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The Teacher Shortage: Apply, Please!

In some areas, competition over certified teachers has become so fierce that districts are promising signing bonuses, paid health insurance, subsidized housing, and more. Just what does it take to woo -- or lose -- a teacher? This week, Education World explores what some school districts are doing to attract and retain teachers.

Mix together swelling numbers of immigrant and baby boomer children, class size reduction initiatives, and a graying teacher force.

Stir in lack of teacher mobility, inadequate induction programs, poor working conditions, the lowest unemployment in three decades, and a growing salary gap between teachers and other college graduates -- a difference of more than $32,000 for experienced teachers with master's degrees -- and you have created the worst shortage of qualified teachers ever.

The problem -- especially acute in urban and rural districts and in the hard-to-fill areas of special education, mathematics, and science -- is so severe that

  • Forty-two states issue emergency credentials to people who have taken no education courses and have not taught a day in their lives. Many teachers are hired based solely on their experience leading church or camping groups.
  • One-fourth of new teachers -- if they are licensed -- are not licensed to teach in the field they are teaching.
  • Twenty percent of new teachers leave within the first three years; most likely to leave are those with the highest college-entrance exam scores. A whopping 49 percent of those who leave do so because of job dissatisfaction or to pursue another career.


School districts have come up with some very creative ways to woo teachers to their schools. Following is a sampling of some of the creative enticements and other programs that some school districts are offering.

  • Massachusetts offered incredible $20,000 signing bonuses to exceptional new teachers, the money paid out over four years. The state had more than 800 applicants and thousands of requests for information from people in 36 states and two foreign countries.
  • New York City school officials have recruited people from other countries. Austrians who are teaching math and science were recruited in part with a flyer that pronounced, "If you can read this, have we got a deal for you!" City officials interviewed the Austrians via teleconferencing. Housed temporarily in dorms, the new recruits received a crash course in New York culture and learned how to start bank accounts. New York school officials have also looked to Puerto Rico and Spain for middle school Spanish teachers. In the future, the city is thinking of recruiting in Switzerland and Scotland too. City school officials also streamlined hiring procedures, setting up satellite offices in 11 community districts to conduct interviews, gather fingerprints, and check backgrounds. Additionally, they granted hefty 15 percent raises to teachers who agreed to work in high-needs schools.
  • Officials from some California and Texas school districts traveled to Mexico to hire Spanish-speaking teachers. They also streamlined the process by which out-of-state teachers obtain credentials.
  • The New Haven (California) school district has so streamlined recruitment that it directs candidates to the nearest Kinko's and conducts interviews online.
  • Philadelphia school officials relaxed residency requirements. They also solicited the help of area clergy to appeal to their congregations to consider teaching jobs there.
  • Detroit found bonuses, housing assistance, moving expenses, and free graduate courses to be attractive inducements.
  • Connecticut raised salaries to one of the highest levels in the nation and then equalized salaries throughout the state, making it easier for poor districts to attract certified teachers. Additionally, the city of Hartford pays teachers' health insurance; offers a myriad of teaching options, including experimental programs and charter and magnet schools; and grants veteran teachers $100 annual bonuses for every year served.


Minority teacher candidates and paraprofessionals interested in special education in Wichita, Kansas, receive financial support, Kenneth V. Jantz, principal of Mueller Elementary, told Education World. And when Kansas school officials found they could reduce new teacher attrition if teacher candidates had more in-class experiences with master teachers before stepping in front of their own classes, Wichita State offered education majors the option of spending ten to fifteen hours a week for two years in schools rather than the traditional one semester.

Buford, a district northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, subsidizes an on-site day-care center and plans to install a closed-circuit camera to allow teachers to check on their children during the day. Carmel Clay Schools, a district north of Indianapolis built two on-site centers and plans several more.

Some states forgive the loans of those who teach in critical needs areas or hard-to-staff schools. Others offer new teachers mentorship programs.


Maryland educators talk not only to high school students about becoming teachers but also to those in junior high! Plus signing bonuses, stipends for teachers who work in low-performing schools, and extra pay for master veteran educators are quite compelling. Lawmakers are considering tax-deductions for professional development materials and professional organization membership dues and $500 tax credits.

Baltimore provides teachers low-cost housing -- or closing costs on a home in the city -- and relocation assistance!

California's Silicon Valley not only provides grants to teachers willing to retrain in high-needs subjects but also is considering offering housing subsidies to attract teachers to the high-priced district.

