Growing Our Own: Addressing the Teacher Shortage

Tim Van SoelenThe CACE Roundtable3 Comments

Empty classroom with no teacher.

On August 25, 2022, Education Week published a piece titled “Most Parents Don’t Want Their Kids to Become Teachers, Poll Finds.” The 2022 PDK International poll found that when parents were asked if they would want their child to become a teacher, 62 percent of parents surveyed responded “no.” The reasons varied, from poor compensation to difficulty of the job to lack of respect.

These three reasons certainly ring true for those in the classroom every day. Teachers are not paid well. According to Business.org researcher Nicolle Okoren, salaries for American K-12 teachers dipped about 3% from 2010 to 2021. Whereas teaching has never been an easy job, the increasing levels of disruptive behavior, threats of school shootings, and constant advances in technology have significantly amplified the complexity of the teaching vocation (not to mention a pandemic that caused a steep learning curve in online teaching).

“There was a time when education was considered one of the noblest professions.”

Also disheartening is a lack of respect for the profession. While trust is at a ten-year high (54 percent of respondents giving their schools an “A” or “B” grade and 63 percent saying they have a “great deal or a good amount” of overall trust and confidence in their community’s teachers), only 23 percent of this group gave that same “A” or “B” grade to America’s K-12 school system. There appears to be respect for local teachers but not for the system at large. On the August 21 episode of CBS News Face the Nation, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stated, “Let’s face it, this teacher shortage is a symptom of something that’s been going on for longer than the pandemic and that’s a teacher respect issue.”

The status of teachers

There was a time when education was considered one of the noblest professions. Along with medicine and church ministry, teaching was a highly respected and coveted position. For a community to grow and thrive, it needed to have medical professionals to keep people healthy and free from disease, religious leaders to strengthen faith and enrich spirits, and well-trained and enthusiastic teachers to inspire and equip the children.

Each profession is still needed for a flourishing community; these three are not exclusive, but the calling to teach has dropped in the “noble job” rankings. The reasons noted above (teacher compensation and complexity of the vocation) certainly contribute to this drop, but there are other factors as well. Whereas unions have their rightful place in our nation’s history, there is a natural consequence when teachers are perceived as labor instead of professionals. The school calendar does not help our cause—have you heard the “I guess you are getting ready to go back to work?” comment lately? The frequency of parents (and even fellow educators) taking to social media to blast a teacher or a school has taken its toll. To add fuel to the fire, when states (whose hands are forced due to the teacher shortage) pass laws that no longer require a bachelor’s degree for teaching, the profession is naturally degraded.

“How do we elevate teaching? We must. Education is the backbone of our democracy.”

As I reread the first part of this post, it was hard not to get a little depressed! As one of many who have given years to this vocational calling, it is disheartening to see statistics denoting teachers leaving the profession and reading their stories explaining why. How do we elevate teaching? We must. Education is the backbone of our democracy. Schools are where we have the greatest opportunity to foster creativity and curiosity, strengthen our understanding of how our country was built and how other countries were built, and challenge students to new levels of performance and achievement. A great teacher in every classroom is one of the most valuable resources we can ever provide for families in our communities. How can we meet such a lofty goal in the current context?

Looking for solutions

We seem to find ourselves in step three of an action research study. We have already 1) identified the problem and 2) reviewed the literature. It is now time to develop and implement a plan. We will need a number of experimental studies to address this challenge, as a single solution is not likely. A survey conducted earlier this year by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 44% of public schools report having full-time or part-time teacher vacancies. In other words, 44% of schools do not have a great teacher in every classroom.

“44% of schools do not have a great teacher in every classroom.”

There are several action research plans being piloted, some simply to address the immediate shortage. A district in Iowa is offering a $50,000 retirement incentive for teachers 60 years or older to stay through June 30, 2023. Some districts are switching to four-day weeks. Signing bonuses are also becoming more common. Hartford (CT) Public Schools is offering a $5,000 signing incentive for educators in high-demand subjects like math, science, and bilingual education. Taos (NM) Municipal Schools promises a $50,000 starting salary for any new teacher hire, plus a $10,000 bonus. Stanly County (NC) Schools also announced a $10,000 signing incentive.

One promising practice I see is a movement to grow our own. While succession planning has been a popular conversation in the school boardroom for administrative positions, I believe it is time for a similar initiative as we think of how to meet the goal of a great teacher in every classroom.

This movement is already underway in places like Colorado and Iowa. Colorado’s Pathways2Teaching is a concurrent enrollment program for high school juniors and seniors. Students can earn 3-9 credits that can transfer to teacher education programs. They can earn a paraprofessional certificate as well. Iowa launched a program to provide opportunities for current high school students to earn a paraeducator certificate and associate degree. Inservice paraeducators can earn their bachelor’s degree all while learning and working in the classroom. These grant opportunities allow students to get into the profession without being saddled with massive college debt. These programs are identifying and knocking down barriers to the profession.

