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Wanted: Good teachers: Basic facts

Having a good teacher in each classroom is the foundation of a good school. Among other staffing challenges, even normal attrition requires school districts to be constantly on the lookout for good teachers. Adding in the challenges of No Child Left Behind’s requirements for highly-qualified teachers means that school districts are often hard-pressed to fill positions, often on short notice. Under these pressures, taking a more strategic approach to recruitment can be challenging, but the benefits for school districts are worth the work.

Identifying your district’s challenges

Although “the teacher shortage” is often cited as a major factor in school staffing problems, there is no shortage of teacher candidates overall (e.g., Gau et al. 2003, Hare and Nathan 1999). Rather, districts are more likely to confront subject-area shortages, and rural and urban schools often face shortages because of their geographic location.

As a result, school board members should identify what their district’s challenges are before thinking about recruitment programs. Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • Does your district have teacher shortages? In what areas? Subject-specific? Special education?
  • Where are your district’s teachers coming from now?
  • How long do your teachers stay? If they leave, where do they go?
  • Can you learn anything from looking at surrounding district’s practices?
  • What is the current recruitment plan? Is there a state data pool used to fill positions? Where does the district recruitment plan look for candidates? Does it involve local universities?

Avoiding pitfalls

After identifying your district’s challenges, look to correct any problems in its hiring practices. Unfortunately, some districts fall into practices that thwart efforts to find and keep good teachers.

  • Poor hiring practices. Liu (2003) found that teacher hiring practices relied greatly on resumes, references and interviews without looking at teachers’ scores on standardized tests, evaluating sample lesson plans, or observing candidates teaching. In addition, Clement (2008) suggests asking candidates to give examples of how they have handled certain challenges in teaching or classroom management.
  • Delayed hiring. Late or nonexistent notification requirements for exiting teachers, transfer requirements that give existing teachers the first pick of job openings, and uncertainty over funding results in delayed hiring. This often causes the best candidates to withdraw, particularly in large urban districts (Levin and Quinn 2003, Loeb and Reininger 2004). School boards should discuss the issue with their superintendent to plan changes if delayed hiring is a problem.
  • Lack of license reciprocity. Each year 60,000 newly prepared teachers do not find jobs in the states where they prepared to teach, and many veteran teachers leave the profession when they move because of license incompatibilities (Darling-Hammond 2000).

Building a recruitment program

Building a strong, long-term recruitment program is the only way for a district to escape last-minute shortages. Some districts have found success in the strategies below.

For new teachers

  • Work with colleges and universities to recruit students to specific areas of need, such as math or special education. These partnerships can also help prepare new teachers for the specific needs or challenges in the local schools.
  • Locate teacher candidates by identifying high academic achievers, minority students, undeclared students, students already employed as teacher aides, or mid-career students seeking a career change (Anglin, Mooradian, and Hamilton 1993).
  • Recruit undergraduate students not enrolled in teacher preparation programs. For instance, one study found large proportions of science, engineering, and math undergraduates expressed interest in teaching. Programs such as UTeach in Austin, Tx. educate these students about teaching and invite them to earn their teaching credentials along with a regular degree.
  • Interest students in teaching before college. Many successful programs are designed to give middle or high school students insight into the nature and problems of teaching.

Alternative certification

At least 140 programs across the nation provide alternative routes to securing a teaching license (Glass 2008). The National Science Board (2008) reports that 11 percent of all public school teachers and 15 percent of math and science teachers now hold alternative certifications, with most concentrated in hard-to-staff schools and poor urban areas.

In general, most studies have found that alternative certified teachers are about as effective as traditionally prepared teachers. For example, studies of Teach for America (TFA) recruits showed that students of TFA teachers performed about as well as others (Glazerman, Mayer and Decker 2006, Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin and Helig 2005).

However, a national study of alternative certification programs found a great deal of variation between and within the programs (Humphrey and Wechsler 2007). The quality appeared to be a function of the unique interaction between the program as implemented, the school, and the participant. Districts should examine their own alternative certification programs to see if they are getting the results they need.

Offering financial incentive: Does money work?

While candidates are more likely to choose teaching when starting teacher wages are high relative to wages in other occupations, (Loeb and Reininger 2004) any other salary incentives have shown mixed results. Despite the interest in using bonuses to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools, research does not seem to support the strategy. Other factors, such as the working conditions and the location of jobs, have been shown to affect the decision to enter teaching.

Focusing on retention

Districts that focus on retention will save themselves time, money and effort. Consider these points:

  • According to a 2003 study from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, nearly 33 percent of new teachers leave the classroom after three years, and almost 50 percent leave after five years (NCTAF 2003).
  • In a representative random sample of first- and second-year teachers in California, Florida, Massachusetts, and Michigan, one-half to two-thirds reported that they plan and teach without peer or mentor support or involvement. Less than half reported that extra assistance was available (Kardos and Johnson 2007).
  • One successful retention program allowed a district to trade its 75 percent turnover rate for an 87 percent retention rate within three years (Maciejewski 2007).



Posted: October 8, 2008

©2008 Center for Public Education

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