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Addressing the Teacher Shortage: Advice for School Leaders

by Tim Hodges

Teacher hiring season is here, and several factors seem to be converging to make this an especially challenging year. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 1.6 million new teachers will need to be hired over the next 10 years to take the place of retiring teachers, meaning that more than 150,000 new teachers will need to be hired this year. The number of students entering the nation's K-12 system continues to increase. At the same time, enrollment in teaching colleges and education programs has dropped by 30% in the past several years, and many of those who complete teacher preparation programs don't actually end up teaching in K-12 classrooms after graduation.

These trends and issues have come together to create a unique set of challenges for recruiting and selecting the right teachers. Every teacher hire is important to the success of our students, meaning that the future of our education system hinges on making every hiring decision exactly the right one. School leaders should consider four major factors as they prepare to embark on this mass-hiring journey:

  1. Always consider teacher talent. School leaders often underestimate the importance of teacher talent -- those patterns of thought, feeling and behavior that are common in great teachers. Gallup research illustrates that teachers with strong evidence of "value-added" student achievement, meaning they have helped students grow during the school year, also have unique and measurable talent to motivate, build relationships and create great places for their students to learn. Teacher talent should play a prominent role in every hiring decision.

  2. Hire for the district, as well as for the school. It is important to remember that a teacher may spend his or her entire career working in the same district, but rarely with the same principal who interviewed that individual for his or her first classroom assignment. The hiring decision is one that should not simply consider the school's immediate vacancy, but also the candidate's potential for a long-term career within the district.

  3. Look beyond teacher experience. Experienced teachers are not always more effective than those who are new to the profession. While there is some evidence that prior years in the classroom can make a slight difference, the effects of teacher experience on student achievement seem to level off after about five years.

  4. Advanced degrees aren't everything. Many hiring managers sift through piles of resumes in search of applicants who have graduate degrees. While higher education certainly has its merits, school leaders should not overestimate the impact of a teacher's graduate degree on his or her future performance in the classroom. As it relates to student achievement, with the exception of a few positions such as secondary math teachers, there is only a modest difference between teachers with graduate degrees and those without.

Think about the best teacher you've ever known. List a few words that describe that individual and what made him or her great. If you're like most people, you'll notice that teachers rarely stand out because of their subject-matter expertise or because of their many years in the trenches. Knowledge, skills and experience are certainly important -- valuable, but not sufficient. True greatness comes down to how the teacher makes you feel. Great teachers see students as unique individuals and create environments where students thrive.

Every teacher matters. Let's hope that our nation's school leaders make 150,000 great hiring decisions this year. The future of our students depends on it.

Tim Hodges, Ph.D., is Director of Research for Gallup's Education Practice.
Gallup

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