As the 2022-23 academic year gets underway, the large number of vacant teaching jobs (which, in some states, includes thousands of unfilled positions) becomes less about statistics and more about the very real possibility of students showing up to school without a teacher in their classroom.
The situation has many recruiters ramping up aggressive, late-season recruitment efforts, including perks that are fully advertised and others that may be up for negotiation.
“There was a time, pre-pandemic, when [recruiters] had the upper hand,” said Kevin Walton, a human resources specialist with Area Cooperative Educational Services, an agency in North Haven, Conn. That’s no longer the case, Walton acknowledges, as the demand for teachers is, in many districts, outpacing the supply.
Consequently, Walton says, job candidates—especially those coming out of teacher-preparation programs aware of the teacher shortage—are not afraid to leverage the situation to their advantage.
“They come in as shrewd negotiators; they know they have the upper hand,” said Walton, referring to job-seeking teachers. Some candidates, he says, are coming to interviews already equipped with an offer from another district.
What are they asking for?
“Flexibility” around where and when they work, said Brian White, executive director of human resources and operations for the Auburn-Washburn school district in Topeka, Kan. “That’s what people want.”
Priorities have shifted for job seekers
White credits the pandemic with what he and other human resources professionals refer to as “The Great Reprioritization.” Beyond salaries and traditional benefits like health care, employees are putting larger value on other factors they say they need to feel happy with their work-life balance.
“We’ve had to look at and talk a lot more about how we can be more flexible,” said White, adding that the profession is still trying to figure out what that should look like for teachers.
He suggests that the traditionally rigid schedule comprising teachers’ work days may be a good place to start.
“Sometimes, that flexibility comes down to treating people like a professional,” said White. For example, he said, giving teachers the option of choosing their work location during designated “professional days”—whether that be at home, a coffee shop, or in their classroom, rather than dictating that they report to the school building.
Walton explains that, in general, recruiters’ willingness to negotiate with job candidates depends on the demand for the open position.
“If you’re a special ed teacher, you can probably come in and ask for a little more money,” said Walton.
Financial incentives are in widespread use
This hiring season, districts with significant teacher shortages have already stepped up their financial incentives.
Anticipating significant employment needs for the 2022-23 school year, the Clark County School District in Las Vegas in May announced its first pay raise for starting teachers since 2015.
For licensed teachers, starting pay rose from $43,011 annually to $50,115. The district also offered $4,000 relocation bonuses for teachers hired from out of state or more than 100 miles away, contingent upon agreeing to work at the district for three years.
By the end of July, the district of 315,000 students announced it had hired 883 new teachers for the upcoming school year. But at that time, it still had an estimated 1,475 vacancies for licensed teachers, according to a local news report.
Some recruiters have continued to proactively seek job applicants well past the spring, peak recruitment season. The Baltimore County school system in Maryland held a job fair as recently as Aug. 4 in hopes of reducing its more than 400 vacancies by the time school starts on Aug. 22.
Hiring managers were on hand to meet prospective employees and share financial benefits. The district went so far as to pick up the tab for fingerprinting, a requisite part of the job application process, according to a local news report. Additionally, the school system recently increased starting salaries of unionized teachers with bachelor’s degrees to approximately $60,000 per year.
Lowering qualifications for teachers
Some states with an insufficient number of interested qualified teaching applicants are opening positions to nontraditional teacher applicants.
Arizona recently changed its policy to allow people to 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. The Florida Department of Education recently announced that military veterans without a teaching certificate or a bachelor’s degree can apply for teaching positions. Among the applicant requirements are four years of military service, 60 college credits with a minimum 2.5 GPA, and demonstrated mastery in a given subject area.
There’s no disputing the breadth of recent recruitment efforts across the nation to address the teacher shortage. But considering how even some districts that have taken aggressive actions to reduce shortages continue to come up short, the outlook appears less than favorable. These last-ditch efforts may be no match for an industry in which many of its professionals cite a variety of factors—including stress and burnout, low pay, and lack of support—as causing them to leave their jobs.
“Regardless of the cleverness of the district recruiting strategy or the savviness of the candidates’ negotiating skills, we just do not have enough certified teachers to put in the classroom,” Walton said. “And at the end of the day, it will be our most vulnerable districts that will be most adversely impacted.”