In September 2023 alone, about 52,000 teachers and other educational support staff quit their jobs in the United States. This number has steadily increased over the years but peaked after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The result? Finding and hiring quality educators has become an even bigger challenge for districts and schools.
Low enrollment into the teaching profession, inadequate compensation and benefits, and high attrition rates have all contributed to this problem. For students, this means larger class sizes, less individualized attention and support, and a lower quality of education overall. But there is hope, as powerful solutions are available to help schools overcome this challenge.
Why Is There a Teacher Shortage?
School districts nationwide struggle to fill teaching positions, especially in elementary education, secondary English, and special education. Major factors contributing to this crisis include low enrollment in teacher preparation programs and low retention.
Data by the National Education Association (NEA) shows that enrollment in teacher preparation programs has decreased by 35% in the last 10 years alone. In the 2021–22 school year, 28% of teachers left their jobs, a 4% increase before the pandemic.
Here are other factors contributing to the teacher shortage:
- Low salaries: Teachers are among the lowest-paid professionals despite their high qualification requirements (bachelor’s degree and teaching certification) and extensive work demands. In the 2021–2022 school year, public elementary and high school teachers had an average annual total income of $66,397, lower than the national average of $74,580 for all occupations.
Additionally, teacher salaries vary significantly across states, with some states paying much less than others. Arizona, Florida, and Texas public school teachers were among the lowest paid, with $54.7k, $55.2k, and $58.3k, respectively. States that paid the highest salaries were Washington ($72.3k), California($73.2k), and New York ($76.4k).
- High workload: Besides teaching classes, grading assignments and exams, and providing feedback, full-time teachers must plan lessons, attend meetings and professional development programs, and organize extracurricular activities.
This results in burnout, stress, and poor mental health, leading to high teacher turnover rates. NEA’s recent study reveals that 90% of educators describe burnout as a serious problem, with 67% terming it a “very serious” problem.
- Challenging working conditions: Teachers face overcrowded classrooms, inadequate instructional materials and resources, and a lack of support from school administrators, parents, and the community.
Under these conditions, qualified teachers struggle to offer quality education. The resulting frustration and dissatisfaction often lead teachers to quit their teaching jobs.
Will the Teacher Shortage Get Worse?
Unfortunately, the teacher staffing shortage is expected to get worse. A recent report by Brown University reported 36,500 teacher vacancies in 37 states in the 2021–22 school year. Their updated 2022–23 school year data shows over 55,000 teacher vacancies and 270,000 underqualified positions. And it gets worse:
- Chalkbeat, a non-profit news organization, revealed a historic 14% turnover rate from 34 states in 2021–22.
- Rand Corp. survey results revealed about a quarter of the teachers surveyed plan to quit by the end of the 2022–23 school year, with most citing low pay, stress, and long working hours.
- Learning Policy Institute’s (LPI) 2016 projections estimated 316,000 new teacher demands by 2025.
However, the Brown University research team cited above anticipates turnover rates will decline to about 12% (down from 14% in 2021–22) and remain stable in the 2023–24 school year. The number of prospective teachers joining training programs also increased in over half of American states in the first school year after the pandemic hit.
The U.S. Department of Education and policymakers must develop long-term solutions and initiatives to attract and retain high-quality teachers. They must:
- Establish comprehensive policies that support the well-being of educators, such as flexible schedules, mental health resources, and workload management.
- Provide competitive teacher pay with additional incentives such as student loan forgiveness and housing subsidies.
- Improve working conditions by addressing large class sizes, teacher safety, and student discipline.
- Offer professional development opportunities to update teachers on the latest teaching methods, strategies, and technologies.
These efforts will help reduce turnover rates, mitigate the shortage of qualified educators, and ensure students receive quality education.
Factors To Consider When Tackling the Teacher Shortage
As your district leadership works to address shortages in your schools, consider the following factors:
Student achievement is highly affected by teacher shortages. According to the LPI, school districts with high percentages of underqualified and inexperienced teachers have lower academic performance, higher dropout rates, and poorer student attendance. The report also states that teacher shortages disproportionately affect schools in low-income areas where students already face disadvantages.
When qualified teachers are scarce, students miss out on the opportunity to reach their full potential. By addressing the teacher shortage, your students can access quality professional learning that promotes academic outcomes and prepares them for future success.
A high-quality education system needs a well-trained, qualified, and experienced teacher workforce. With a shortage of teachers, schools often have to hire underqualified or inexperienced educators, leading to a decline in the quality of education. High workloads, inadequate resources, and lack of personalized attention can also negatively impact education quality.
Addressing the teacher shortage promotes positive learning outcomes, as students can access qualified and experienced educators who can provide personalized attention, create engaging lessons, and facilitate student learning.
Underserved and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by teacher shortages, leading to educational inequity. These communities often have a higher concentration of underqualified educators and a lower retention rate of experienced teachers.
This only reinforces the opportunity gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Educational equity is only possible when there’s an adequate and diverse pool of qualified teachers for all communities.
