By Catherine Jacques, MEd - October 24, 2022
You’ve heard it all before… There are not enough teachers to fill all the open positions out there. The teachers who are applying aren’t as qualified. Class sizes are getting larger. There’s higher teacher turnover and lower enrollment in colleges of education. These and many other issues often boil down to two factors: teacher recruitment and teacher retention.
Teacher recruitment and retention challenges are not universal and vary widely from district to district and state to state. Yet the challenge is pervasive: Districts across the country face new or more dire recruitment and retention challenges than they have in the past, often causing ripple effects of other challenges in school systems.
Teacher shortage challenges and their complexities have caught the attention of several major news outlets, including The Associated Press, Fox News, CNN, and The New York Times. However, these articles tend to focus on the challenges rather than potential solutions.
Of course, there are some great resources to help leaders figure out where they are facing teacher shortages (including this one from our colleagues at the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders), but knowing where recruitment and retention challenges exist is only the first step. To make meaningful progress against those challenges, education leaders need to explore and confirm why these challenges exist at the local level. Exploring the reasons behind recruitment and retention challenges across a specific group of schools or in a particular subject area helps us make sure we are addressing the right problems. Getting down to the root cause prevents wasting time and resources on changes that are not likely to make enough of a positive difference in recruitment and retention for the schools most in need.
So what can state and local leaders do to better understand the reasons behind their recruitment and retention challenges? Ask teachers!
Although there is some existing data that might be helpful (such as school climate data or the Schools and Staffing Survey), this data alone is unlikely to give leaders enough actionable information to develop concrete and targeted strategies. Consider asking teachers directly about their decisions to stay or leave and which factors have the most influence on these decisions. For example, do they care most about their salary level, or are other factors—such as student behavior or scheduling—more important? For teachers who have recently left the profession, what would convince them to return to teaching? Leaders may be surprised that the motivating factors to return might not be directly related to what made them leave. A teacher who left a school due to large class sizes may return for a higher salary. To better understand the factors influencing recruitment, leaders can ask new teachers about their priorities while job searching. For example, are they more interested in having support from experienced teachers or access to resources (such as technology)? This type of direct feedback from teachers may confirm current assumptions about why teachers stay or leave, but it might also yield surprising results!
Not sure where to start looking for potential strategies to address teacher recruitment and retention challenges? The Region 9 Comprehensive Center’s Teacher Recruitment, Retention, and Recognition project with the Illinois State Board of Education has recently published the following series of seven briefs that share resources on how to address specific types of teacher shortages:
- Bilingual teachers: Battling the Bilingual Teacher Shortage
- Teachers of color: Addressing the Shortage of Teachers of Color
- Teachers at hard-to-staff schools: Combatting the Teacher Shortage in Low-Income and Low-Performing Schools
- New teachers: Solving the New Teacher Shortage
- Rural teachers: Resolving the Rural Teacher Shortage
- Special Education teachers: Tackling the Special Education Teacher Shortage
- STEM teachers: Dealing with the STEM Teacher Shortage
When reviewing these briefs, consider how the strategies they discuss relate to the reasons behind teachers’ decisions to stay or leave. For example, if many teachers have recently left the profession due to a lack of leadership opportunities, an induction and mentoring program may be a great way to offer current teachers a way to advance their careers without fully leaving the classroom. Also, consider sharing these strategies with teachers themselves; they may provide critical insights into what would make these strategies work in their schools (or not).
We want to hear from you! Are you having trouble with recruitment and retention in your district or school? Are you doing something innovative or successful with recruitment and retention that other district or school leaders should know about? Improving teacher recruitment and retention is unlikely to happen overnight; however, gathering insights directly from teachers can help us ensure that at least we are on the right path to making meaningful changes. Let us know how we can support you!
Catherine Jacques, MEd, PMP, is the project lead for the Region 9 Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation Sustainability Project and a researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Jacques has worked in education for more than 15 years as a teacher, researcher, and technical assistance provider; for the past decade, Jacques has studied the intersection of teacher leadership, educator effectiveness, and school improvement. Her extensive experience in state and local educator-focused initiatives provides a strong foundation for understanding the dynamics of state, regional, and local education systems. Jacques has worked directly with many state educational agencies and leading national organizations around teacher leadership. Previously, through the Midwest Comprehensive Center and Texas Comprehensive Center, Jacques directly supported and advised multiple state educational agencies around how to foster local teacher leadership, helping to launch ongoing initiatives impacting hundreds of educators.