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America's Growing Teacher Shortage

Although understaffing has plagued US schools for several years, the multiple stresses on school systems and educators due to the COVID-19 pandemic are creating a major crisis. The current staffing crisis in public schools is an issue in communities throughout the country. In the fall of 2021, schools struggled to fill various critical positions and continue to struggle with a growing teacher shortage.
Many complex reasons predating the pandemic are responsible for the teaching shortage. For example, over the past decade teacher salaries have been stagnant. In addition, studies have shown a 19% weekly wage gap between teachers and other college-educated professionals.

However, the declining supply of teachers isn’t solely based on economics. In the most recently collected federal data examining teacher attrition, a culture of punitive test-based evaluations was the single largest reason given for leaving the profession. Additionally, teacher blame has led many teachers to leave.

The Pandemic Impact

There’s no question that teachers’ stress levels increased significantly during the pandemic. According to the Rand Corporation’s 2021 State of the US Teacher Survey, nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020-2021 school year, compared with one in six teachers who were likely to leave, on average, prior to the pandemic.

Another recent RAND survey of teachers who voluntarily left teaching during the pandemic found that stress was a key driver of teachers’ decisions to leave. Several factors contributed to their stress:

  • The challenges of transitioning to remote teaching

  • Working more hours (one-third of those who left teaching reported working 56 hours or more per week)

  • ​Holding second jobs (one-third held second jobs while teaching)

Nearly 65% of respondents said their pay was insufficient to merit the risk or stress.

Addressing the Teacher Shortage


Based on research results, there’s no silver bullet to cure the teacher shortage, only considerations to help recruit and retain strong teachers.

Competitive Compensation

Decades of research indicate that offering more competitive compensation is essential for retaining current teachers and recruiting new ones. As a result, several states are leveraging funds made available by The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER) and state surpluses to support higher salaries.

Federal recovery funds provided through the ESSER Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund can be used to support the educator workforce and address teacher shortages. In addition, as pointed out by the U.S. Departments of Education and Treasury, noneducation federal COVID relief funds, including the $350 billion allocated in the American Rescue Plan Act for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF), can also be used for this purpose.

Teacher Support

As research has revealed, financial compensation is not solely responsible for teachers leaving the profession. Implementing support for teachers is crucial to improving teacher retention. 

National Math and Science Initiative provides school leaders and teachers with opportunities for leadership development. NMSI also provides robust teacher supports, including professional development, curriculum resources, teacher communities and so much more. The unique hands-on and peer-to-peer approach enables NMSI to empower teachers at all levels.

Teacher Recruitment and Support

Building a pipeline for recruitment is a critical element that includes high-retention avenues to quell the teacher shortage. This will enable districts and schools to avoid disruptions when teachers leave and foster a supportive community for teachers entering the profession.

  • Positive Outlier Districts: One strategy to assess is California’s “positive outlier” districts. These districts developed robust pipelines to help underrepresented students excel at high levels measured by state assessments. A Learning Policy Institute study showed that the positive outlier districts also retained their teachers by creating favorable working conditions, a positive culture and a solid practice of teacher support and development.

  • Teacher Residency Programs: Another strategy is the creation of teacher residency programs that involve a partnership between school districts and teacher preparation programs. The residents participate in a year-long apprenticeship under the guidance of an experienced mentor teacher in conjunction with integrated coursework. In exchange for agreeing to teach in the district for a minimum number of years, teacher residents receive financial support, like a stipend and tuition assistance.

School districts and universities work together to define the program to ensure that it prepares teacher residents for specific practices used in the district. In addition, districts offer continuing mentoring programs to help newly trained recruits get the best start possible. Several states, including Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and New Mexico have implemented the strategy.

The Future of Education

While the lack of qualified teachers places the future of education in jeopardy, the teacher shortage may also be a strong impetus to increase investments in education. Federal relief funds such as the ESSER funds present a unique opportunity to build a strong foundation to recruit new teachers and support existing teachers.
Equipping educators with skills and tools needed can pave the way for high-quality teachers and better student outcomes. Work with NMSI to access the tools you need to better prepare teachers and instill confidence.