Long before the pandemic, teachers were exhausted. Depleted by long hours, minimal resources, and rampant disrespect for their expertise, many teachers were already leaving the profession. Now, the educator shortage is a crisis. To meet that crisis with practical, experience-based, and research-based strategies, the AFT Teacher and School Staff Shortage Task Force worked for months, combining guidance from AFT members and nationally recognized researchers. The result is Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? What America Must Do to Attract and Retain the Educators and School Staff Our Students Need. This wide-ranging report (which is available here) addresses working and learning conditions as well as compensation and benefits. Here, we share excerpts from the section on revitalizing the educator and school staff pipeline. As you’ll see, the paraprofessional-to-teacher pathways negotiated by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers combine many of the effective practices recommended by the task force.
Every child, regardless of circumstance or background, deserves to have qualified, trained, and knowledgeable people working in their school to support their success. Teachers and educators not only help students learn facts and critical-thinking skills, they also help mold and shape them as human beings; they instill democratic values and promote self-agency and a sense of community as they build the future generation of this country. It is essential for the success of our public school system and our children that we make systemwide changes that will help attract and keep people in these positions.
A majority of states report teacher shortages in math, science, career and technical education, special education, and bilingual education. Yet another area of shortage is in the diversity of educators. The teaching workforce is overwhelmingly white and growing less representative of the students they teach, a majority of whom are now students of color.
A critical step to improving shortages is to address the challenges in the educator and school staff pipeline. In recent years, there have been fewer candidates taking school support jobs and attending teacher preparation programs. Of course, the following suggestions do not stand alone; recruiting teachers and school staff will be easier when other aspects of those professions are improved. (See the full task force report for ways to address long-standing concerns regarding disrespect and deprofessionalization, stress and lack of support, low pay relative to other professions, and daunting workloads.)
Here are some ways that have proven effective in improving recruitment and entry into education professions:
Early and Ongoing Identification and Recruiting of Educators and Support Staff
Teachers and school staff can be identified or targeted into the profession well before they enter preparation programs. Career and technical education (CTE) programs are one way to create career pathways for students in high school or earlier, but students who are not in dedicated CTE programs should also have opportunities to learn about teaching and school staff positions—for example, through informational sessions, clubs, or other similar school programs, or from their schools’ career services departments.
School systems can also improve teacher and school staff recruitment through grow-your-own (GYO) programs. These are locally based programs that target candidates, often paraprofessionals, and assist them with the funding and mentoring they need to complete the requirements to become teachers. Students benefit from having teachers who already have had experience in their schools, who know the area, and who are committed to a career in education. GYO programs can take many forms, but overall, the goal is to educate, train, and increase pathways into various education professions. GYO programs also recruit teachers to high-need schools, provide strong content and clinical preparation with mentoring, and offer financial incentives to complete the program and become a teacher of record.
Another way stakeholders can recruit more intentionally is through outreach to communities of color. Research indicates that only a third of districts recruit teachers from colleges and organizations that serve primarily students and candidates of color. School districts should adjust their recruitment strategies to have more intentional measures to attract a more diverse teaching population that more closely aligns with the US student population.
High-Quality Preparation Programs and Residencies
To strengthen the teacher and school staff pipeline, prospective workers need access to high-quality preparation programs. Teacher preparation programs vary in myriad ways, but what should be consistent is providing teacher candidates with a strong foundation in subject-area content along with instruction in relevant, dynamic, and differentiated pedagogical practices. Programs should provide candidates with extensive clinical experiences that offer practice alongside a skilled practitioner over a significant period, ideally an entire school year. Candidates need to experience the rigors of the profession in an authentic classroom environment. They should start with setting up their classroom and meeting students on the first day, and they need to be with those students throughout the different experiences of the whole school year.
Preparation programs require candidates to pay to receive on-the-job training, but one way to provide candidates with thorough, paid classroom experience is through yearlong educator residencies. Teachers who successfully complete well-designed and well-implemented programs tend to remain in the classroom longer than their peers. Similar to a medical residency, teacher residents get experience alongside an expert veteran teacher while also receiving coursework and a living stipend. After this experience, the candidate commits to teaching in the district for several years, ensuring that experience stays in the local schools.
