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Not a mystery: How to permanently end the teacher shortage

We are not chasing unicorns.

We already know how to end teacher shortages in five steps.

  1. Strengthen preparation. We can probably do better than 5-week crash courses and university programs that are disconnected from reality. Maybe residency models can help (e.g., here and here).
  2. Improve hiring. Some schools actually observe teachers teaching before hiring. Good thought.
  3. Increase compensation. Yes, money matters (e.g., here and here). Teachers need to stop saying, “I did not go into teaching for the money,” when we know many leave because of a lack of it. Some districts creatively address this.
  4. Provide support for new teachers. As the 2013 Illinois Teacher of the year wrote, teachers are more likely to stay when they have mentoring support.
  5. Improve working conditions. We know leadership, culture, politics, work structures, and resources matter (e.g., here, here, and avoid burnout factories).



Schools like Jones Elementary and Justin Minkel have figured this out.

We are seeing outstanding international practices described by Roz Byrne and Jessica Roberts.

We have districts who are actively problem solving – and not just ones that pay their teachers a lot. Linda Darling Hammond and her colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute refer to “sticky schools” that teachers don’t want to leave. When I talk to superintendents, I hear them talking about being “destination districts” – places where teachers really want to work. Administrators don’t want to leave these districts either. As Renee Moore pointed out, we need more places that become destination districts for teachers of color.

We will always need more great teachers and administrators. Right now both are in short supply.

Despite the rich ideas explored in this roundtable, the question that remains for me is: how do we make education—both teaching and administration—a destination profession? Obviously, more money would help. What would happen to the status of teaching, the ability to recruit and retain great teachers, if suddenly teachers were making $200,000 a year?

A tougher question is: how do we do this with the resources we already have available? Let’s be honest, increasing taxes is very unpopular in most states. I live in a state that hasn’t passed a budget for the last two years. So, let me suggest four areas that might not require additional funding.


I prepare pre-service teachers at a small liberal arts college outside of Chicago. We have been tracking what our graduates have done since 2010. We know we can improve our program, and we know much of this from what our graduates tell us. A group of undergraduate researchers and I follow up with them regularly (which is why we get a remarkable 90% response rate on our first-year survey).

Based on graduate feedback, this year we instituted an advisory panel of teachers and administrators who could better inform their transition to practice. Preparation programs of all kinds need to collect these data and look at this unblinkingly in order to better serve students.

Hiring and support

Hiring earlier allows for a multi-step hiring process. Spend more time hiring, and you spend less time dealing with the consequences of a bad hire. The edTPA has moved teacher preparation from fill-in-the-bubble tests toward performance. We need to make similar moves from stand-alone interviews to thoughtful performance tasks where teams of educators observe teachers working with real kids.

Once teachers are hired, they need support. This is one place where we can blur the lines between administrators and teachers (see Teacherpreneurs). Administrators need to continue to teach or at least co-teach. Teachers need the opportunity to lead beyond their classrooms. By reallocating teacher and administrator time, both can better support one another.

Working conditions

Recently, I was talking to Karis Parker, an educator in Kansas City, who is leaving her school because of a leadership vacuum. She said, “I am so tired of everything coming down on teachers. I want to have an influence on things that seem to be beyond teachers’ control.” 

She went on to describe curriculum, resources, and a lack of autonomy that prompted her to take an Assistant Principal position. Dan Pink eloquently describes this need for autonomy in all fields. Richard Ingersoll, a prominent sociologist of education, found that teachers with reduced autonomy were less likely to stay in teaching.

Good administrators are essential. Many of them are already doing powerful work. Hopefully, Karis will become one of these administrators. We all know that administrators can catalyze or constrain healthy working conditions. In fact, this November, Corwin will release my book, Leading Together: Teachers and Administrators Improving Student Outcomes. This is a compilation of evidence from across the country that demonstrates what teachers and administrators can do with students when the working conditions are right.

These working conditions include resources, culture, and work design. Schools getting this right everywhere:

  • In rural contexts - see the superintendent who works in a trailer in the parking lot of the high school in order to maximize resources for teachers and students;
  • In suburban contexts - see the principal who organized a pep rally for teachers coming to August in-service with students lining the halls and cheering for their teachers;
  • And in urban contexts - see the students, parents, and teachers leading meetings to improve school climate with the principal as a participant in the meeting.

The profession that makes all others possible

John Holland began this roundtable during teacher appreciation week with a powerful call to prospective teachers. As Barnett Berry likes to say, we need to value the profession that makes all others possible. We need to move past what Karis (and Krista Galleberg) describe. Karis said, “It is a crazy contrast in how people respond when I tell them I am becoming an Assistant Principal. They are like, ‘Congratulations, that is really impressive.’ That is not the response I got when I told them I was a teacher. What does that say about teaching?”

As educators, all we can do is be amazing teachers and administrators who serve our students every day as they discover their own gifts and talents. They will tell our story; they already do. We can also tell those stories. Let’s keep elevating the conversation and highlight the work that our colleagues and students are doing.

We are not chasing unicorns.

We can make teaching a destination profession.

Jon’s post is the final installment of CTQ's May/June blogging roundtable on teacher shortages. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find a complete list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media. Also, join our Twitter chat, co-hosted with the Learning Policy Institute, on Wednesday, July 12th, at 4 p.m. EST, #Teachershortage. 


1 Comment

Jessica Cuthbertson commented on July 10, 2017 at 4:57pm:

In vs. out of control

Thank you Jon for this synthesis - filled with research links and links to other posts in this dynamic roundtable discussion - a great primer on the topic of teacher shortages.

I love that you focused on factors that are within educators' spheres of influence. We can (and must) advocate for better preparation and working conditions. We can push our schools to engage in rigorous and relevant hiring practices; when my last school moved toward peformance task interviews with time for candidates to co-plan and guest teach a lesson we learned so much more about what candidates knew and were able to do with students than we ever learned from traditional interviews -- and we learned about how they collaborated with other teachers.

While I think #3 (increase compensation) on your list of 5 steps is critical, I also love the hope and solutions-orientation that your post gives the practitioners of today. We can't wait for policy to address staffing needs, we need to be proactive in our local communities about recruitment, support, and retention of teachers, and you give us a place from which to advocate for the profession that makes all others possible.

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