Search form

The Significance of Teacher Shortages 

teacher shortage

After several months of hearing about a teacher shortage affecting schools as the 2022-2023 year gets underway, this Atlantic article questions whether the issue is actually as dire as we have been led to believe. Similar ponderings have been headlined over the past two weeks as journalists work to break down the highly complex data that determines anything from teacher-student ratios to existing vacancies across districts. While it can be extremely difficult to come to solid conclusions about a teacher shortage crisis, another implied question sits next to the rest as something everyone needs to consider: are teachers being set up for success? The answer is too frequently a resounding “no,” but then, why do so many teachers remain despite the many reasons to leave the profession? 

Regardless of whether schools are adequately staffed this year, American education would benefit from a reexamination into the reasons that teachers who stay in the classroom past just a few years reaffirm their dedication to the profession with each new school year. Then, rather than constantly being upended by staffing emergencies as they occur, it is possible for leaders to have a proactive, solutions-oriented focus on what works with retention, and how everyone can collaborate to make schools the most ideal spaces possible. Along those lines, it helps to start with what works. What are the reasons for career longevity in veteran educators?

They stay for the kids.

Most teachers will agree that the best part about the job is collaborating with so many wonderful young people. Kids are more open to change than their adult counterparts, which explains why children didn’t complain nearly as much about masking in the height of the pandemic. The gradual but steady progress teachers see in their students each year is inspirations, and it’s usually one of the big reasons they entered the profession in the first place. While all the turmoil swirls around schools and educators this year, those who focus on the kids tend to have more lasting power than the teachers who (understandably so) have difficulty blocking out all the noise and vitriol. Perhaps one way district leaders can help is to focus as much professional development work on instructional methodology as possible, and less so on initiatives that do not have a clear impact on teaching and learning. 

They believe in the bigger picture.

The work of teaching goes beyond any individual classroom, or even a school itself. People who stay in teaching see a purpose that involves a greater good, such as the ideal of open access to education for all. Typically, educators who fall into this category also have a strong sense of intrinsic motivation to work in schools, and they do not rely on appreciation or recognition from leaders. Considering that educators are largely undervalued, it can be hard to find that inner sense of purpose to be enough, mainly because most human beings want people to see and appreciate their efforts. There is always room for those in leadership positions to better recognize what teachers do, whether that is to visit classrooms and express respect for what is happening or to have meaningful conversations about practice at every possible opportunity. 

Starting over is hard. 

Sometimes, stagnation overpowers the desire to leave education, which could prevent teacher shortages from soaring to unmanageable heights. For reasons ranging from pay (some districts are more generous than others) to a lack of experience in any other job field, many educators remain in the classroom far longer than they might wish to. Eventually, however, most burned out people do leave. Given that supporting experienced teachers is easier than constantly hiring new ones, better systems and structures geared toward teacher retention should be a priority in every district. Instead, schools frequently get stuck on a hamster wheel of replacing transient staff members who are dissatisfied, and who may have been happy to stay with a little more support.

There is a limit.

Everyone has a breaking point. Whether the teacher shortage is as dire as the media says or not, the bottom line is that teachers need to be treated better. The very same news outlets that report shock or anger at what educators must deal with are also publishing pieces that trivialize the complex work we do. Even small efforts to improve a teacher’s workday can make a difference, whether that involves helping to purchase needed classroom supplies or simply being encouraging and supportive in casual conversation. After all, nobody wants to go to a social event, share what they do for a living and have someone say, “Ugh. I hated my [insert grade or content here] teacher.”

The fact that retention rates have caught the attention of those outside education might be a start, but next steps need to center more on action: better pay, better treatment, and better appreciation for those who eschew more comfortable work conditions for the sake of helping children each day.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

Copyright© 2022 Education World