Across the United States, the teaching profession is struggling to recruit and retain well-trained workers. Between February 2020 and May 2022, around 300,000 teachers and staff exited the profession nationwide, representing a remarkable 3 percent drop in that workforce. In early July 2022, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) signed legislation aimed at addressing Arizona’s acute teacher shortage by allowing students enrolled in college to serve as full-time teachers before earning their bachelor’s degree or completing a teacher training program. As of January 2022, nearly 2,000 positions in the state were vacant. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) administration announced a similar state policy focused on bringing veterans into the workforce. Other states have implemented policies that reduce or eliminate clinical training hours and licensure requirements needed for entry into the educator profession.
teachers and staff left the U.S. teaching profession between February 2020 and May 2022
These kinds of approaches, which reduce the requirements to become a teacher, are impractical and unsustainable. They will ultimately harm student learning, weaken the teaching profession, and continue to ignore the pressing and pervasive systemic issues that have contributed to decades of teacher shortages. With the teacher shortage becoming more urgent, policymakers should not empower unprepared and inadequately trained educators to direct classroom instruction and guide students’ academic futures. Instead, states must leverage creative, balanced, and sustainable approaches to ensure that qualified candidates seek employment as teachers and want to remain in the profession.
Teachers must receive robust, supervised training
Career pathways into the classroom must start with supervised training. Student teaching, often referred to as clinical experience, is a hallmark of teacher preparation and occurs after the teacher candidate has completed substantial coursework in subject matter content and child development theories as well as observation hours. This experience, which is often provided by an expert mentor teacher who coaches a prospective teacher through a structured sequence that gradually increases in responsibility, is invaluable to a teacher in training.
Training provides prospective teachers the opportunity to apply their coursework and receive consistent feedback. In addition to solidifying grade-level and subject matter expertise, clinical training helps teacher candidates develop their skills in planning and executing differentiated daily instruction for all learners. They must also learn to recognize learning disabilities; promote language acquisition skills for English language learners; apply behavioral intervention strategies; practice classroom management techniques; design effective assessments; use culturally responsive and trauma-informed pedagogies; and promote student well-being and mental health. These experiences also advance prospective teachers’ understanding of the legal responsibilities of their jobs, particularly in the special education space. Teachers who lack hands-on training in these areas will be less prepared to meet these needs, and they are more than twice as likely to quit teaching after just one year.
Quality training not only increases the likelihood that teachers will remain in the profession, but it benefits students’ success as well. Decades of research demonstrate that teachers have a greater impact on student achievement than any other school-based factor. A continued exposure to high-quality teachers significantly increases the odds that a secondary student will not only have higher achievement levels but also earn a bachelor’s degree. Moreover, raising, not lowering, the quality of teaching may create substantial economic and social benefits over the long term. Simply put, it is more likely that students of teachers with little or no training will struggle academically and face future economic hardship. The lack of such supervised training in Arizona’s policy, for example, therefore raises the likelihood of harming student academic achievement and diminishing their classroom experience.
Improving working conditions, not lowering the bar to entry, will address the teacher shortage
Policies that lower the qualification requirements to become a teacher and place unprepared teachers in classrooms not only weaken the profession but also counter the aim of sustainably addressing ongoing shortages; increasing the numbers of unprepared teachers will inevitably affect teacher retention and accelerate teacher turnover. It will also dilute demands for higher pay and better working conditions.
States must leverage creative, balanced, and sustainable approaches to ensure that qualified candidates seek employment as teachers and want to remain in the profession.
A 2022 American Federation of Teachers (AFT) survey of pre-K-12 members revealed that most current teachers would not recommend entering the field to prospective candidates. Starting salaries for teachers, when adjusted for inflation, are actually lower than they were in the 2008–09 academic year, and the AFT survey reported that conditions in teaching—including workload, student behavioral issues, and lack of adequate compensation—worsened over the past five years. Nearly 80 percent of teachers said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with their overall job conditions, and many reported being both stressed and frustrated. The challenges placed on educators will likely be even more burdensome for those without supervised experience. Moreover, if new teachers struggle, then their students likely will too.
Policies with weak training requirements will disproportionately affect schools with fewer resources
Laws such as DeSantis’ and Ducey’s will also disproportionately affect the students in Title I schools and other communities with limited resources and funding. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the least experienced teachers were concentrated in high-poverty and high-minority schools. Furthermore, according to a 2017 report, turnover rates for beginning teachers at Title I schools are nearly 50 percent higher than at non-Title I schools. Together, these factors put students in these schools at an academic disadvantage—and one in which their opportunity gaps will widen if they continue to be denied access to well-prepared and well-trained teachers.
Evidence-based, high-retention pathways will improve the teacher shortage
Policymakers should prioritize strengthening the teaching profession in the long term through supporting evidence-based, high-retention pathways that require clinical experience—rather than lowering professional standards—in order to ensure that the labor market avoids perpetuating conditions for critical teacher shortages. Teacher residencies, Grow Your Own programs, and traditional university preparation programs should be leveraged to meet the training needs of teachers. States can also expand licensure reciprocity agreements, which would make it easier to transfer credentials from state to state and enable teachers to pursue positions across the country.
The federal and state governments should dedicate increased funding and resources to recruit and retain highly qualified and dedicated educators, strengthen and elevate the teaching profession, and ensure that the U.S. teacher workforce is exceptionally trained and well compensated for their expertise.
Learn more about the teacher labor market