Long before the pandemic, school districts across the nation struggled to staff classrooms with skilled teachers. The crisis did not create the teacher shortage, but it accelerated teacher retirements and other departures while contributing to declining enrollments in educator preparation programs.
Our nation’s education system spans national, state, district, classroom and community levels. Many rightly wonder if this ecosystem’s demand for qualified teachers can be met in the post-pandemic era.
To do so, we need deeper — and more active — collaborations to address the multiple layers of challenges inside the teaching profession so that we can effectively recruit, train and retain more teachers.
We need to start by addressing why students are reluctant to pursue a career in education in the first place.
Prior to the pandemic, there was already a disheartening lack of interest in the profession. Parents and even teachers themselves discouraged young people from pursuing teaching careers. The pandemic compounded the issue, as potential education students watched teachers struggle.
Additionally, there hasn’t been enough financial aid available to assist education students with tuition and other fees. And many prospective teachers have been discouraged by the ongoing financial hurdles of low teacher salaries.
Teaching as a profession is richly rewarding but is not richly rewarded. To attract students to a career in education, we must assist teacher candidates by supporting institutional, state and federal policies that provide them with grants and diminish their loan debt.
Furthermore, today’s teaching students are typically older than in the past, and many must work other jobs to pay their tuition. The best teacher preparation has moved beyond student teaching to clinical practice, and intensive, immersive and longer engagement in a classroom with a mentor teacher. While clinical practice is the best preparation for a classroom-ready teacher, as a requirement, it can discourage or prevent candidates who must also work. Supporting teacher candidates with a living stipend toward the completion of their clinical practice would help greatly.
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) is collaborating with several partners on legislation to support teacher candidates financially. These partners include the Teacher Education Council of State Colleges and Universities, the University of Northern Iowa and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. This work will broaden the field both in the number and diversity of candidates, and it must be supported.
Many prospective teachers are also discouraged by a lack of mobility due to states’ often incompatible licensing requirements. Historically, educators tend to teach in the states where they attended school. However, today’s younger generation desires flexibility and mobility and does not want to make a lifetime career decision based upon where they received their teacher certification. That is why it is crucial to examine state licensure requirements and enact policies that enable teacher license reciprocity between states. It’s also why the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification and the Council of State Governments are studying ways to facilitate such policies.
In addition, the Biden-Harris administration’s American Rescue Plan Act allocates $122 billion for the K-12 education system and nearly $40 billion for higher education. Some of this funding should be used to help address our teacher shortage.
To develop and maintain a diverse and professional teacher workforce, increased financial aid for teacher candidates is essential. American Rescue Plan funding can be used to build on the work of many educator-preparation programs and school districts that have successfully developed residency models and other innovative approaches that streamline the pathways to teaching.
Strong programs and partnerships like these, between colleges and universities and local education agencies and school districts, can and should be successfully replicated across the nation. To meet the demand for qualified new teachers, let us look at what is already working and find ways to multiply these efforts.
Lynn M. Gangone is president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
This story about solving the teacher shortage was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.