's also a problem with declining enrollment in teacher prep and training programs. Additionally, a lack of alignment with school leadership, poor pay, and general workplace conditions can prohibit educators from staying in jobs for long stretches of time.
"Yet those things are not accounted for in the recruitment or interview process," said Alicia Herald, the CEO of myEDmatch, which recently merged with Teachers-Teachers.com.
Using tech to mitigate the problem
Herald founded myEDmatch in 2012 after teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District and working as an executive director for Teach for America in Kansas City, MO. To her, it seemed clear that most teachers left jobs because of a poor fit and recruitment strategies in the education system. She decided to create the tech-based job matching platform as a solution to connecting schools and teachers, based on shared educational beliefs and goals.
Teachers-Teachers.com launched in 1999 and is aimed at helping educators find teaching and administrative jobs. It has around one million registered users, a number that tripled in 2015.
"Given the market of national headlines around teacher shortages and the data on teacher turnover, we believe we are bringing unprecedented matching technology to the recruitment process," Herald said. "By helping teachers and schools more easily find their fit across the country, we believe we can help change the game of recruitment."
Though listings and resources are currently shared on both sites, Herald says plans are in the works to develop a single, streamlined site for the yet-unnamed collaboration. Right now, the resource is free for teachers to use, but districts are charged a fee.
Herald isn't the first to tackle the teacher recruitment and retention problem with a teacher-matching website.
In 2000, retired Vermont teachers Jim and Susan Kilpatrick built SchoolSpring.com, a site dedicated to posting education jobs. Over time, the site reportedly grew to over 100,000 job listings, garnering the attraction of around 700,000 job seekers.
According to the Burlington Free Press, its annual revenue totaled $3 million when it was sold in 2014 to larger national tech company Netchemia, which has since been bought itself.
Today, SchoolSpring.com advertises a total of 64,511 education jobs.
Using social media to find and attract talent
School districts that know how to use social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, have an advantage. Tech-savvy administrators know that most young people use the pre-existing channels around the clock to share news and information, including job tips and postings.
And according to the Pew Research Center, which released a November 2015 report titled "Searching for Work in the Digital Era," 35% of job seekers use social media to hunt for work.
Another huge benefit is that social media can help recruiters improve diversity. Those who engage with candidates on social media are more likely to find and retain candidates of color.
According to Leslie Fenwick, dean of education at Howard University and author of the book "Jim Crow's Pink Slip: Public Policy and the Near Decimation of Black Educational Leadership After Brown," just 7% of teachers and 11% of principals are black.
That's despite the fact that teachers and principals of color generally have more credentials than their white counterparts.
Different states try different approaches
In California, three bills have been introduced, designed to address the teacher shortage.
The new legislation was proposed by Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale), a former teacher who now chairs the state's Senate Education Committee, in conjunction with Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), herself a former teacher, and former Santa Monica School Board member Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica).
Ed Source called the proposals "the most concerted effort to tackle the teacher shortage in years." Senate Bill 62 would reinstate a student loan forgiveness program for new teachers, while Senate Bill 915 would re-establish the California Center on Teaching Careers (CalTeach), and Senate Bill 933 would create a "California Teacher Corps" by giving grants to districts for year-long teacher-in-training residency programs.
South Carolina has also taken action. Last January, the state announced that a $6.9 billion package would address recruiting and retaining educators, with a specific focus on rural areas and communities with high turnover.
Arizona, on the other hand, has opted for a digital approach, creating a standalone website that shares opportunities in education. There, districts and charters can post vacancies, and job seekers can create profiles and sign up for information. E-bulletins advertising teaching and recruitment fairs and guidelines on certification are also posted.
No easy answers
So which solution is best?
Right now, the answer seems to be all of the above, since no single option is mututally exclusive. Although some critics say that the problem is cyclical and overblown, various U.S. districts know firsthand the problems that arise from a lack of educators.
Nevada, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania have all struggled with teacher shortages, and Indiana is now studying why the number of applicants for teaching licenses dropped 50% between 2009 and 2013. North Carolina and South Dakota have also strugged.
Yet one thing seems certain. Without more targeted, informed recruiting and heightened attention paid to not only finding, but retaining, a diverse and well-trained teacher corps, teacher shortages may very well continue.
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