Solutions for the Teacher Shortage: Pipelines, Partnerships, and Pathways

A New Era in Teaching: Reimagining the Educator Pipeline edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Starting the school year with vacant teaching positions rather than a fully staffed and well-prepared faculty has become more common in recent years. A combination of demographic, financial, and cultural trends has created an ongoing problem that many educational leaders now need to address in order to meet the needs of their students.

During the edLeader Panel “A New Era in Teaching: Reimagining the Educator Pipeline,” three education leaders discussed causes of the teacher shortage and potential solutions. While some solutions require a broader consensus about systemic issues, the panel identified steps education leaders can take now to increase the availability of new teachers while retaining more of their current staff.

A Combination of Causes

Dr. Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent Emerita of Orange County Public Schools (FL), emphasized the financial aspects of the teacher shortage, with the cost of a college education having grown much faster than teachers’ salaries in recent years. As a result, the relatively low salaries of starting teachers are not seen as a viable way to pay off student debt and develop a viable lifestyle in many areas. This is one of the factors that has led to a significant decrease in the number of graduates from colleges of education.

Another factor identified by Dr. Jenkins is that the politics surrounding education have made a teaching career seem less attractive, if not intimidating, to many students. Due to pressure from state politicians and local advocacy groups about what can be taught and how, some idealistic young people who might be drawn to teaching decide to pursue alternative careers, or move elsewhere to teach in regions that are more aligned with their beliefs.

Dr. Sandy Husk, Former Executive Director of ASCD, Former CEO of AVID, and Former Superintendent of Salem-Keizer Public Schools (OR), noted that in some districts the pressure of accountability had “sapped energy and joy from the profession,” rather than serving as a supportive process of identifying what is working well and where educators can help each other improve. The combination of educational policies and political pressures has resulted in some experienced teachers being told to work in ways that did not make sense in the classroom, providing impetus to leave the profession.

Dr. Morton Sherman, Senior Associate Executive Director of the Leadership Network for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, pointed out that part of the generational shift underway is that many young people no longer expect to have the same job or career for three or four decades. Instead, young teachers may be working with a five-year plan to re-evaluate their careers and possibly change jobs or even professions based on their experiences and the evolution of their lives and goals.

Building Pipelines and Partnerships

With the traditional pipeline from colleges of education delivering fewer educators than in the past, one alternative is “growing your own” educators. This can include helping paraprofessionals obtain the credentials they need to become teachers because they already have classroom experience and a proven interest in working with students. Another aspect of the grow-your-own process can be supporting students who may be interested in education as a career by providing internships, mentorship, and paid part-time work in a school.

Partnerships with local businesses, philanthropies, and colleges can be a vital part of this process. Businesses and chambers of commerce that recognize the importance of good schools may be willing to provide scholarships and other forms of support, while nearby colleges may offer credits for high school coursework, as well as alternative means of certification, discounts, and a facilitated process for going from high school to college and an education career.

Dr. Jenkins mentioned the importance of having a district “champion” focused on building and sustaining these sorts of partnerships. In addition, Dr. Husk emphasized the value of bringing a community together through a shared vision, which includes understanding why the achievement of key goals will result in something better for all the people involved.

Preparing Career Pathways

Another crucial solution to the teacher shortage is having teachers stay in the education system once they have entered it. Many businesses now outline career pathways to potential and newly recruited employees, so people who join the organization can have a personalized vision of ways to advance in the future or to continue improving their performance and circumstances in their current role.

School systems can use this approach by providing professional development and mentorship programs that help teachers develop long-term careers and increase their job satisfaction. Dr. Jenkins recommended explaining how a school or district can help teachers increase their income and obtain advanced degrees over time, as well as progress to a leadership position, especially where turnover among principals and district administrators is also an issue.

Dr. Husk emphasized the importance of educators having time for professional development and learning from their colleagues, with schedules that support this type of career development. She also discussed the importance of motivating teachers as well as students and using similar processes of figuring out where they are as individuals, and then helping them make continued progress.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, A New Era in Teaching: Reimagining the Educator Pipeline, sponsored by American College of Education.

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Article by Robert Low, based on this edLeader Panel