To make sure schools are fully staffed, states are attempting a variety of strategies to bring more people into the classrooms—including those who haven’t gone through any sort of teacher training.
The pandemic has exacerbated teacher shortages in many regions and content areas, but the problem is not new: Enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has declined by more than a third over the past decade. Experts say a combination of low pay, poor working conditions, and a lack of public respect has deterred people from pursuing a career in the classroom. Teacher morale has declined since the pandemic, too, worsening the public perception of the job.
State policymakers are trying to bolster the teacher pipeline by proposing pay raises and pursuing alternative forms of teacher preparation. But those are longer-term strategies—state officials are also desperate to fill teacher vacancies as soon as possible.
Many states have relaxed job requirements, sparking concerns about placing underqualified teachers in front of students who need to make up academic ground lost during the pandemic. Past research has found that less-experienced teachers are more likely to teach in classrooms with more students of color and children from low-income families.
Heather Peske, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based think tank that calls for more-rigorous teacher preparation, said some of the ways that states are making it easier for people to become teachers are “knee-jerk, data-less policies” that will do little to solve the underlying reasons for teacher shortages in some subjects and schools. (Shortages are typically most acute in subjects like special education and in schools that are rural or serve many children living in poverty.)
“Policymakers may be well-intentioned, but they’re moving forward without real consideration of the data and without real consideration of the impact on kids when we lower the bar to allow many people without qualifications to enter the profession,” Peske said.
Here are five ways states are attempting to fill teacher vacancies this year.
1. Dropping requirements for bachelor’s degrees
In Arizona, people can now start training to become a teacher without a bachelor’s degree, as long as they are enrolled in college and are supervised by a licensed teacher. However, if these candidates have an emergency teacher certificate—which is issued when a school can’t fill a vacancy otherwise—they can teach without supervision.
In Florida, military veterans without a bachelor’s degree can now receive a five-year teaching certificate, as long as they have completed at least 60 college credits with a 2.5 grade point average and can pass a state exam to demonstrate mastery of subject-area knowledge. The veterans must be monitored for at least two years by a more experienced educator.
So far, about 400 veterans have applied to the program, according to the news station News4JAX.
Policymakers and some administrators contend these changes will make it easier to staff schools in times of shortages. Tonya Strozier, the principal of the Holladay Fine Arts Magnet Elementary School in Tucson, Ariz., told Education Week in August that she’s confident that the training and support she provides to all new teachers would prepare them for the classroom.
“When I get a teacher, I generally make a significant investment in training them—they don’t come ready,” she said. “There’s always a significant gap between theory and practice.”
Still, others worry that these policies will devalue the teaching profession and negatively impact student learning.
"[Arizona officials] do not care about children’s knowledge if they are watering down credentialing so that you do not have people who know their content, know how to teach,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said this summer. “That has always been signified by a college diploma, and they would never do it in the professions or the occupations they thought were important.”
2. Easing certification requirements
At least a dozen states have recently amended—or are considering amending—teacher certification rules. Some changed the criteria for licensure, others the qualifying score on state licensing tests, and some dropped the tests altogether.
For example, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill in May that removes the requirement for teacher-candidates to pass a general education exam that covers communication, critical thinking, and computation. Lawmakers and state officials said the exam was redundant and presented a financial barrier to prospective teachers.
Missouri’s state board of education voted this summer to grant teaching certificates to test-takers who score within one standard error of measurement of the qualifying score, meaning they missed itby a few questions.
“The potential of thousands of Missouri students to have a well-prepared, appropriately certified teacher considerably outweighs the minimal risk that would come from alternating the qualifying score for all initial teacher-certification exams,” said Paul Katnik, the department’s assistant commissioner, according to Fox2Now.
3. Bringing retired teachers back
At least a half-dozen states—including New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Virginia—have enacted or are considering policies this year to entice teachers out of retirement, an EdWeek analysis found.
Typically, states limit the amount retired educators can work or earn while collecting retirement benefits. Many of these new laws lift those restrictions in the face of shortages. States are instead allowing retirees who return to the classroom to draw a new salary while still collecting their pension benefits, a practice sometimes called “double dipping.”
Experts say the approach is a good way to get experienced teachers in front of children quickly, but warn that it’s also expensive and a short-term solution.
4. Relying on emergency certification
Several states issue emergency teaching certificates, typically to people who have a bachelor’s degree and a clean background check, but no classroom experience or training. Districts are permitted to hire these teachers only when they have critical shortages, but in some states, dependence on this staffing pool is growing.
In Oklahoma, for instance, the state has approved nearly 3,600 emergency certificates since June, a spokesperson for the education department said.
Yet emergency certified teachers are less likely than traditionally prepared teachers to stay in the classroom for long, which experts attribute to their lack of preparation and classroom management training.
5. Hiring professionals from other fields
In May, Oklahoma passed legislation to allow “adjunct teachers” to work in the classroom full-time. (Previously, they could only work 270 hours per semester.) Adjunct teachers are professionals—such as scientists, attorneys, or engineers—who haven’t met any of the standard certification requirements but are interested in teaching a subject related to their field of expertise.
“We’re working hard to figure out how to fill the teacher workforce pipeline, but those efforts are going to take some time,” said Sen. Jessica Garvin, a Republican who sponsored the bill, in a statement. “For now, we must better utilize the resources we have, which includes the professionals in our local communities who are willing to step up and fill these critical teaching positions.”
At the time of the bill’s signing, the state reported that adjunct teachers were already helping fill more than 400 vacant teaching positions.
Texas also has a state program that allows schools to hire non-certified people to teach industry-specific courses, like high school career and technical education classes. But districts can extend the flexibility to hire these professionals for core subjects and lower grade levels, the Dallas Morning News has reported.
“We’re not choosing this alternative because we don’t want certified teachers in every single classroom,” Dan Micciche, a trustee for the Dallas school district, told the newspaper. “We’re choosing this as a tool because we can’t get enough certified teachers in every classroom. So what’s better?”