6 solutions for hiring high-quality teachers as schools reopen

Early retirements, resignations and a dropping number of teachers entering the profession are stressing districts
By: | March 5, 2021
Many teachers aer "going above and beyond" to educate students during the pandemic say administrators interviewed by researchers for a report on teaching shortages. (AdobeStock/wavebreak3)Many teachers aer "going above and beyond" to educate students during the pandemic say administrators interviewed by researchers for a report on teaching shortages. (AdobeStock/wavebreak3)

Pre-pandemic teacher shortages worsened by COVID now threaten district leaders’ efforts to reopen schools safely and keep them open, a new analysis of California K-12 system warns.

Early retirements, resignations and a dropping number of teachers entering the profession are exacerbating these long-standing shortages.

The problems are more severe in high-need schools and high-demand fields such as math, science and special education, says the Learning Policy Institute’s “California Teachers and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Impacting the Teacher Workforce.”

“Resuming in-person instruction and meeting the needs of students will require a stable, high-qualified teacher workforce,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, the institute’s president. “It’s more important than ever that states and districts invest in proven solutions that address ongoing teacher shortages.”


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Researchers interviewed leaders from California’s eight largest districts and nine small and rural systems. These administrators lauded teachers for “going above and beyond” to educate students during the pandemic.

However, administrators also reported having to fill vacancies with with teachers on substandard credentials and with substitute teachers, who are also in short supply, the report says.

State testing policies for licensure and inadequate financial aid for teaching students are also preventing people from entering the profession at a time when schools may need more educators to accommodate smaller classes and social distancing, the report says.

The report recommends six policies to bring more teachers to California schools that can be models for other states:

    1. Deepen investments in high-retention pathways: Increase investments in teacher residencies and other high-retention pathways to develop a reliable pool of well-prepared recruits. The California Teacher Residency Grant Program, for example, is making progress in developing more teachers of color.
    2. Provide financial support to teacher candidates: Offer financial support to teacher candidates who commit to work in high-need subjects and locations. The Golden State Teacher Grant Program is one model for a recruitment tool.
    3. Streamline teacher licensure requirements: District leaders said more people would enter the profession if there were fewer testing requirements. Providing coursework alternatives to teacher licensure exams would make the profession more attractive and affordable.
    4. Create sustainable teacher workloads: Hiring additional personnel and avoiding layoffs are critical to supporting teachers, creating a sustainable workload and reducing burnout.
    5. Support teachers with adequate substitute staffing: Districts may need to increase pay rates for substitutes above the $120 daily average recorded in May 2019. Some districts are using teacher residents and student teachers as short-term substitute.
    6. Invest in educator development and support: Teachers will benefit from professional development related to COVID’s challenges and beyond, including training in trauma-informed practices and supporting students’ social and emotional learning.

“Teacher shortages were not created overnight, nor will they be solved with quick, band-aid solutions,” said Desiree Carver-Thomas, a Learning Policy Institute researcher and policy analyst who co-authored the report. “Policymakers should attend to both long-term solutions for growing a high-qualified teacher workforce and to meeting the immediate needs of a state school system reeling from a year of instability and strife.”


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