Growing our own means that we need to look at local candidates and recruit members of our own communities. Our staff picture directory needs to better mirror the communities where we live. There are forward-thinking schools in the CACE network that will hire a candidate of color even if they do not have an opening!

“A great teacher in every classroom is one of the most valuable resources we can ever provide for families in our communities.”

Some of a school’s best candidates will be the people we interact with daily—church  members, parents, and local business leaders: research and anecdotal evidence show that teachers hired within the community tend to teach long-term. Hiring locally grown teachers often leads to longer stays, countering the cost to short-term teachers. High teacher turnover undermines student achievement and consumes valuable staff time and resources. The Learning Policy Institute estimates that urban districts can spend, on average, more than $20,000 on each new hire, a significant investment with little return if teachers leave within 1-2 years.     

Do you have programs in place to grow your own? Are there other ways your school elevates teaching as a profession? If you do, please share those with the CACE network of schools in the comment section below or send me an email at tim.vansoelen@cace.org. The wisdom of our community is needed! Together, we can find a way to again elevate the teacher profession.

Author

  • Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.

3 Comments on “Growing Our Own: Addressing the Teacher Shortage”

  1. Since CACE is particularly focused on Christians, I think it is useful to consider some of our contributions to the problem as well as the solution. When the church is the salt and light God intended, He will use us to make a difference in every area suffering under the devastating influence of non-godly ideas and behavior. In your article you mention that church ministry and teaching were both respected in the past. I suspect that part of the reason for the mutual respect was the fact that these were not seen as mutually exclusive. The church seems to have adopted a preaching with entertainment model of ministry with teaching being a low priority. There are exceptions, but along with the lingering death of Sunday Schools, there has been little done to teach within the church context. Any system of catechizing is definitely more of an exception than the rule. If the church doesn’t recognize the need for teaching, it is unlikely to elevate teachers. If the programs of the church for teens and young adults emphasize activity rather than learning, it will be very hard to convince godly young men and women to take up the challenge of teaching. If the rest of the church doesn’t invest in education because it assumes that “free” systems are “good enough” so that they can use their money elsewhere, it isn’t surprising that teaching isn’t a priority.

    If the Body of Christ doesn’t assume the responsibility to prepare the next generation to flourish in God’s world, someone else will try. Instead of life-giving hope and responsibility based on love and truth, they will be led on a path of despair paved with lies and leading to destruction. Instead of the life of the Spirit, they will be exposed to the deadly lies of the enemy.

    I am convinced that the sacred-secular divide has contributed to the shift in the church’s perspective on education. Instead of affirming the responsibility to provide a wholistic perspective on all of life based on God’s truth revealed in His word and world, there is a tendency to assume that only “spiritual” things are worth exploring and developing. The aspects of God’s world that are normally considered in school are subconsciously, if not consciously, considered to be of lesser importance so investing your life to know God’s world and teach others about it, it is not a priority. Even though God’s world is the arena in which everyone lives and He has revealed Himself, ultimately in the incarnation, we have succumbed to the temptation to prioritize other things.

    Historically, the church has been an innovative leader in education, but that role has largely been abandoned to those with a secular perspective. We may send “expeditionary forces” into the education world to do evangelism, teach ethics, be excellent examples or teach English, but the purpose of these activities is often to rescue people and bring them into the church environment rather than occupy the education world. I suspect that we aren’t really convinced that a Christ-centered, Bible-based, others-oriented education is something good that we can and should offer to everyone.

    Preparing Christian teachers who are able to impact an often hostile and definitely different culture will require the best efforts of the best minds and teachers of the church. It won’t be enough to “baptize” the results of secular professional development. Only the best equipped and supported will be able to make the kind of difference that I believe God wants for every culture. If you go overseas to teach, the church will pray for you and I was very grateful for that kind of support when I taught overseas. However, teachers with a job “at home” aren’t considered in need of prayer or any other kind of support. If the church would recognize the God-sized need—and possibilities—and seek His wisdom and power, I believe that we could be a key part of the answer and bring glory to Jesus as we draw attention to His goodness, greatness and relevance.

    I believe that a revolution in the thinking of the church would be a great place to begin the process of meeting the needs of those within their immediate sphere of influence and also the culture at large. The Third Education Revolution by Vishal Mangalwadi and others is a great book to stimulate thinking about these important issues. You don’t have to agree with every detail to be challenged by a great vision for the church to once again take a position of leadership in education.

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