Nearly everywhere, schools are facing staffing shortages, leaving them with open positions for teachers, support staff, custodial work, nursing, and more. These shortages have led to more work for everyone in the system. In fact, a National Education Association (NEA) survey from January 2022 found that 80% of NEA members reported that unfilled job openings at their schools have led to more work for them. More specifically, 74% of respondents indicated that they’ve had to fill in for colleagues or take on other duties due to these staff shortages.
In this episode, we are joined by Anne Beitlers, Director of the Secondary Teacher Education Program at the University of Washington. Together, we discuss this ongoing challenge. We explore the causes of this staffing shortage and ways to potentially recruit, support, and retain more teachers in our school systems.
…As our new survey shows, after persevering through the hardest school years in memory, America’s educators are exhausted and increasingly burned out. School staffing shortages are not new, but what we are seeing now, is an unprecedented staffing crisis across every job category.
Becky Pringle, National Education Association President
The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:
- Connect With Colleagues (article)
- “R” You Ready to Recharge? Tips for Teacher Self-Care (article)
- Manage Your Teacher Workload in a Remote-Learning World (article)
- Teaching Is Hard, and It Matters (podcast episode)
- Supporting Teachers as They Prepare for the Second Half of the School Year (podcast episode)
- Remembering Your Why (podcast episode)
What Can We Do?
Teaching is a profoundly important profession. Teachers educate, inspire, and empower the students in our systems, so they can become the adults that will shape our world. When schools are short-staffed, everyone’s capacity to make this positive difference is impacted. Therefore, it’s imperative that we address the staffing crisis facing our schools. There is no simple solution, but through collective thought and effort, we can make a positive difference.
While we acknowledge that nobody has all the answers, our team attempts to break down the staffing problem. By identifying the underlying issues causing current challenges, we begin to scaffold potential solutions. We identify what our teachers need to be successful and possible ways to meet those needs. Listed below are a few key takeaways from our discussion:
- Multifaceted Causes: The source of the staffing shortage in our schools is complex. It was already present before the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the problem. Burnout, mental health strains, increased workload, and public pressure have all impacted staffing and contributed to shortages.
- Teacher-Prep Enrollment Decline: Nationwide, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has been on the decline. Education Week reviewed federal data and discovered that the number of students successfully completing traditional teacher-preparation programs declined by 35 percent between 2009 and 2019. Surveys conducted by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in 2020 and 2021 have indicated that about 20 percent of schools offering these teacher-prep programs reported a decline in new undergrad enrollment of at least 11 percent.
- Recruitment: Despite national trends toward decreasing student enrollment in teacher-prep programs, the University of Washington has seen an increase in program enrollment. We explore several of the program elements that might help to make a difference more broadly in national recruitment efforts. Specifically, we discuss the building of a teacher community, providing thorough and deep candidate preparation, and helping future teachers do identity work.
- Improving the Conditions: Part of recruiting more teachers is making the working conditions more conducive to success in the profession. We discuss the need to take things—such as subbing, out-of-school commitments, and community pressures—off teachers’ plates. We also talk about the need to empower teachers to do what they are trained to do as professionals by removing unnecessary restrictions.
- Supporting New Teachers: We can’t allow new teachers to be isolated. They need support and modeling. We need to help them understand “why” we do the things we do as veteran teachers, and we also need them to understand that it’s an ongoing process. As Anne says during our interview, “There’s a lot to learn… You’re not going to have this figured out at the end of the year. You need to go in humble and continue to be…a learner and continue to reflect on your practice.”
- Teachers of Color: We discuss how to support and retain our teachers of color. The University of Washington spends targeted time doing identity work with candidates. Anne explains, “You need to know yourself and all of your identities and be comfortable with them before you can begin to understand the myriad identities your students bring into the classroom.” She goes on to talk about the importance of developing “cultural humility.”
- Hope for the Future: Despite the challenges, we all have hope for the future of education and teacher recruitment. Teacher candidates savor the interactions with their students and are brought to life by their successes. Anne summarizes part of this conversation, saying, “We’re going to be okay. Maybe we’ll have some bumps along the road, but if we just get out of the way of our kids, then they really can go out and make a better future for themselves.” She goes on to capture the joy and privilege of being a teacher. She tells her teacher candidates, “You get to do this. You get to work with kids, and it actually is exciting. Even with all of the mental health care issues and how hard everything is right now, you still get to interact with these cool young people all day long.”
If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- How have employment status and fill rates impacted the secondary schools in your district?
- How has your district’s current employment situation impacted secondary programs, job assignments, and classroom effectiveness?
- What do you see as the primary causes for secondary staffing shortages?
- How might we recruit more young people to enter the teaching profession?
- How might we support new secondary teachers?
- How can we retain veteran secondary teachers?
- Where do you and others still find joy in the teaching profession?
Extend Your Learning
- Fewer People Are Getting Teacher Degrees. Prep Programs Sound the Alarm (Education Week)
- Fall 2021 Member Survey: Educator Preparation Responds to COVID-19 (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education)
- NEA Survey: Massive Staff Shortages in Schools Leading to Educator Burnout; Alarming Number of Educators Indicating They Plan to Leave Profession (National Education Association)
- The Teacher Shortage Is Real, Large and Growing, and Worse Than We Thought (Economic Policy Institute)
- Here’s What’s Driving the Nationwide Teacher Shortage (The Hill)
- If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover (The Education Trust and Teach Plus)
- Nearly Half of Public Schools Experiencing Staff Shortages, Resignations (CASBO)