There have been concerns about retaining and recruiting qualified teachers since even before the pandemic struck. But in the past three years, staffing shortages have become one of the top challenges that principals, district leaders, and policymakers face.
While there isn’t a single database tracking teacher shortages, one report estimated the nation had around 36,500 teacher vacancies at the start of the 2022-23 school year.
When schools lack adequate staffing, students who need the most support suffer most. For example, students with disabilities and English-language learners could lose out on or have less access to specialized services when there are not enough teachers or support personnel.
What will it take to create a teaching force with high retention? To answer this question, Education Week Opinion Contributor Peter DeWitt talked to Michael Fullan, the global director of leadership for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, and Kimberly Doughty, principal for Peter G. Schmidt Elementary, in Tumwater, Wash., during the Feb. 8 Seat at the Table online discussion.
Here are five strategies to retain and recruit teachers, according to Fullan and Doughty:
1. Boost teacher pay
Raising educators’ salaries is one of the most popular strategies states and school districts have used to ease the staffing shortage. Even some federal lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would incentivize states and school districts to raise the teacher pay floor. But the panelists said boosting pay and benefits are not always enough.
At the beginning of the pandemic, “it was really difficult to fill those positions,” because there were “very minimal” applicants even after boosting teacher pay, Doughty said.
2. Partner with teacher prep programs
Teacher preparation programs need to be updated and upgraded, Doughty said. The programs are “not preparing [teachers] for the actuality of what they’re going to experience in the classes,” she said.
Schools and districts could develop better partnerships with teacher preparation programs near their communities, Doughty said. School leaders could meet with mentor teachers to ensure that they are providing productive feedback to student teachers. And school leaders could meet regularly with the programs’ professors and give feedback on how the student teachers are doing.
3. Build bottom-up support
School and district leaders should rethink how they support their teachers, Fullan said. Instead of having a hierarchical system, leaders should think about “bottom-up support,” he said.
Teachers who stay in their schools usually stay because they are “in a position to define some of the things that they can do,” Fullan said. Listen to what teachers have to say and what they think the school environment should look and feel like.
Doughty agreed: “A lot of these teachers have a lot of experience, and the younger ones have new innovative ways.”
Those schools with low teacher turnover rates usually also prioritize teacher well-being, Fullan added.
4. Tap into educators’ passion
“Every teacher enters [the profession with] a passion of teaching,” Doughty said. The role of school and district leaders is to tap into that passion, help teachers gain a better understanding of it, and cultivate that connection that they have to teaching, Doughty said.
5. Treat students well
Fullan also said that it’s important to think about how students today are being treated because that affects how they feel about education and the teaching profession.
“The more that we can give students good experiences at school, the more likely a higher percentage of them will become teachers,” Fullan said.