10 Reasons Why There’s a K-12 Teacher Shortage

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A substitute teacher works with a student

This is the first of a multi-part blog series that explores the nationwide teacher shortage. Get more information on the shortage, including strategies to combat it, in our free eBook: “Your School’s Guide to Surviving the Teacher Shortage.”

This blog will focus on factors that have contributed to the shortage. In our next blog, we’ll explore strategies to improve teacher retention.

In 2012, as schools around the country began to recover from a recession that resulted in teacher layoffs and program cuts, districts and administrators discovered a new problem: Even though they were receiving more funding for reinstated positions and programs, they couldn’t find enough qualified candidates to fill them.

Before we dive into ways schools can address the teacher shortage, it’s helpful to have a grasp on the factors that have contributed to it. Below, we explore 10 of the biggest reasons, grouped into two categories: four factors related to the supply and demand for educators, and six reasons why current teachers are leaving the profession.

Supply and Demand

1. More Students: The National Center for Education Statistics reports record-level increases in student enrollment every year since 2013, with this trend expected to continue until 2026.  

2. Student-to-teacher ratios: As educators know, the lower the student-to-teacher ratio, the better for students and teachers. As schools see funding gradually increase to pre-recession levels, many are looking to improve their ratios. Consider that some states are averaging as high as 24:1, much higher than the national 16:1 average.

3. Decline in teacher education enrollment: Just as student population levels have reached record highs, since 2011, teacher preparation programs have reported annual declines. While the steepest decline has been in alternative programs, traditional bachelor’s degrees in education have also decreased despite increases in bachelor’s degrees in all other substantial fields of study.

4. Decline in re-entrants: Teachers returning to the profession after temporary leave (maternity/health/personal leave) used to account for almost one-half of the year’s supply. However, a decline in re-entrants has hurt the availability of qualified educators.

[irp posts=”3296″ name=”Superintendent’s Take: 4 Strategies to Retain New Teachers”]

Teachers Leaving the Profession

1. Stress: In a recent study, over 60 percent of educators and school staff indicated that they felt their work was “always” or “often” stressful. Factors included “stressful workload, the feeling of having to be ‘always on,’ the lack of resources, and the burden of ever-changing expectations.” A sometimes-overlooked contributor to teacher stress is the nationwide substitute teacher shortage. Without reliable substitute teacher coverage, full-time teachers may not be able to take the time off they need for illness, preparation, or professional development.

2. Lack of career preparation: Because of the incredible demand for teachers, some schools and districts have resorted to hiring college graduates without the proper certification or experience in the classroom that is usually required. The majority of teachers who participated in this Association of American Educators survey “felt they were not prepared for the realities of the classroom.” As the Washington Post reports, beginning teachers without adequate support are 2.5 times more likely to leave the classroom after just one year.

3. Lack of autonomy: In a Gallup poll, teachers ranked the lowest in feeling their opinions mattered in their profession. A professor in the education school at the University of Pennsylvania put it this way: “Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say.”

4. Inadequate compensationThough the cost of living has steadily increased, the average pay rate for teachers has actually decreased since 2000 — in some states by as much as 17 percent.

5. Lack of relevant professional developmentAt any given time, almost one-half of teachers are actively looking for a different job. Many teachers report that a lack of professional development and growth opportunities causes them to leave their positions. Even schools that have a reliable substitute teaching pool and budget for professional development may not take into account teachers’ individual growth and development needs. Ensuring teachers remain engaged is crucial to preventing burnout.

6. Overemphasis on test scoresIt is both a criticism and a goal to be known as a teacher who “teaches to the test.” On the one hand, it implies a sort of uninspired emphasis on benchmarks rather than on real learning; on the other hand, students and administrators feel pressure to perform on standardized tests and want to know the skills they’ll need. In an NEA study, 72 percent of teachers felt there was too much emphasis on test scores in their classrooms, leaving them little space for creativity and customization of learning.

Solutions to the Shortage

Get your free copy of our eBook, Your School’s Guide to Surviving the Teacher Shortage, for more information on what’s contributed to the shortage, as well as strategies your school can use to address it.



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One Comment on “10 Reasons Why There’s a K-12 Teacher Shortage”

  1. I would love to be a teacher . I have plenty of experience working with children of various ages and different educational settings but I am so frustrated by the number of general education requirements. I I have the equivalent of an associate’s degree and have taken almost 90 units but still need more classes to qualify for a bachelors program.

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