Providing scholarships, special low-interest home loans, low-cost rental housing, moving expenses, and free graduate courses if one teaches in areas that attract few applicants is how Mississippi has tried to attract teachers. Additionally, the West Tallahatchee district built duplex housing to create an environment that encourages friendships and a sharing of classroom strategies.

Forty states plus the District of Columbia recognize one another's credentialing systems, so veteran teachers can move across state lines. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia provide alternative teaching routes to bring professionals with varied backgrounds and life experiences -- such as retired military personnel, early retirees, and those seeking career changes -- into the classroom.


If Nevada's initiatives pass, teachers will be offered interesting enticements. Teachers will receive an extra year of retirement credit for every five years they teach in special-needs schools. Teachers in rural schools will be able to convert their unused sick leave into one year of retirement credit. And new hires will receive full credit for their years of experience elsewhere instead of the five years they currently receive.

Nebraska already grants almost all new hires full credit for their prior years of experience, principal Matt Fisher of Chase County High School in Imperial, Nebraska, told Education World. And several schools offer signing bonuses.

Some apartment associations in Chesterfield County, Virginia, waive initial deposits for teachers. Loudoun County (Virginia) pays teachers' retirement contributions. Fairfax County (Virginia) offers signing bonuses and a streamlined application process. Other districts reimburse graduate school tuitions or give hotel and restaurant vouchers to teachers who come for interviews. Some Virginia counties even grant "life experience" credit to teachers in special-needs areas, enabling them to start with higher salaries.


"Here in Miami-Dade County, Florida," Fischer-Fienberg Elementary teacher Beverly Heller told Education World, "we simply pay new teachers in critical-needs areas more." Some districts in Texas and schools in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Minneapolis also offer high-needs area teachers "bumps" on the salary scale.

Academic Education Network consultant Carole Roche told Education World that Dallas schools offer signing bonuses to each new hire. And Texas schools -- like those in Maryland and South Carolina -- sometimes rehire recent retirees who receive pensions as well as salaries.

Why not change our Social Security policy? That's a question Christopher T. Cross asked in a recent Education Week article, "States' Uneven Teacher Supply Complicates Staffing Of Schools." Cross, president of the Council for Basic Education and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education in the Bush administration, added that waiving the cap on retirement earnings for teachers would allow retirees to get back into the classroom and still collect Social Security. That proposal might be especially attractive since many retirees move to places with very severe teacher shortages -- such as Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California.

To staff their schools, some states and districts with high salary scales lure teachers away from their neighbors. Districts in Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, for example, arrange for Montana State students to do their practice teaching out of state and then invite them to stay on after graduation.


According to the latest statistics, U.S. schools will need approximately 2 million new teachers over the next decade. It will not be easy for school systems to find them. Streamlining hiring procedures; expanding the search beyond customary borders; forgiving loans; offering signing bonuses, housing assistance, mentoring programs; enticing retirees to return -- or enter -- teaching; and raising teachers' salaries to what other comparatively educated college graduates receive certainly won't hurt. But also consider the working conditions.

As school systems add more and more curricula for teachers to cover -- and put more and more emphasis on standardized test scores -- many teacher say they have less time to be creative. They have become technicians, implementing fragmented curriculum in a time frame that's frequently inadequate for the material required. Add to that bus duty, hall duty, homeroom, large groups of sometimes unruly students, minimal planning time, mountains of paperwork, and frequent assignments to subjects for which they're unprepared, there's little time left to plan, create, and grow.


Then there's the lack of mobility. Even in states that do recognize past experience, problems exist.

"I loved my students, but my parents were aging, and my kids grew up and moved away. I wanted to be closer to both," Tolland (Connecticut) Middle School teacher Barbara Reich told Education World.

"After setting up my new home in Rhode Island, I'd like to teach, but I don't have the mobility," she continued. "By now, I am so far up on the salary scale, [school officials] may not hire me if they can get a new kid out of college and pay one-third my salary," said Reich, her county's Teacher of the Year.


"Teachers like to succeed, and when schools make that possible, they are more likely to remain in the profession," Jon Snyder told Education World. Snyder is a senior researcher for the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future and the director of teacher education at the University of California (Santa Barbara). "The most effective strategies are to organize schools in such a way that teachers can be successful with their students and in ways that allow teachers to continually learn with and from each other."

Any real solution to the teacher shortage problem requires a comprehensive plan, a blueprint for preparing, recruiting, supporting, retaining, and structuring the job. All are important. School reform cannot occur by addressing one area and ignoring the others. We need to create conditions in which teachers can teach, and teach well. Perhaps in addition to other initiatives, to attract and retain the best and the brightest teachers, we need to provide them an environment in which they can thrive.


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Article by Glori Chaika
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