Media coverage of American K-12 teacher shortages have appeared regularly over the last ten years. The reasons for this decade-long decline involve a set of policies that are not always aligned across states, but the Pandemic has contributed to an increase in teacher shortages.
The pandemic has exacerbated teacher workforce issues that have existed for at least a decade. A 2018 estimate found that more than 100,000 classrooms across the country were staffed by substitutes, teachers teaching out of their subject area, and untrained individuals, because qualified teachers could not be found to work where they were needed. Because of these long-standing conditions, even small changes in teacher supply and demand during the pandemic have resulted in serious disruption for schools that were already struggling to fill teacher vacancies. Teacher shortages can also significantly depress student achievement, as schools often cancel courses due to vacancies or staff classes with substitutes and underprepared teachers who are not certified to teach their subject matter.—LEARNING POLICY INSTITUTE, FEB. 9, 2022 BLOG
It would be fair to say that student learning loss over the last two years is partially due to factors of Pandemic lock-down and partially due to teachers shortages, increase in teacher substitutes, and the radially changed conditions in classrooms.
Did the Pandemic Accelerate Teacher Shortages?
Yes, the Pandemic has only exacerbated the pre-existing vulnerabilities of teachers shortages. From the recruitment of new teachers to the retention of experienced teachers, a sufficient supply of qualified teachers is slipping away.
At the time of this study, six districts indicated they still had to fill 10% or more of their total vacancies. While the total number of vacancies had increased from previous years, the greatest demand was still the hard-to-staff areas of mathematics, science, and special education.—LEARNING POLICY INSTITUTE
In the latest Learning Policy Institute report of 12 California districts with more than a million students, teacher shortages in those district were due to: “Increased vacancies and staffing struggles and under-prepared teachers on top of an increased number of teachers (who had) left the profession, both through retirements and resignations during pre-COVID-19 years.”
What Can be Done To Improve Teaching Shortages?
Teaching shortages are due to multiple factors but shortages are inter-related to recruitment and retention policy problems that have existed for years. Any attempt to improve these shortages would include policy efforts that result in more successful pathways to teaching. When shortages started to occur ten years ago, different state and local district policies began to bifurcate into two policy solution forks—one fork that lowered recruitment standards and another fork that increased class size, allowed substandard prepared teachers to teach out of certificate, and increased use of substitute teachers. A simple statement of strategy to improve teacher shortages is to create a meaningful pathway for teacher professional development from the moment of recruitment to more rigorous preparation, and from more oversight in the first year of teaching to an ongoing professional development plan that is individualized to each teacher. A medical model of preparation would be a good goal and that would take an increase in capacity for the recruitment and retention of all teachers.