Looking beyond tomorrow in the teacher shortage

Sometimes we feel lost, and sometimes we are lost.

When it comes to the teacher shortage, some, like The 74, would suggest that we just feel lost, that there is no real problem. That we just need shorter ways to get teachers in classrooms. To me this approach sounds like a Grimm fairy tale where the shortcut takes us into danger.

Sometimes we are lost because we can’t see the big picture. We need a birds eye view. The Coming Crisis in Teaching, a report released by the Learning Policy Institute, does just that: provides a look at the entire landscape of teacher recruitment and retention.  Sometimes we are lost because the information we have doesn’t match up to our experience. Then you might ask someone who has experience for advice. This is where this blogging roundtable will contribute to the field. We have gathered together teachers and leaders from around the U.S. to provide perspective on what the teacher shortage looks and feels like on a daily basis.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that not having enough teachers is a problem. The reasons include toxic working conditions that create high rates of turnover, negative societal attitudes toward the profession, and accountability measures that focus on punishing under-performing states, districts, schools, and teachers. The question is not why is there a problem but what should we do about it?

The US Department of Education attempts to address this issue of differences through it’s yearly Teacher Shortage Area designation policy. This process enables states to meet requirements of Congressional Federal Regulations (CFR) that govern funds designated to financially support teachers to certify in high-needs TSAs through the Perkins and Stafford Loans and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH). These designations help to get teachers in classrooms a year or two from now.

In my state (Virginia), the list of Teacher Shortage Areas this year include:

This list looks different in every state and, when you look even closer, each school district. Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe noted recently that there was a critical shortage of some kind in every school district in Virginia. In my school district alone, there were 120 open teaching positions in July of 2017. When school began this year, there were still 58 open teaching positions.

So how do we address a problem that looks different in every situation? The first step is to acknowledge the enormity of the problem. Sure, approaches like offering certifications that puts bodies in classrooms or grant programs that solve the issue for a year, have merit in the short term, but this is a problem that needs long-term solutions. One that supports not just getting new teachers in the classroom but also getting good teachers to stay.

Take, for example, the Richmond Teacher Residency program attached to Virginia Commonwealth University’s school of education. This program places graduate students with highly qualified mentors recruited from the National Board Certification support program and school teachers’ of the year in a 13-month classroom residency.  Preservice teachers gradually gain mastery of their practice over an entire school year. This short circuits the traditional new teacher cycle of Anticipation, Survival, Disillusionment, Rejuvenation, and Reflection. New teachers may still experience these phases but they do so with the support of trained mentors who are accomplished teachers. The mentoring process creates professional growth for practicing teachers and new teachers development that positively influences commitment to the profession. The power of the teacher residency model is that it also supports experienced teachers. According to the Learning Policy Institute, experienced teachers produce the highest student gains on academic measures and influence areas like attendance, graduation, and college placement. Teacher residencies find a way out of the woods by building a partnership between institutes of higher education, practicing accomplished teachers and NBCTs, new teachers, and the community toward the practical solution of getting new teachers to stay and teach alongside accomplished peers. The success new teachers from this program find benefits their students but also creates a feedback cycle because they are more likely to stay, to become accomplished, and to support other preservice teachers in the future.

This is just one example of a solution to the teacher shortage that works. Over the coming weeks you will have the opportunity to learn what the teacher shortage looks and feels like from teachers, district leaders, superintendents, and researchers. We will gain insights into the teacher shortages not only from a variety of positions but also from across the country, including Arizona, New York, Chicago, and Georgia. You will get to know what the data feels like for students, teachers, and leaders.


John’s post is part of a roundtable blogging discussion sharing educators’ stories on our nation’s teacher shortage. We want to hear your thoughts! Join the conversation by commenting on and sharing this blog and by reading the other blogs in this series. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to join the discussion on social media.

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  • Lauren Bloom

    I am a reader of The Connected Educator – Learning and Leading in a Digital Age. Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed reading this.