Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Shortages: What's happening in your area?

It’s a different experience entering teaching in a time of shortage. Those who previously didn’t see themselves as competitive – who might not even meet all requirements for standard certificate – can suddenly find themselves very desirable. There can be more incentives to complete program or serve in a particular area (or at the least, more areas to choose from). But there are also challenges. It helps to understand what a shortage is and how school districts and policy makers respond.

What is a Teacher Shortage?

Shortages are measured relative to how many positions (or FTEs) are budgeted. In tough economic times, districts may be forced to lay off teachers, canceling classes like art or dance, increasing class size in other classes. Teachers are laid off. Class sizes may become a challenge. Education itself may suffer, and with it, morale. And yet officially, there’s no shortage. There’s a surplus. When times are better, and districts are creating -- or recreating -- positions, though, they typically find those teachers aren't waiting outside the door of the district office. This has been the case recently in many states, from California to Pennsylvania.

In recent years, there has also been a significant decline in the number of students selecting education majors. Stakeholders have postulated multiple reasons, among them, that job selection is influenced by memories of recession and tough job markets .Teaching is a field with good deal of job security -- after those first few years. During the early years, teachers are proving their merit, but no matter how successful they are, being a recent hire means they’re most vulnerable to being cut (or reassigned elsewhere in the district). If a person enters during a shortage, they’ll likely have some tenure before the tide turns too far in the other direction – that is, if they’re successful. But perceptions of job security don't necessarily match current realities.

The current shortage may also reflect attitudes about the profession and the level of respect teachers command. The trend has been to place the blame squarely on teachers when students in particular areas score poorly on assessments. There are some signs that things are getting better – but a prospective teacher needs to be aware of outside pressures.

Responses to the Teacher Shortage

Declining enrollment in educator preparation programs could lead to widespread shortage. The shortage could also result in large classes. Some special programs may not get off the ground. What often happens, though, when the money is there, is that the district places a substitute into a vacant position or hires someone with substandard credentials. Licensing authorities are often able to issue emergency permits or licenses at district request when a qualified candidate can’t be found. Some teachers simultaneously complete preparation programs and work under alternative credentials, credentials that are often above the emergency level but below the standard level.

States are changing laws to make it easier for degree holders and career changers to enter teaching ( These laws, though, don't always make it easier to stay in teaching. For some, it’s an opportunity. In some cases, though, the level of support isn’t there. The person doesn’t stay. The workforce is determined in part by attrition.

On a positive note, when there are fewer new grads, policy makers are forced to take a hard look at working conditions and supports. They take attrition less for granted. There’s a focus on the things that make teachers want to stay. Along with an increased focus on success is an increased focus on mentorship. Pennsylvania’s governor, for example, recently announced $2,000,000 to develop residencies and foster retention of school personnel.

Local Teacher Shortage

Shortages are widespread but they don't occur everywhere equally. Some districts are challenged: because of their location and/ or the challenges that their student population faces. Hawaii, for example, has depended on the contiguous 48 for teachers, and that makes it vulnerable. (It’s one thing to feel a pull toward Hawaii, and another to want to stay, especially when one's support system is back on the mainland.)

Shortages also reflect laws and policy. The Learning Policy Institute has provided teacher attractiveness rating by state ( They look at far more than pay. Working conditions are considered. Teacher turnover is a factor.

Teacher Shortage Data at a Regional Level

Teaching Field Shortages

Some fields are critical shortage in most areas of the nation. Examples include math, science, ESL, foreign language, and Spanish. Others are considered shortage only in a minority of locations. An example is elementary education. People who fall into the “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher” category often end up as generalists at the elementary level. Inclusion of elementary grades as a statewide shortage area can mean the shortage has reached deep, but it can also reflect new staffing patterns. In 2018, elementary education is a shortage area for multiple states, including Washington. Washington’s elementary shortage in part reflects general shortage, but it also reflects changes that have increased the demand for teachers at the lower levels. Voters approved an initiative to reduce class sizes at the K-3 level. It was also, in a sense, an initiative to place more teachers in these classes.

Some states, meanwhile, have expanded their pre-kindergarten programs. This translates into a greater need for teachers with early childhood credentialing.

Eventually, the tide turns. Some fields find their way back off shortage lists. But there are still openings for well-prepared teachers. And there are still shortages in some terrains and some schools.

Incentives for Teaching in Shortage Areas

Loan scholarship programs and loan forgiveness support teachers who choose to work in shortage areas. Working at a low income school can qualify a person. So can the particular teaching field.

Some programs are under the banner of the federal government. An example is the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program, designed for teachers who will serve in high needs fields in low-income schools.

A number of states have their own programs for loan forgiveness. They have other incentives such as mortgage support or other housing assistance.