National Teacher Shortage Needs a National Response

national teacher shortage

It’s no secret that there’s a national teacher shortage. Qualified educators are in short supply across the nation. There are nearly 3.2 million teachers serving approximately 98,000 traditional public schools in our nation. Many schools experience a nationwide shortage of math, science, English language learning, and special education teachers each year.

Reasons for a National Teacher Shortage

There are several reasons why teachers are in such short supply in every state. Here are a few of the most common: 

Low Pay, Lack of Respect

Many individuals find out early on that they can major in another field and have a lot more earning power throughout their career. Their starting salary is better, and there are more opportunities for advancement. The average salary of elementary and secondary public school teachers from 1969-2019 was about $61,000. New York teachers are paid the highest average salary ($86,000), while those in Mississippi earn the least ($45,574). When asked in a recent Teacher and Principal Survey, nearly 35% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “If I could get a higher paying job I’d leave teaching as soon as possible.” That’s an alarming statistic.

In addition, those in the teaching profession simply aren’t afforded the same level of respect as in other industries. In some cases, society views teachers as little more than cheaper options for childcare. When asked in that same survey about stress and disappointments they experience within their schools, nearly 28% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the stress and disappointments just weren’t worth it. 

Now, does that mean that all those teachers will leave the classroom for good? It’s unlikely. But even losing 10% could make class sizes even larger and significantly impact student learning. 


An Aging Workforce

We have an aging workforce in our schools. The average age of public school teachers nationally is 42.6, with more than half ranging in age from 30-49. Depending on the retirement structure in their state, some teachers will remain in the classroom until 65, while in a few states they can retire in their 40s. Teaching is like most other professions: Those who love what they do will continue to work, while those who don’t will look for the nearest exit door.

Some school districts have opted to offer “early out” incentives to cut costs. That makes sense from an economic perspective. However, when seasoned teachers leave they’re often replaced by inexperienced teachers fresh out of college. To some that might sound appealing, given the increasing emphasis on technology and the perception that younger teachers possess greater skill in that area this sometimes is a misnomer. Youth doesn’t ensure competence in technology; knowledge and skill do.

In addition, veteran teachers have an impact on much more than their own classroom. They lead curriculum committees and make important decisions about textbook adoption. They serve as mentors for new teachers and sometimes, even for new building principals. Over the years they have amassed a tool chest of instructional methods that are effective with students in that community. Their loss is felt throughout an entire school. 


COVID’s Exacerbating the National Teacher Shortage

We know that COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives. It’s also impacting our nation’s teachers and thus, our nation’s students. Some teachers have been infected while others are fearful of bringing the virus home to their families. Those who are able to report to school onsite feel overwhelmed by the extra pressures placed upon them, and the additional responsibility for ensuring students wear masks, wash their hands regularly, social distance, and the like. In a recent survey of 140 school superintendents in Colorado, one summed it by saying: 

“Our teachers and staff are stretched thin, and we can’t offer them any relief,” one superintendent in northwest Colorado wrote. “We don’t have enough subs, and I fear we will begin to lose teachers and other staff. The emotional stress our teachers and especially our leaders are under is vast, and I don’t know how long we can endure.” 


How to Tackle the National Teacher Shortage

We are all interested in making sure each student has a qualified teacher in their classroom. Think tanks such as the Learning Policy Institute are compiling research and data that states can use to address the problem within their own borders. 

Loosen Requirements

Several state departments of education have decided to loosen the requirements to become a teacher. For example, Missouri recently decided to eliminate the cumulative GPA requirement from all teacher certification rules. Other states have decided to no longer require an individual to pass a content exam before admitting them into a teacher preparation program. 

Simply loosening or eliminating requirements may increase teacher supply, but the impact it could have on student learning is sobering.  


Grow Your Own Teachers

Some school districts are turning to area residents who may already work as a paraprofessional or substitute teacher. These individuals have already earned several college credits but haven’t yet completed state certification requirements. Building principals frequently encourage these individuals to complete those requirements, sometimes even finding scholarship funds within the community or at a local university. These “Grow Your Own” models enable school principals to staff classrooms with individuals who have strong roots within the local community. Frequently, their own children are enrolled in the district. Those are individuals who aren’t likely to leave. 

