School principals from coast to coast are reporting that this year may have been one of the most tumultuous for hiring and staffing. The pandemic disrupted normal staffing patterns for a variety of reasons, including filling the voids left by teachers who needed to take leaves of absences and those who needed to work remotely (which means someone needed to be in the classroom, in person with students). Principals had to get creative on how they would find new teachers, and many answered the call and gave a teaching career a try for the first time.

In my school for example, I hired no less than fifteen teaching positions over the course of the year for my sixty teacher school. This is more than double the hiring rate that is typical for my school community. Many of my new hires were recent college graduates who didn't necessarily study to be a teacher but pivoted when their original industry was having hiring delays as a result of the pandemic.

As school leaders prepare for the upcoming school year, the first in a post-pandemic world, questions about how to attract and retain new teachers to the profession have surfaced.

According to this recent article, three school districts in North Carolina have already started to think-out-of-the-box on ways to attract new teachers to their schools. In Catawba County Schools, the strategy has been to raise teacher pay in certain critical shortage positions in an effort to be more competitive with other districts. They raised their pay scale anywhere from 2% to 8% depending on the positions. In the Hickory Public Schools, a signing bonus was added for math and science teachers. The district's Financial Officer Adam Steele noted that the strategy seems to be working in terms of attracting the teachers, but not enough data exists to say whether or not those teachers are being retained yet. In the Newton-Conover City Schools, teacher turnover has been decreased by bringing in teachers from an international teaching program. The district contracts with a company to first recruit the teachers and then pay their benefits so that the cost to the district is equal to a typical hire. The district’s superintendent Aron Gabriel stated, "We're finding having international teachers come in and work has been amazing. There's a little more built-in loyalty."

Last fall, in the height of the global pandemic, the National Education Association (NEA) wrote about how the teacher shortage can be overcome in schools across the country. NEA's position is that teacher shortages ultimately harm students, teachers, and the system itself. It is up to policymakers to find ways to overcome the barriers of underfunding, poverty, and inequality.

NEA's strategies for improvement include the following:

  1. Raise teacher pay to attract new teachers and retain experienced ones;
  2. Elevate teacher voice, and nurture stronger learning communities where teachers' influence and sense of belonging is increased;
  3. Lower barriers that make it harder for teachers to do their jobs;
  4. Design professional supports that strengthen teachers' sense of purpose, career development, and effectiveness.

Teacher pay is, perhaps, the most obvious barrier to be overcome. According to NEA, "Teachers often have master's degrees, even doctorate degrees, and yet they earn far less than other college graduates. This problem, commonly called the 'teacher pay penalty,' has grown far worse over the past three decades." NEA quoted a study by the Economic Policy Institute which found that teachers earn about twenty percent less, on average, than their non-teacher college graduates.

How our systems approach the issue of teacher hiring and retention over the next few years as they "bounce back" from the challenges from the pandemic will be important. The profession is expected to see a high number of retirements, and many more may be looking to pivot to a different career if teaching can't be a sustainable option. Our schools need quality teachers in front of our students. We have to make this a priority in our policy work.