Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Solving Teacher Shortages: A Comprehensive Approach

By Teaching Ahead Contributor — October 18, 2015 5 min read
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This is the fifth piece of a five-part conversation on the teacher supply.

William Hayes and Sharif El-Mekki

As districts and states work to manage the existing teacher shortages across the country, members of the extended education network must work together to leverage their collective capacity to both recruit and retain qualified candidates.

While alternative certification programs and internal pipelines have been established to remedy the shortages in areas like math, science, and special education, there still remains a high need in these specific subjects, as well as in schools with high poverty rates and high populations of students of color.

Collectively we are not only failing to increase the total number of available teachers, but we are also struggling to recruit and retain teachers of color and male teachers. A shift requires innovative and transformative measures on national, state, and local levels.

Nationally, the teacher profession has to combat the negative imagery of teaching as the sole proprietor of America’s failure and success. In the wake of No Child Left Behind and new accountability measures, teachers and school leaders have had to operate under a continuous wave of new mandates and pressure-bearing expectations.

While the shifts represent a focus on improvement for our students, the disparity of pay across states and between rural and suburban districts has not broadly attracted the best and brightest into this “noble” profession. A rebranding of the profession could be facilitated by a national commitment to elevate the profession through media. Recently, Mastery Shoemaker, a charter school in Philadelphia, rented a billboard to highlight teachers. It sent waves through the community and received a great deal of positive feedback amongst teachers. Imagine if the excellent teachers were highlighted on billboards, in newspapers, or in morning news segments across the country (instead of the cute puppy of the month).

Aside from making teaching a desired profession in the media, national and state level partners can work together to reinvest financially into those who commit themselves in the classroom. Current loan forgiveness opportunities can be expanded and increased to cover in full the costs incurred to meet education and certification requirements in high need areas. Programs such as Call Me Mister and Relay have proven to be successful in recruiting and developing underrepresented populations of teachers in high-need areas. Support from foundations and grant makers will help these efforts expand and remain sustainable.

As districts respond to budget cuts and an inefficient method of funding schools through property taxes, creative measures must be implemented to combat the financial limitations and lack of professional supports that push teachers to seek other professions. Partnerships that offer discount rates on travel, entertainment, or maintenance specifically for teachers and their families helps reduce expenditures without increasing cost to schools. These perks are often enjoyed by major businesses but rarely offered in quality or great quantity to educators.

Additionally, traditional data-driven professional development, while necessary and beneficial, must be balanced by quality supports that leverage the interests and assets of teachers. Affinity groups and professional learning communities may be centered around “hot topics” or “special interests,” thereby giving teachers a space and group to explore their passions in the field of education. Cohort supports groups and leadership pathways also provide teachers an opportunity to build a sense of community and belonging within schools.

On a local level, districts must begin to rethink the traditional and nontraditional pools of candidates for teaching positions. More specifically, schools and districts may benefit from leveraging the existing capacity of adults currently occupying non-teaching positions within schools and education support programs. Mastery Charter Schools has targeted efforts to provide support teachers a pathway to obtain their certifications. In theory, such a model could be extended to offer such training and development to exceptional after-school program workers, paraprofessionals, and non-profit leaders. These professionals come with an existing knowledge of the school community and relationships with students.

In addition to increasing the existing talent pool, districts may be well-served to identify candidates early. The recruitment of high quality candidates’ provision of small scholarships can begin at local colleges for undergraduates interested in teaching. Providing such candidates with “internship” opportunities either during the regular school year or summer will assist with early professional development and onboarding prior to graduation.

Other areas to consider in addressing higher teacher retention are teachers’ relationships with their principals, their feeling of self-efficacy and opportunity for leadership, and overall working conditions. The U.S. Department of Education has championed these through highlighting the specific professional development needs of principals. By supporting the development of principals, these school leaders can, in turn, support teachers more effectively. An overwhelmed principal may not be able to provide the meaningful and sustained support that teachers need. The Department of Education has also collaborated with many organizations to launch Teach to Lead. This initiative empowers teachers to find their voice and their solutions to issues that they want to address. Teacher leaders can play a vital role in retention of their colleagues.

These shifts will require hard work and discomforts, but to combat teaching shortages and advance the teaching profession, we believe that they must be taken.

William Hayes is the principal at Mastery Schools of Camden - East Camden Middle. He previously worked as a turnaround principal at Franklin D. Roosevelt Academy Pre-K-8 in Cleveland, OH and has worked in the education field for eight years. He received his Master’s in Education from Harvard University, and is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in education leadership and policy at Vanderbilt University.

For the past six years, Sharif El-Mekki has been the proud principal at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia. El-Mekki’s team at the Shoemaker Campus has been recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Shoemaker Campus was also recently recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African American students. El-Mekki serves on Mayor Michael Nutter’s Mayor’s Commission on African American Males and is a Fellow with America Achieves.

Read more from this roundtable discussion on teacher recruitment and retention.

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