Deciphering Teacher Shortages

August 07, 2008 4 min read

Experts have long been forecasting major teacher shortages, as more than a million educators from the baby boomer generation near retirement and as student enrollments grow. And yet, as many education job seekers know, teaching jobs can be still be very hard to come by. What exactly is going on in the teacher job market?

To get an answer to that question, we recently spoke to Dr. Jody Shelton, the Executive Director of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, about factors contributing to teacher shortages, what schools are doing to attract teachers, and what job-seeking teachers can do to make themselves more marketable.

What factors do you attribute to teacher shortages across the country?

Different locales have different issues. Certain geographic areas lack subject teachers—special education, science and math. Science and math tend to attract people to the business sector. When you look at special education you see the amount of paperwork and involvement in the legal aspect of IEPs. That job is such a tough one to accomplish. Other locations have a difficult time being able to fill positions, including high-risk at-needs urban areas. And teachers in the first five years tend to leave.

And yet, we’re seeing a lot of emphasis both at the state level and nationally in promoting and providing mentoring programs that offer a high degree of support. People are finding this effective. The statistics reflect an improvement in teacher retention. From a human resources perspective, there’s always frustration in relation to all the certification issues that are out there. I don’t necessarily hear our membership talking about one certification for everyone across the country, but there sure is interest in more portability for teacher licensure. So if a high-quality teacher meets the qualifications for certification in that one state, they should be able to be certified in another state. That’s one of the frustrations I hear from our members, that the certification levels are different, so different in every state.

What measures are being taken to address teacher shortages?

You see a lot of new incentives in recruiting and hiring teachers to get them on board. There are grow-your-own certification programs, incentives to stay in the classroom, signing bonuses, moving expenses. The community may be allowing teachers to have low-cost housing. And then what you’re seeing is a great deal of support for that new teacher. You see mentoring and induction programs and teachers being assured that their assignment is appropriate for a first-year teacher. There’s also professional development. When school districts are looking for those star teachers, they offer a lot of customer service to those applicants to attract them.

Have such measures been effective?

We’re seeing a lot of emphasis both at the state level and nationally in promoting and providing mentoring programs that offer a high degree of support. People are finding this effective. And you see statistics related to the improvement of teacher retention. Some statistics show 85 to 90 percent retention rates as a result of all recruiting measures.

How do you explain the fact that qualified teachers are having difficulty finding jobs despite nation-wide teacher shortages?

Sometimes teachers are unwilling to broaden their horizons. They say, “I want to go to this particular city and this particular school,” and are unable to get a job. Some want to go into fields where there are always teachers. They are always going to be 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers. But when you’re looking for kindergarten, 1st, and 6th grade teachers, there aren’t as many. You also have to look at specific certification. Is it their experience? Is it their qualifications? There so many new alternatives out there like Teach for America and all kinds of programs to help people get certified. But it’s not an easy process. And again, it varies by state.

What advice do you have for teacher candidates who are having a difficult time finding a position?

Be sure that you have a broad search and be willing to go where the position exists. Secondly, if there’s an area where you’re interested but the job doesn’t seem to be available, try to substitute or work as a para-teacher aide in the school or district. If they’re watching you, then they’ll want you to fill any future teaching positions.

I would also tell teachers to look at their own teaching credentials. You need to be marketable, which means the more areas you’re qualified to teach, the more likely you are to get that position. If you’re at the secondary level and getting certified in science, make sure it’s broad science and not too narrow. Here in Kansas, we have a university program requiring that assignments be in elementary schools and in high schools so teacher candidates are more marketable across the board.

I think you have to get your foot in the door. People are not only looking for highly qualified teachers but high-quality teachers. So you’ve got to be good. And getting as much experience as possible is the way to do that.

-Danielle Woods