Support New Employees Through Induction and Mentoring Programs
High levels of teacher and school staff turnover can result in high costs for schools—both financially and through the loss of experienced staff. Research suggests that support for new teachers through mentoring and induction has a positive impact on teacher retention, teacher instructional practices, and student achievement.
The AFT spoke to many new teachers who said they had experienced weak or ineffective induction and mentoring programs, with a mentor who visited sparingly or who only focused on ensuring the teacher passed the Praxis. Others had mentors in different schools, which meant they did not have regular meetings or access to the person who was supposed to be their support. Teachers and support staff said they needed help with curriculum along with help adjusting to the building, their colleagues, and administrative logistics. They wanted more help with their workload and planning from master teachers and staff.
Induction programs are typically reserved for beginning teachers and can provide support as teachers move from pre-service training into the profession. Because there are no uniform standards for all university preparation programs, and some teachers come from alternative certification programs, induction is extremely important to ensure new teachers have the guidance they need as they enter the workforce.
As much as possible, mentors need to be in the same grade/subject area as their mentees. Further, teachers of color have indicated that having the opportunity to have a mentor who shares their cultural or ethnic background would be helpful for them to learn from the unique experiences they might encounter.
Ensure Students Are Taught and Supported by a Diverse Workforce
Research indicates that increasing diversity in the educator workforce can positively impact students’ academic growth and social-emotional development. Students of color demonstrate greater academic gains and social-emotional development when their teacher identifies as a person of color and has the same ethno-racial background.
Increasing the diversity of our education workforce is a benefit not only to students but also to the entire profession. Teachers of color can serve as ambassadors of the profession for students in teacher academy programs. This is an opportunity for interested teachers of color to take on leadership roles. It would also serve as a potential retention strategy; many teachers of color cite lack of autonomy and professional growth opportunities as a reason for leaving the classroom. To achieve this end, barriers to licensure, hiring, and retention of teachers of color must be closely examined.
The full report includes strategies for the federal government and state governments, which we encourage educators to review to see how to increase their advocacy efforts.
School districts should:
- Partner with higher education institutions—Seek partnerships with local colleges and universities to implement residency programs. By doing so, districts are investing in their future staff and are likely to mitigate high teacher turnover.
- Provide support for staff to transition into teaching roles—Offer time within the workday or paid leave and financial support for education costs to school support staff who want to transition into a teaching role.
- Increase diversity and equity—Ensure there are diverse members on hiring committees, as well as teachers of color on leadership teams involved in interviews. A diverse selection committee will not only create a more equitable hiring process but also help candidates to learn about the school culture from different perspectives. Hiring committees should reflect the intended makeup of the school and district workforce.
- Create structures to help new teachers learn and thrive—Create schedules that provide new teachers with a lighter class load to allow time to observe and receive support from expert teachers. Also, new teachers should not be placed in the most demanding classrooms and should have a network of colleagues to support them as they develop.
- Create organizational cultures that help all educators and staff thrive—District leaders must make sure all schools have strong organizational conditions and strong leadership to ensure that all new educators are placed in schools where they can thrive.
- Work collaboratively with all stakeholders—Unions must be open to working collaboratively across all levels—and with leaders and members—to advocate for the best practices outlined here, even if it means challenging long-established ways of working; stakeholders should use creative ways to address obstacles.
- Support residency programs—Work with the university and district to support residency programs with professional development for supporting teachers and candidates.
- Provide technical assistance—Partner with stakeholders to provide technical assistance for program development and implementation at all levels, including teacher academies, paraprofessional-to-teacher pathways, or residency programs.
- Inform and support prospective teachers and support staff—Attend career or recruitment fairs to be involved in the process, to be visible, and to help provide prospective teachers and support staff with information and resources about the union and about the teaching profession. This is also a great way to get the union and district to work together and create a collaborative relationship that can be useful in other situations.
- Negotiate career pathways—Negotiate career pathways with specific financial and other supports for current employees to transition into other roles within the district (e.g., paraprofessional-to-teacher programs).
- Negotiate mentoring programs—Negotiate with districts to establish effective mentoring programs. This includes clearly defined peer mentor/coach selection and review processes, training for peer mentors/coaches, timelines and structures for the mentoring process, and oversight of intervention programs.
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