California education officials have implemented an initiative approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing that focuses on growing the number of qualified mathematics teachers. At the district level, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is shoring up its supply of special education and other hard-to-find teachers through its STEP UP and Teach program. The program provides mentoring as well as financial support to qualified candidates. These candidates may already employed in the district as paraprofessional and who have strong ties to the local community.

This “grow your own” approach is similar in many ways to other nationwide efforts such as the Kansas City Teacher Residency project. It’s based on the premise that novice teachers learn best under the careful mentoring of experienced educators. It’s also competency-based in many respects, because teacher candidates must demonstrate what they know and are able to do on a daily basis. 


A National Solution Needed

The national teacher shortage will only get worse unless we collectively get serious and implement data-informed initiatives. The federal government should drive these efforts. States can then implement them. Our new Education Secretary Nominee Miguel Cardona has extensive experience at the P-12 level and understands the crisis facing our schools. He needs to form a blue-ribbon panel to tackle this problem. That group should develop a blueprint for how the federal government and states can partner to find workable, effective solutions. 

A national problem such as a shortage of qualified educators requires a national response. 




About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 



Top Graphic Credit: CDC on Unsplash


Teacher Shortage: Grow Your Own

Teacher Shortage

Across our nation, school superintendents and building principals continue to experience a nationwide teacher shortage in areas such as math, science, English language learning, and special education. It will only get worse unless state department of education officials are willing to pilot innovative ideas.

Teaching is a demanding profession and the classroom can be a tough place to be. Gone are the days when individuals go into teaching just to “have something to fall back on” and to work the same hours as their children. As a result of increasing demands placed on teachers, low pay, long hours, and little respect, teachers are leaving the profession in droves and are choosing a different career path. Moreover, decreasing enrollment in university teacher preparation programs confirms that fewer men and women are even considering entering the teaching field. So, how can school district officials make sure there is a highly-qualified, caring, and competent teacher in every classroom?


Tackling the Teacher Shortage through “Grow Your Own” Programs


California’s STEP UP and Teach Program

California education officials recognize this critical teacher shortage, and they are committed to finding a solution.  One initiative approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) focuses on increasing the number of qualified mathematics teachers. At the district level, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is trying to increase its supply of special education and other hard-to-find teachers through its STEP UP and Teach program. This program provides mentoring as well as financial support to qualified candidates, often those who are already employed in the district as paraprofessionals and who have strong ties to the local community.

Paraprofessionals work with students either individually or in small groups under the supervision of licensed teachers. They may provide some tutoring in math or reading. They may help a special needs student get from one class to another throughout the day. Some paraprofessionals may work in before-school or after-school programs. They typically have earned at least 60 college credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Paraprofessionals often make the best teachers, because they are typically mature adults and often parents of students in the school or district. They are able to build experience and confidence in their teaching skills.

In California’s STEP UP and Teach program, principals are able to observe paraprofessionals working directly in the school throughout the year, which makes them known commodities as positions open up.


Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR) Program

Another “grow your own” approach is the Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR) program. The program is based on the premise that teachers are best trained on-site. Moreover, KCTR interns practice under the careful mentoring of experienced teachers in real-life situations. It’s also competency-based in many respects, because pre-service teachers must demonstrate what they know and are able to do on a daily basis and they have regular opportunities to improve their skills.


New Mexico “Grow Your Own Teachers Act”

The state of New Mexico is funding its own program designed to address teacher supply and demand challenges. The “Grow Your Own Teachers Act” seeks to provide opportunities for paraprofessionals (educational assistants) to pursue careers in teaching in New Mexico. The Act provides scholarships to attend a public university in New Mexico to earn a bachelor’s degree in education.


Minnesota’s GYO Grant Program

Likewise, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has recently released the details for its Grow Your Own teacher grant program. This program is unique because it provides two funding pathways. Pathway 1 is for paraprofessionals who have made the decision to complete their bachelor’s degree and earn their teacher licensure. Pathway 2 is for high school students who want to explore teaching as a possible career choice.


Are Grow Your Own Programs the Answer?

Which of these Grow Your Own programs is most effective at meeting teacher supply and demand challenges across our nation? The verdict’s still out.  School district officials may be able to recruit and hire teachers more easily. However, until we raise salaries and elevate respect for the teaching profession, it’s likely we’ll continue to have a national teacher shortage.


