The Link Between Teacher Preparation and the Teacher ShortageMarch 10, 2020
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) projects the current U.S. teacher shortage could reach an astounding 200,000 vacancies by the year 2025. This is up from 100,000 in 2018. While this number does seem alarming, those in the field of education are not surprised by the projection. There are many factors that could contribute to the teacher shortage, including pay, high demands, poor working conditions, larger class sizes, reduced funding, and increased standardized testing requirements. However, one of the most significant reasons why the numbers will double by 2025 is the inability of the education field to retain those who are currently in the classroom.
The teacher turnover rate, according to the Learning Policy Institute, is anywhere between 10-16%. Looking deeper into why teachers are leaving the profession, one of the most glaring reasons is the quality of preparation and support for new teachers entering the field. In a 2017 publication, the Learning Policy Institute mentions key ways to retain teachers including establishing a teacher residency program, “growing your own” teachers, and high-quality mentoring and induction. Each of these programs would be helpful in helping new teachers enter the classroom prepared for what they will experience.
Teacher residency programs are being created across the United States. One program, in particular, was instituted by the University of Texas-El Paso. This program places university students majoring in education in classrooms with veteran teachers, along with UTEP faculty mentors, to gain valuable experience and knowledge of what it looks like for a high- quality teacher to create and implement a challenging curriculum. This residency program would replace the semester-long unpaid student teaching previously required to gain a teaching certification and degree.
Such a program would be especially helpful for teachers who are taking an alternate pathway to become certified. This would allow a future teacher to gain the valuable experience they needed with the guidance and leadership of a veteran teacher. This could potentially eliminate the “sink or swim” situation most alternative pathway teachers currently receive. While education majors or those who take “teaching” courses are better prepared for their first days teaching, alternative pathway teachers tend to have little to no practical experience in the classroom. This only adds to the pressure and stress a teacher faces, which in turn leads to many of these teachers leaving the field of education. Proper preparation of teachers is essential in retaining quality teachers in the classroom.
Retaining teachers is not only important to our educational future, it is especially important to the students we are educating. Students who are in the classroom with teachers who are new and not properly prepared to teach often fall further behind academically compared to their peers who are in a classroom with a veteran teacher who has extensive experience. Districts who invest in their teachers are much more likely to retain teachers in the long term. As a teacher who was on the alternative licensure path, I was placed in a classroom with little to no preparation. Besides my university degree, I began teaching with minimal preparation and, unfortunately, I received very little additional support from the district. This made me feel inadequate as a teacher and I often felt as though teaching was not what I was meant to do.
When I left my first school district, I was hired by a district with a mentoring program. Thankfully, I was mentored by a fellow teacher who not only held an education degree but was able to dedicate time daily to mentor me in content and classroom management. Having that mentor teacher was the single biggest reason that I decided to stay in the classroom. After seven years of teaching, there is still much for me to learn and apply to my craft, but I am much more confident in myself as a teacher and know my students are getting the quality instruction they deserve.
Retention of teachers should be the top priority of schools, states, and our nation’s education leaders. The future of education depends on the ability to not only train high-quality teachers but to ensure we are doing everything possible to retain those quality educators. Many have theories as to the best way to do that. Some may argue higher pay, lower expectations, smaller class sizes. As a teacher, I believe the best way to keep teachers from leaving the classroom is to properly prepare those entering the classroom. By giving teachers the tools and mentoring they need to be successful, there is a much higher chance they will love what they are doing and choose to continue teaching.
Rebekah Jimenez is currently an English, Yearbook, and Journalism teacher in Artesia, NM. She began her career in public education as a high school English teacher in 2013. After first earning a General Studies degree with a triple emphasis in English, Business, and Sociology, Rebekah earned her master’s degree in Secondary Education from ENMU (Eastern New Mexico University) in 2016. When she’s not teaching, grading, or adjusting her curriculum, Rebekah loves to hike and camp with her family.