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What Administrators Need to Know About Teacher Shortages

What Administrators Need to Know About Teacher Shortages

A growing number of districts and states around the country have faced significant teacher shortages in recent years. Administrators have found themselves scrambling to fill open positions with qualified candidates and have been forced to find creative, and at times, less than ideal, solutions to overcome this issue. And, these shortages come with negative impacts on multiple levels. Teachers are left with larger class sizes, increased workloads, and classes outside of their area of expertise; students are at risk of missing out on the type of top-quality instruction they need and deserve in order to thrive academically.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at what lies at the root of these teacher-shortage issues and what administrators can consider doing to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Causing the Teacher Shortage Problem?

Teacher shortage across the United States is a nuanced issue that varies significantly from region to region and district to district—it’s impossible to attribute it to a single cause. However, several key factors can be identified:

Population demographics

Nationwide, schools on the far ends of the population spectrum face the greatest teacher-staffing challenges. In remote, rural areas, districts struggle to offer salaries and lifestyle benefits (including access to housing, entertainment options, and walkability) that are competitive with more urban areas. On the other hand, schools in urban areas with the highest proportions of minority and economically disadvantaged students, in addition to budgetary constraints, also struggle to recruit and retain teachers for challenging classrooms. Compounding the issue, populations are growing at a pace that is difficult to keep up with in certain urban centers, while other rural areas continue to lose students and the funding that comes with them. This interactive map from the Learning Policy Institute illustrates these geographic discrepancies.

Complex teacher-licensing requirements

Teacher-licensing requirements vary greatly from state to state. In some states, like Wisconsin, perceived complexities and significant investments of time and money involved in licensing and credentialing across subject areas, including some related ones like different science disciplines, are a barrier to filling positions in high-demand subject areas. Licensing reciprocity between states is also highly inconsistent, limiting teacher mobility and candidate pools in some regions.

Alternative licensure concerns

Largely as a response to ongoing teacher shortages, states have approved various expanded alternative paths to teaching certification. These programs allow individuals who already hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree outside of education to become certified to teach in public schools. However, concerns have been raised about how well these programs prepare the individuals who complete them for the challenges of the classroom and diverse student populations. This can have significant impacts on teacher retention and, in turn, ongoing shortages.

What Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as our country’s ongoing teacher shortage inevitably takes time and sustained effort; there will never be a quick-fix for this problem. However, there are certainly concrete steps that administrators can take to manage immediate staffing issues and lay the groundwork for overcoming the broader challenge. Here are three options to consider:

Talk to local legislators

Advocacy efforts do make a difference. Talk to your local politicians about staffing challenges that your school or district is facing and how those challenges are affecting the teachers and students you serve. As much as possible, provide these legislators with concrete numbers and statistics to support your case. Overnight changes won’t happen, but with time, these conversations can lead to real and impactful policy changes in regard to funding and teacher licensure.

Focus on workplace culture

You may not have control over the size of the applicant pool in your area, but you do have some, if not complete, control over retaining the high-quality teachers you already have. So, even if your school or district is working under significant financial constraints, do all you can to make your buildings outstanding workplaces. Prioritize teacher-induction programs to ensure that all new staff members you hire get started on the right foot—and stick around. Provide opportunities for all of your teachers to engage in mentorship, seek professional development, take on leadership roles, network with their peers, and voice their opinions and needs. The resource edWeb is a great place to start for free webinars and networking resources to share with your staff. Even small cultural shifts to prioritize teachers’ well-being can have a huge impact on finding and retaining the talent you need.

Consider a virtual school partner

Often, virtual schools are understandably seen as competition by public school administrators, and for many, they may not be a teacher-shortage solution that immediately comes to mind. However, partnering with such a program can be a practical, convenient, and cost-effective route to take to address staffing challenges. For example, Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy is a fully accredited virtual school that works with schools and districts to provide over 300 courses aligned to state standards—including career and technical education, World Languages, and Advanced Placement® options—paired with high-quality teachers certified in the state. Students can be enrolled in EdOptions Academy courses as needed, enabling our partners to provide the courses students want, the flexibility to quickly fill staffing gaps when needs arise, and the ability to retain student enrollment. 

Interested in learning more about how partnership with EdOptions Academy can help your school or district manage teacher-shortage challenges? Check out this blog post on 7 Benefits of Partnering with a Virtual School!'s picture
Sarah Cornelius

Sarah Cornelius is an Associate Product Manager at Edmentum and has been with the company since 2014. In her role, she works to provide educators with engaging and insightful resources. Sarah received her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media from the University of Wisconsin - Stout.