All I hear on the news and read in articles lately are theories on our current teacher shortage in the United States, more specifically a quality teacher shortage. I’m calling this crisis, a ‘Teacher Bind.’
Throughout my work as a teacher coach and as hiring support staff in my local school district, this topic hits home for me. I am emotionally invested in a solution for the benefit of the kiddos right here in my hometown as well as those around the world.
Schools are in a bind to find teachers who are qualified and have a history of success. The stress and pressure teachers face right now is tremendous. Many have left the classroom to take on leadership roles in hopes of re-inspiring their inner passion for education and some left the profession all together.
As a result, classrooms are left with an urgent need to fill teaching positions- a void proven to be more difficult than just hiring an adult with a college education willing to do the job. We need qualified, equipped, and passionate teachers.
Problem #1- Not Qualified nor Equipped
Many classrooms are being staffed with long-term substitutes. There is no required teaching experience to become a substitute in a classroom. Putting someone in front of students on a long-term basis without proper training is hurting our nation. Children deserve to have a leader in front of them who is confident in their content knowledge, creative in their teaching methods, and has acquired proficiency in managing classroom behaviors.
Problem #2- Not Equipped
Although the enrollment in education programs is dropping drastically each year, there luckily is still a healthy amount of newly graduated teacher applicants getting hired in our schools currently. This might seem like a good thing, after all, we need teachers and here is a supply of new prospects. However, hiring too many new teachers is actually a deficit. Principals need to balance teacher experience in their buildings so that there is enough support to help these new teachers gain momentum in their development towards greatness. Right now, there are not enough experienced teachers on staff in most schools to provide mentorship to the new teachers. Similarly to problem #1 listed above, although these new teachers might have received proper training, they lack experience and that is hurting our children in the end as well.
These are problems we cannot fix overnight and these problems are not going anywhere over the next decade. What is a school to do?
A. In terms of Problem #1, students need an adult in the classroom without a doubt. There are circumstances were a principal cannot find a qualified teacher available at the moment they need it and have to employ a substitute teacher to cover a class for a lengthy period of time. Sure, we could take all of the children in that classroom and spread them out to other classes on that same grade level, but is that fair? Should the other teachers have to have an increase in the amount of students they serve? At some point, a teacher’s effectiveness tops out and even begins to go backwards when too many students are requiring their time and attention. There is an opportunity to provide a substitute teacher with support to gain the knowledge and skills to become an effective educator, but by law they cannot work beyond the school hours so creating meetings to provide value is challenging.
Wait…I thought we were talking solutions? This sounds like we have created more problems. Well, sometimes to find a solution you need to brainstorm and often that brings other obstacles to the forefront. It ensures the solution is long-lasting by digging deeper in search of loop holes or hot spots.
The solution I am going to propose is not one that bandaids the problem- one that requires the problem to appear before the solution can even be implemented. To avoid an unqualified, ill-equipped adult instructing our children on a long-term basis, we need to keep our good teachers. We need to keep what we have so that they don’t leave creating a mad scramble to find quality teachers. That means we listen to their opinions, validate their feelings, provide differentiated support to ensure they keep learning and growing, and most importantly we celebrate their expertise.
Sure, there might be times when life happens and an unexpected situation arises where we need to get a long-term sub, but that is few and far in-between.
That’s great and all, but what if schools have already lost their good teachers? What can be done?
Call them back. Even if they don’t want to come back, we have to find out the reason for why they left. Its imperative so that we don’t repeat our mistakes. There is still time to change behavior and decision making processes after hearing feedback from our most qualified employees.
At the end of the day, if nothing mentioned above has improved a school’s staffing initiative, Problem #2 is actually a solution to Problem #1- hire new teachers right out of school. Start attending college events where you can set up a booth to recruit. Send your teacher leaders to represent the school. Put up fliers around the dormitory halls advertising your school district and school specifically. Ask current teaching staff to ask friends and family for recommendations of potential qualified teachers.
It especially is time consuming when trying to turn a school around. But, its the single most important job an administrator could have. .
That will give us the best return on our investment and have the largest impact on student learning. .
B. In terms of Problem #2, expecting new teachers to have experience is ludicrous. When we hire them, we are accepting their inexperience as part of the equation you have to balance throughout the year. You might think that you have a whole staff of new teachers but we might actually have a variety of levels of inexperience. I have paired 1st and 2nd year teachers together in the past because although the 2nd year teacher is still inexperienced in the long game, they have found solutions to the most pressing obstacles new teachers face during that first year. This is a great resource to new teachers. These not-so-new teachers still feel that emotional connection to what they faced their first year and 1st year teachers will appreciate that their mentor “feels their pain.”
Instead of assigning other experienced teachers in the building multiple mentees and sprinkling stress all over their plate, start networking. Is there a school nearby with expert teachers that we could leverage? Can we provide some value to that school in return for their teacher’s experience? Maybe we could have some tech leaders in the building help the other staff roll out a 1:1 initiative of iPads while they send over some great mentors for professional development with new teachers on technique practice, problem/solution brainstorming, lesson planning review and feedback, etc.
If all else fails, get these new teachers to video their classes for reflection. Give them some guidance on the area and lens you wish for them to view the footage (ie. student engagement, behavior management, etc). Seeing their own teaching live is great. Step it up a notch and have expert teachers film themselves too as training for the new teachers. They can compare their own footage to that of an experienced teacher and help see where some gaps exist. Then they can start reaching out to others in the building, district or Twitter-verse for ideas on how to combat some challenges.
The point of this post is not to just vent about the current problems in education. Rather, I want to push the creative envelope in the way we approach solutions.
Schools are not islands. There is tons of support available, we just have to learn how to tap into it.
What solutions would you propose to the problems listed in this post?