Tackling teacher shortage requires multifaceted approach


Published September 6, 2023

Julie Gorlewski.

As districts continue to gear up for a new school year, many are facing the realities of a nationwide teaching shortage. The Learning Policy Institute estimates that the United States could face a shortage of more than 100,000 teachers by the mid-2020s. With a myriad of issues surrounding hiring new teachers — including pay, benefits, and bureaucracy — the pipeline of incoming teachers continues to shrink, further exacerbating the situation.

“The negative effects of shortages are multidimensional. How we address the growing problem of scarcity will have immediate and long-term consequences for today’s youth,” says Julie Gorlewski, professor and senior associate dean of academic affairs and teacher education in the Graduate School of Education.

Gorlewski talked with UBNow about the impact the shortage has on students and their districts, and effective strategies for alleviating this national crisis.

How does a shortage of teachers affect students and school districts?

Research shows that teachers are the most influential, in-school variable on student achievement. Teacher quality can affect the life chances of young people. Simply put, students who experience challenging curriculum, effective instruction and learning as relevant have greater opportunities for college and career success. Conversely, the negative effects of shortages are multidimensional. Students suffer from reduced instructional effectiveness, and schools and districts experience a loss of pedagogical knowledge and skills, as well as professional leadership. There are also fiscal consequences. The Learning Policy Institute estimates that teacher turnover costs school districts $20,000 to $30,000 for every teacher who leaves the district.

What are some measures to help alleviate the shortage issue?

Addressing teacher shortages effectively requires a multifaceted approach that prioritizes teacher quality, diversity and retention. Research indicates that teacher residency programs, such as the one we have in our Graduate School of Education, can achieve these goals; thus, we have recently transitioned all of our teacher certification programs to culminate in residency. Grounded in a yearlong, co-teaching experience with expert mentor teachers, teacher residencies involve collaborative partnerships with school districts so that specific certification needs can be targeted. After completing coursework in a university-based program, teacher residents receive professional development support and assessment during their first years of teaching, which is when novices are most vulnerable to leaving the profession. Ultimately, teachers are better prepared through residency, and students benefit. P-12 students benefit from co-teaching during the program, and candidates graduate learner-ready on day one. Residency programs improve teacher quality and retention, and increase the diversity of the teaching population.

What can be done to bring in and support the next generation of teachers?

Teacher shortages are critically important because all learners deserve excellent teachers. How we address the growing problem of scarcity will have immediate and long-term consequences for today’s youth. Teacher residencies have proven to provide educational experiences that address the shortage while also increasing teacher quality and diversity, and improving retention.

What factors affect or influence a teacher shortage?

Shortages are influenced by both recruitment and retention. Factors related to recruitment include geographic location, subject area and grade level. Teacher shortages are more likely to affect high-need schools, and are more dire in such areas as science, mathematics and world languages. Additional considerations related to teacher retention include working conditions, and compensation and benefits.

How severe is the national teacher shortage, and what can be done about it?

The Learning Policy Institute estimates that the United States could face a shortage of over 100,000 teachers by the mid-2020s. Teacher shortages are complicated because schools serve multiple purposes in society. The two most prevalent are instructional and custodial. The instructional purpose is obvious. Schools are expected to engage students in activities that will enable them to develop knowledge and skills necessary to live well and participate in our democracy. The custodial purpose of schools is less acknowledged but very important, as was evident when schools closed during the pandemic. Families with school-aged children scrambled to balance child care with employment, even as educators struggled to offer remote instruction. Lessons learned during the pandemic reinforced the custodial role of schools in maintaining economic continuity on large and small scales. Thus, shortages exacerbate inequities and reveal how we envision the purposes of school. We are convinced that teaching residencies have the capacity to address the shortage and meet the needs of learners. However, the increased demands of residency require policy support and dedicated resources. Public advocacy and support are crucial.