3 reasons principals have a hard time hiring teachers—and how to overcome them

Many states have loosened requirements for new teacher certifications, a move that principals find counterproductive as it shrinks their pool of qualified candidates, a new report suggests.

Since the height of the pandemic, school administrators have been plagued with a variety of COVID-related barriers to staffing. Efforts to hire teachers became extremely difficult, which principals attribute to three dominant factors.

A new survey released on May 3 by the RAND Corporation, a non-partisan, nonprofit global policy think tank and research institute, reveals some of the most prominent challenges principals faced in terms of teacher staffing during the 2021-22 school year. The research was conducted in March and April of 2022, just after the height of the pandemic when more than half of K12 public school principals reported having insufficient teaching staff, the report notes.

During the 2021-22 school year, most schools faced open teaching positions. However, according to the survey, substitute teachers were by far the hardest position to fill, “despite district-level efforts to attract substitute teachers by increasing pay and benefits,” the survey reads. Almost 90% of principals cited difficulty hiring subs compared to 77% who had trouble hiring certified teachers.

Regardless, principals still reported significant concerns surrounding their inability to hire teachers. While the contributing factors are widespread, administrators point to three dominant stressors:

  1. Not enough applicants: 71% of principals said this was their number one concern citing it as a “major barrier.”
  2. Inadequate compensation: 42% of principals said this was a “major barrier,” specifically in areas regarding salaries, pensions and benefits.
  3. Candidates aren’t qualified: More than one-fourth of principals cited this as a “major barrier.”

Administrators also shared what they look for specifically when hiring new teachers. Above all, most principals prioritized how well a candidate’s mindset fit with the vision and culture of their schools. Additionally, elementary principals value teacher experience whereas high school principals prioritized credentials.

“Our findings confirm that, in the spring of the 2021-2022 school year, most principals struggled to keep classrooms consistently covered with teachers and many found that hiring had become more challenging since the previous year,” the report reads. “Overall, despite aggressive efforts by districts to increase teacher hiring, we found that many principals expressed growing concerns about the hiring climate for educators—an issue that could be exacerbated as federal relief funds expire.”

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As staffing shortages persist in 2023, administrators should evaluate the situation specific to their institution and incorporate solutions that would offer the greatest benefit to their teachers and students. The authors of this report offer four recommendations to consider to address ongoing teacher vacancies:

  • Policymakers, educators and media personnel should tread lightly when discussing staffing shortages, “because the situation is not monolithic,” the report reads. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and vacancies aren’t universal as they vary by geography and school characteristics.
  • Districts should evaluate how substitute teachers are allocated across schools and look into efforts to attract and retain them. Substitute teachers “are not a postscript in current discussions of teacher shortages.”
  • Prioritize increasing opportunities to hire teachers of color. This includes increasing pay, providing loan forgiveness, making organizational changes in hiring practices and preservice/in-service training for principals.
  • States should revisit teacher qualification requirements. Many states are loosening requirements for new teachers, yet principals cite unqualified teachers as one of their top three barriers to hiring.
Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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