About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher



Top Graphic Credit:


Rural Schools: Let’s Talk Teacher Shortages and What to Do About Them.

Recruitment. Salaries. Culture Shock. Retention. These are all factors that contribute to nationwide shortages of teachers—particularly challenging in areas of high demand, such as mathematics, science, special education, English language learning, and the like. While we commonly read about and focus on solutions to meet demand in urban settings, educational reformers and policy makers need to also consider how best to meet demand in rural areas. While there are some commonalities, the solutions are not one and the same.

Recruitment. As with urban districts, rural schools often have difficulty in recruiting qualified applicants for teaching positions. In some areas, school officials won’t receive a single applicant for a given position. Part of the problem is getting the word out—many rural school districts still rely on word-of-mouth, or publication in the local newspaper, or posting on the school’s website–but there are other factors that contribute to recruitment issues such as low salaries, few cultural opportunities, and feelings of isolation for individuals who may not have family ties to a given area. Plus, it’s likely that every other district in that area is also trying to recruit for the same positions, so there’s a competition factor at play as well.

Salaries. In some areas, a district’s salary scale is so low that teachers’ own children qualify for free or reduced lunch, due in part because of the declining number of local businesses and industries that contribute to the tax base. Less industry means less revenue generated in taxes, both from business owners and from their employees—who support local schools through real estate taxes. Moreover, principals and superintendents can’t always hire the “best” candidate or the most highly qualified candidate—because their salary budget is so limited, they often have to hire someone fresh out of college with no experience, primarily because they can pay that person less money than someone with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree. Plus, teachers already employed in a district have little incentive to go back to school and earn an advanced degree—in some rural districts teachers have received a total increase of $250 for earning a master’s degree—which is spread out over 12 months and subject to tax withholdings.

Culture Shock. When I was in school, it was easy to spot teachers who weren’t from my area—they dressed differently; they spoke differently; and they weren’t related to anyone I knew. And, more often than not, they didn’t drive a pickup truck—a dead giveaway that they were not local. With very few exceptions, those teachers never stayed long—after a year or two at the most they moved on—usually back to where they went to college or where they had family. I recall one high school teacher who packed up and left after one quarter—she had a bachelor’s degree and her state teacher certification but she was not prepared for such a cultural shock. I still think about her to this day, wondering if she ever recovered and returned to another classroom.

Retention. Retaining teachers after they’ve been hired is an ongoing challenge in every school district. Some teachers just job hop—for various reasons they like moving around. Others feel as though they have been treated unfairly for one reason or another. In many instances, a spouse’s job takes them to another location. School officials can’t always retain their high-quality teachers, but more could be done to keep them and support their ongoing professional growth—including finding ways to promote those who demonstrate a propensity for leadership roles.


                               A Few Recommendations

I’m a firm believer that if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. So, here are a few ideas I have for addressing each of the challenges outlined above. Keep in mind this is just a start—a springboard for further conversation if you will:


  • Start Building that Pipeline—School officials could work with local churches, parent and civic groups, and high schools to promote the benefits of local school involvement and employment. Build a cohesive, year-long campaign and improve upon it each year by making it a community-wide effort.
  • Use the Grow Your Own Approach—Principals and superintendents should look closely at those paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and volunteers who have a bachelor’s degree—if they show promise they should be mentored and encouraged to get that teaching certificate. Form a committee for this purpose and make it a priority to identify, recruit, and mentor individuals who demonstrate a propensity for success and who have strong ties to the local community.

Salaries & Retention:

Endowed Positions—School districts could partner with local businesses and industries to attract and retain high-quality teachers, particularly those in shortage areas. For example, an endowment could be established in a company’s name to supplement the income of a highly-qualified math teacher—the district would provide the regular salary and benefits, with the business adding an extra layer of salary as an incentive. Such an endowment would be good public relations for the business and may even provide some tax benefits. This may help not only to recruit but also retain high-quality teachers filling key positions, and it would further encourage school-business partnerships to create a workforce-influenced curriculum.



Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and educational agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, leadership, outcomes-based performance, making data-driven decisions, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about various issues related to academic excellence through her blog site ( Roberta can be reached through Twitter (@RRossFisher), LinkedIn (Roberta Ross-Fisher) and email at:


Source: America Must Get Serious About Addressing Teacher Shortages in Rural Areas | Knowledge Bank | US News