Teacher Shortage

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Teacher Shortage

Key Takeaways

  • In order to manage the teacher shortage, some schools are utilizing virtual teachers to provide instruction to in-person classes.
  • Some states are relaxing teacher certification standards and providing emergency certifications in order to credential new teachers or allow veteran teachers to teach more than one subject.
  • Other schools are offering large sign-on bonuses for new teachers, such as West Contra Costa County Unified, in California, which is offering "$6,000 signing bonuses for teachers, with a third paid out after the first month and rest when the teacher enters year three."


The current teacher shortage in US K-12 schools is caused by mass teacher retirements, the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher burn out and fights with teacher's unions. While the crisis has been brewing for some time, and was only exacerbated by COVID-19, it is likely to get worse; according to a RAND survey in early 2021, nearly 25% of current teachers were planning to leave teaching by the end of the year. Below, we review some creative ways school districts across the country are managing the current teacher shortage.

Going Virtual

  • In order to address the teacher shortage in 2021, some schools are bringing in virtual teachers to teach classrooms full of in-person students. Other schools are having both students and teachers stay home, while instruction is provided virtually.
  • For example, this occurred in the first half of the 2021 school year at a Fort Dodge, Iowa middle and high school, where remote teachers from Proximity Learning, an Austin-Texas based third-party vendor, provided instruction for a Spanish language class and a math class.
  • Private schools, such as America’s Little Leaders Junior Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, are also utilizing virtual teachers from Proximity Learning.
  • North Texas schools also used virtual teachers with in-person students during the fall of 2021. Remote teachers handle the lessons while an in-person school staff member handles classroom management and any technical issues from inside the classroom with the students. One of these schools, Lancaster ISD, partnered with Elevate K-12, a virtual-learning company based in Chicago, to provide the virtual teachers. Their contact with Elevate is for one school year and cost around $624,000.
  • Eastpointe Community Schools in Michigan had to move to virtual school with both teachers and students staying at home after multiple middle school teachers resigned with little notice. According to district spokesperson Caitlyn Kienitz: "You don’t want just an adult who can pass a background check, you want a teacher in front of your kids. This is obviously not ideal, but we’re able to make sure they’re getting each subject area from a teacher certified to teach it."

Easier Certification

  • Some states, like Connecticut, took a more drastic approach to the current teacher shortage and approved emergency teacher certifications.
  • As of December 2021, the Connecticut Board of Education voted unanimously to issue additional emergency certifications, in addition to the 174 emergency certifications the state issued in 2020. The Board stressed that this was a "band-aid" solution — only intended to address the short-term shortage — and that broader strategies need to be considered for long term teacher recruitment and retention.
  • Emergency certifications can be granted to teachers for subject areas that are not their primary focus. Connecticut Department of Education spokesperson Dr. Shuana Tucker provides this example for a situation where an emergency certification may be provided: "if you are a math teacher, but let's say your minor may have been English, and there's a need in that district to cover English at this time, if deemed by the superintendent that you are able to fill that vacancy and you've got the training and the capacity to do so, they can move you into that other area."
  • The Michigan Department of Education has also created alternative teacher certification programs designed to help those already working in schools but who are not yet certified teachers to earn their certification more rapidly.
  • In February 2021, Massachusetts extended their emergency teacher license program, which was originally set to expire June 30, 2021, through June 30, 2022. The emergency license program is designed, among other things, to support "the educator pipeline for school districts looking to bring on new hires."

Retired Teachers & Administrators

  • Some schools are currently bringing retired teachers back into the classroom to fill the gaps caused by the current teacher shortage.
  • For example, the Michigan Department of Education has provided "waivers to help former educators become recertified," making it easier for retired teachers to return to the classroom.
  • In California, retired teachers are being encouraged to return to the classroom. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in August 2021 that "made it easier for retirees to return to the classroom by removing the requirement for the retiree to be approved by a school board."
  • In Missouri, some districts are having school administrators — who generally hold a teaching certificate — also take on teaching classes.

Cash Incentives

  • Many schools are offering one-time cash sign-on bonuses for new hires to address the immediate teacher and support staff shortage exacerbated by COVID-19.
  • For example, Mount Diablo Unified School District near San Fransisco, California is offering "$5,000 signing bonuses for speech pathologists and $1,500 for paraeducators who help students with learning needs." West Contra Costa County Unified, also in California, is offering "$6,000 signing bonuses for teachers, with a third paid out after the first month and rest when the teacher enters year three."
  • Other districts providing cash incentives include those in Oklahoma, North Carolina, and New Jersey. North Texas schools offered sign-on bonuses of up to $10,000.

Research Strategy

The research team utilized the most recent sources available, including trusted news sites and education-specific industry organizations, in order to compile the above insights into how districts are handling the current teacher shortage and to provide examples to support those insights.

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