Education Opinion

The Teacher Demand: More Than Just Numbers

By Ronald Thorpe — October 04, 2012 3 min read
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As educators from around the world prepare for World Teachers’ Day on October 5 in Paris, France, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics illustrates the global teacher challenge in stark relief:


  • A total of 6.8 million teachers will be needed by 2015 for universal primary education.
  • 1.7 million new teacher positions needed.
  • 5.1 million new teachers needed to replace teachers retiring or leaving the profession.


The world needs a lot of new teachers!

How will countries meet this demand? Will countries respond with teacher recruitment campaigns, new incentives, higher standards, greater recognition, new roles, responsibilities, and rewards? How will countries balance increasing the quantity of teachers while maintaining quality? And what will we do in the U.S. with higher and higher rates of attrition, especially among new teachers?

NBCT Dan Brown discusses the potential power of public service announcements (PSAs)to raise the status of the profession, and spark interest in teaching careers. Back in the USA, Richard Ingersoll’s research into teacher recruitment and retention offers a different perspective on the challenge. Analyzing twenty years of the Schools and Staffing Survey, he observes:

  • From the later 1980’s to 2008, the teaching force in the United States rose by 48 percent.
  • This increase was accompanied by a “greening” of the teaching force, exemplified by a beginning teacher in their first year of teaching as the most common teacher.
  • Over the past two decades, teacher attrition rates increased, resulting in 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leaving within the first five years. New teachers leaving after their first year increased by about 33 percent.

Choose your metaphor: revolving door, leaky bucket, if we just look at the challenge from the recruitment side, we miss an important part of the picture. As the teaching force becomes younger, more individuals are entering and leaving teaching at faster rates causing instability in staffing that should be concerning.

What are the consequences of teaching’s revolving door? More people enter the profession, but more new teachers leave. Fewer veterans reduce the potential number of mentors and teacher leaders who can support new teachers, creating more instability resulting in more teachers leaving the profession. A vicious cycle!

The recent focus on educator effectiveness and “exiting” poor performers accelerates this trend. But America can’t hire and fire its way to the teaching force we need as Ingersoll’s data clearly shows. We must focus much more on how we develop a highly accomplished workforce, and ensure that at key points across the teacher career continuum we are taking steps to strengthen quality: improve preparation, streamline hiring, provide better support for novices, provide struggling teachers with job-embedded and high quality professional development, and establish new roles, responsibilities, and compensation structures to recognize and reward accomplished teachers.

The continuing teacher brain drain has deleterious effects on schools today and schools tomorrow. Regardless of the talent brought into the profession, there must be a more stable process for the next generation of teachers to benefit from and build upon the craft wisdom, institutional memories, experiences, and expertise that veterans possess. New recruits, no matter how talented, deserve mentors and models to help develop their own skills, and to create school cultures that promote powerful teaching and student success.

The opinions expressed in Global Studies: Live From Paris on World Teachers’ Day are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.