High stress levels, increased workloads, and inadequate resources often lead to burnout and high turnover rates among educators. Teachers who remain in the profession are often stretched thin, with large class sizes and high demands placed on them. This can negatively impact their mental health, physical well-being, and overall job satisfaction.
An adequate teaching workforce leads to a supportive and sustainable teaching profession where teachers can thrive and feel valued. This improves retention rates, creates a positive work environment, and ultimately benefits students, as they have access to dedicated and motivated educators.
Common Methods Schools Have Implemented To Tackle the Teacher Shortage
School leaders across America are implementing the following strategies to address the teacher shortage crisis:
Rehiring Retired Teachers
Retired teachers bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the classroom. They deeply understand the curriculum, student behavior, and classroom management. Rehiring retired teachers also helps schools maintain a sense of continuity and stability during staffing gaps.
However, there are potential pitfalls to relying solely on retired educators to fill these gaps. Retired teachers may not be up-to-date with the latest teaching methods, strategies, and technologies. Similarly, they might not know about the most recent curriculum standards.
Emergency certification is a process that allows individuals without traditional teaching credentials to enter the profession. It is often a short-term solution to fill immediate staffing gaps in high-need subjects or locations. Emergency certification programs involve:
- Completing a condensed training program
- Passing a subject-specific test
- Undergoing a background check
While emergency certification can help address the shortage of teachers in the short term, it also has disadvantages. These include limited training and preparation, which may result in underqualified or inexperienced educators teaching students.
It also bypasses the traditional process of obtaining a teaching degree and may not adequately prepare individuals for the profession’s demands. Being a short-term solution, it doesn’t address the root causes of teacher shortages and may create ongoing staffing gaps in the future.
When faced with a teacher vacancy, schools may choose to combine classrooms, making one teacher responsible for multiple classes and grade levels. This allows schools to maximize resources and accommodate more students with fewer teachers.
Unfortunately, this approach can result in larger class sizes and less individualized attention for students. It also significantly strains the teacher, who has to create lessons and assessments catering to multiple grade levels and classroom dynamics.
J-1 Visa Teachers
Another method that has proven effective in addressing the teacher shortage is hiring foreign educators through the J-1 Visa program. This program allows schools to recruit teachers from other countries to fill critical staffing needs. While this method can provide schools with qualified and experienced educators, it also has drawbacks.
Cultural and language barriers may affect classroom dynamics and student learning. It also involves a lengthy and complex process of obtaining visas, advertising positions, and navigating legal requirements. This method may also continue the cycle of relying on temporary solutions instead of addressing the root causes of teacher shortages.
3 Teacher Shortage Solutions That Can Transform the Future of Education
We need more sustainable and long-term solutions to transform the future of education. How can districts make this happen? Address the root causes of teacher shortages with the three solutions below rather than treat the symptoms individually.
1. Removing Geographical Hiring Restrictions
Geographic arbitrage is one of the most significant contributors to the teacher shortage. Plenty of certified educators may be willing to teach — but not anywhere local to your district.
Removing geographic hiring restrictions can help combat this. If you’re not limited to hiring teachers who live in or near your school district, your pool of qualified professionals widens exponentially; a huge advantage, particularly for remote, rural, or underserved areas.
With Elevate K-12, districts can do exactly that. Elevate K-12 connects students with qualified teachers through live video teaching, giving them engaging, personalized instruction from experienced teachers via live stream. This ensures that students get the quality instruction they need — regardless of the teacher’s physical location — rather than relying solely on teachers available in the immediate area.
2. Incorporating Live Teaching With a Classroom Coach
With live teaching, students receive synchronous instruction from a remote teacher while an in-person classroom coach assists with classroom management and student support.
Students enjoy the benefits of personalized instruction from qualified educators, while schools can save on staffing costs and resources. Teachers also benefit from reduced workload and stress, as the classroom coach helps shoulder the burden of managing classroom behavior, discipline, and students’ individual support needs.
3. Allowing Teachers To Set Their Own Hours
Flexible scheduling is gaining popularity in the modern workforce as employees seek better work-life balance and autonomy. It might also seem impractical, but with Elevate K-12, teachers can choose their preferred hours and work remotely, eliminating the traditional 9–5 schedule.
This offers teachers the flexibility to work around personal commitments and reduces burnout. It’s also more appealing to prospective candidates who may have originally been deterred by the rigid structure of traditional teaching positions.
Explore How Elevate K-12 Is Fighting the Teacher Shortage — One Classroom at a Time
At Elevate K-12, we believe students deserve access to quality education, and teachers deserve a fulfilling career. Through our innovative solutions of live instruction with qualified educators, remote teaching options, and flexible scheduling, we’re transforming the future of education one classroom at a time.
With Elevate, schools can reach students in remote or underserved areas, reduce staffing gaps, and provide teachers with a better work-life balance.
Sign up for Elevate K-12 and see how live online teaching can be your district’s long-term solution for teacher shortages.