Why America's Teacher Shortage Will Get Worse Before It Can Be Better

America is facing a teacher shortage which will get worse until we can push for more people to enter the education field

Filling vacancies in almost any workplace can be a frustrating and daunting proposition. Candidates with talent and experience want more money than is budgeted. Meanwhile, greener prospects--eager for the experience--often demonstrate a lack of preparedness. This is true for so many industries and fields. However, teaching school is historically different. Education was a calling and even those exceptional, seasoned professionals would toil for years in its pedagogical vineyards. Yet times change and so does teaching. Fewer college students today are aspiring to steward American children and youth to intellectual young adulthood. This puts a strain on classrooms in the future.

The Supply Side

If college freshmen are any indication, a precious few are planning to teach school when they complete their studies. In fact, a 2016 survey of new collegians revealed that only 4.5 percent would major in education (a traditional entry point into the profession). This paled against an 11 percent figure polled in 2000. Combine this bleak number to the average number of teachers leaving the occupation: 8 percent over the last decade, with some years reaching 10 percent. While that may not seem like much, it actually doubles the rate seen in other developed countries.

The Demand Side

If the number of anticipated school district enrollees was shrinking, the diminishing teacher pool would be no cause for alarm. Yet, far from shrinking, it is growing. The U.S. Department of Education projects a three percent increase in public school enrollment from 2014 to 2026, having swelled by 6 percent from 2000 to 2014. This amounts to about a million more students attending public school nationwide. If class size ratios are to remain manageable (some argue they have passed that point), than a significant infusion of trained and competent teachers is necessary to equal the urgent need.

The Causes

The rise in overall student populations is not uniform throughout the United States. In fact, some states will see enrollments decline. Where it goes up is accounted for by increasing general populations; higher fertility rates; and growing economies. These are positive developments in general, but troubling against a backdrop of fewer teachers.

Those leaving the teaching field before retirement age may cite poor compensation and benefits. Still, according to scholars examining this trend, most of those who flee the classroom feel constricted by administrators and school boards. The lack of flexibility causes many to believe their teaching gifts are being wasted.

What Are the Solutions?

Bringing in--and holding onto--talented educators requires a multi-pronged strategy. Particularly in states where new businesses and industries are booming, those very states where enrollments are soaring, offering competitive salaries and benefits are not optional, but necessary. The Learning Policy Institute recommends tapping into federal and state resources to provide more financial incentives.

Increasing grants and subsidies for students to study education spares many newly-minted teachers the cumbersome burden of paying back large student loans. Loan forgiveness policies for years of classroom service are also effective means to keep teachers teaching. Also, because more than a few teachers leave the profession after a family relocation, more reciprocal agreements among states are desirable to make new licensure easier. Of course, keeping class sizes in check also keeps teachers on staff. This is where recruitment (lowering the teacher/student ratio) and retention intersect.

When administrators know how to recruit teachers, there is a revitalization of public schools in mission and in execution. Veteran instructors are encouraged when their classes are modest in size. Moreover, students learn better when teachers are more accessible.