For the last several weeks, headlines have predicted the next education crisis: a lack of teachers.
It's not uncommon to see similar reports at the start of many school years, but this year, there are indicators some of those fears are founded. Still, underneath the headlines is a more nuanced reality. As schools open the doors over the next few weeks, many will open with at least mostly full staffs of teachers. Even in those hotspots of publicized shortages, administrators will likely be able to get enough bodies in classrooms.
That doesn't mean everything is going as it should. It just means that the shortage doesn't look like classrooms full of children, without teachers, at least not yet. Instead, it means administrators are having to put more time, energy, and often money into the hiring process — precious resources that might otherwise go towards students' instruction, teacher training and observations.
It also means that the teachers in front of classrooms may not have the same qualifications they would in a year of rising teacher recruitment. For years, states have responded to feared shortages by cutting back what it takes to become a teacher. Many districts can hire a local community member with expertise in the content and train them on pedagogy, as long as they get licensed eventually.
That's especially common in rural districts, where skimpy budgets and poor job prospects for spouses can be difficult to attract high quality candidates and convince them to stay. School reform advocates have expressed disdain at that approach, saying it's opposite tack the profession should be taking. But rural administrators have defended the practice, saying a potential educator who already lives in the area promises to stay longer.
So what should administrators do? The ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) recommends a middle ground: "Growing your own teachers." Encourage local paraprofessionals and talented former graduates to consider teaching as a full-time job and help support them in getting certified. Given their already existing ties to the area, they'll be more likely to come home and stay.
Financial limitations are commonly highlighted as one of the biggest hurdles to recruiting teachers, and they can play a large factors. But there are legislative dilemmas as well. As has been widely discussed, shortages are often tightly geographically constrained. For example, some Eastern states, like New York, still have a glut of would-be teachers, despite dropping enrollment. While the lure of lifestyle can keep teachers looking in places like New York City, they can also find it challenging to cross state borders. Many states have significant barriers to bringing in out-of-state teachers, who must go through convoluted relicensing processes.
Administrators who'd like to see that change can lobby legislators to loosen restrictions on out-of-state teachers and encourage them to visit districts hard-hit by shortages.
District and school officials can also be strategic in their recruiting. One of the commonly cited factors driving would-be candidates away from the profession is the fear of heavy handed accountability and harsh working conditions. Administrators can work to create more supportive environments for educators; when recruiting, they can encourage candidates to visit and see the difference. It's not a cure-all for the complex problem but it can work. One rural administrator in Colorado attributed his ability to attract higher caliber candidates to the district's smooth running and nurturing culture.
Still, some fixes may have to come from higher up. The question of a dwindling pipeline will likely take on more urgency as the number of teacher candidates continues to drop. And the toxic dialog around education will have to change, in order to turn the tide of fleeing teachers and would-be teachers.
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