The K–12 teacher shortage problem is two-fold.
We all know that teacher attrition rates have hovered at all-time highs for the past several years. And while new research and school-conducted exit surveys are giving us a better of idea of where teachers are going, school districts are still struggling to find the magic formula for boosting retention and increasing teacher recruitment.
But a potentially more serious threat to the future of teaching is the dramatic drop in college students who are pursuing education degrees. Enrollment in teacher prep programs has dropped by more than 40 percent since 2010, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
“There’s so much competition now for the hearts and minds of young people,” Dr. Gerald Dawkins, a former superintendent in Louisiana and Michigan, told us back in February. “We have to show them what the rewards and benefits are to becoming an educator, beyond just compensation.”
But this recruitment can’t start in college, Dawkins says. It should start much earlier—as early as middle school. Instead of waiting and hoping for talent to appear, K–12 school districts should be cultivating that talent among the students in their classrooms, he says.
Many districts already are.
Denton ISD looks for tomorrow’s teachers in today’s students
Denton (Texas) Independent School District’s Teach Denton campaign aims to “create a talent pool that offers career opportunities for Denton students who exhibit natural talents and traits.”
The program targets every grade level in the district—from kindergarten to 12th grade. It encourages staff members to identify students who would make good teachers. Those students are then paired with mentors and provided education and training classes in the district’s Advanced Technology Center. The mentors also help students with the college application process. And students who seek teaching positions in the district after graduating college are given priority hiring status.
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If kindergarten sounds a bit too young to be recruiting teachers, check out the video below about “Mr. Flowers,” a Denton ISD 6-year-old kindergartener who signed a letter of intent to teach at the district when he graduates college.
“Mr. Flowers is showing that desire to be a teacher and impact the future,” says Tracy Johnson, Denton ISD’s human resources coordinator. “When we see 6-year-olds in kindergarten that exhibit a desire and a passion for teaching and really making an impact on students such as themselves, we want to foster that.”
Missouri encourages districts to “grow your own” teachers
When you can’t find enough quality teachers, grow them. That’s the strategy proposed by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in a resource guide released last year for K-12 school districts.
Like Denton, Missouri’s “grow your own” approach encourages districts to target students at all levels—whether it’s through elementary career day presentations, middle school shadow-a-teacher days, or high school career fairs.
The guide also recommends that districts “cultivate authentic early learning experiences” in middle school and high school for potential teachers. That includes establishing education-oriented clubs, hosting college fairs, and identifying and supporting potential teacher candidates by offering education-related electives.
Missouri officials hope the strategy will not only boost the number of teachers in the state, but also will encourage more diversity and equity in Missouri’s classrooms.
New educators rise in Delaware
As a freshman interested in teaching at Smyrna High School in Smyrna, Delaware, Michael Shaner joined the Future Educators Association (FEA) to learn more about the profession with his teachers and fellow students.
As Shaner tells Mind/Shift, joining that club, which has since changed its name to Educators Rising, “is the reason I am a teacher. It allowed me to fall in love with what I wanted to do and be sure that’s what it was.”
Shaner is now not only a teacher, but also an Educators Rising advisor at his alma mater.
The goal of the Educators Rising program is to give K–12 students across the country who are interested in teaching an immersive introduction to the profession. Shaner starts by teaching the history and philosophy behind teaching. Students then learn practical skills like how to write lesson plans and implement Individualized Education Programs (IEP). As seniors, students can observe and work in district classrooms—and eventually lead a class of their own.
Recently, Educators Rising introduced micro-credentials, which students can earn to prove their competency in specific skill sets.
“When they go to college they are so far ahead of the game that they are able to excel and dig deeper,” Shaner says. The hope is that students who are better equipped for teacher development programs in college will also be better equipped when they enter the classroom.
How is your school or district working to inspire a new generation of teachers? Do you have programs in place for teacher recruitment? Tell us in the comments.