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Navigating A Teacher Double-Shortage: 3 Essential Hiring Strategies

March 14, 2024   •   Insights

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Over the summer of 2023, news headlines filled with this declaration: “The Great Resignation is over.”

For many, this news came as a relief. This phenomenon, coined by associate professor of business management Anthony Klotz, referenced the unusual spike in the number of employees who quit their jobs between 2020 and the present — including those working in education. The 2022 Voices of the Classroom survey revealed that classrooms, in particular, felt the pinch of the Great Resignation during those early years of the pandemic, with 76% of district respondents reporting teacher departures at record-high rates.

But is the Great Resignation actually over for educators?

Unlike in other industries, education faces multiple hiring challenges when it comes to teaching staff. Today, teacher vacancies, as well as teacher absenteeism in general, are still on the rise across the U.S. Even as districts work hard to backfill these open positions, they are also struggling to attract and retain substitute staff to keep learning going in their school classrooms.

When teachers aren’t teaching in classrooms, whatever the reason, it has a lasting impact on the school community. The consequences range from decreased student achievement, lowered student motivation, decreased attendance rates, and increased behavior problems.

These outcomes can unfortunately have a spiraling effect. For example, it’s not uncommon for teachers to cite increased student misbehavior, especially coming out of the pandemic, as a detractor when considering a new teaching position. This can put more pressure on substitutes as they fill in for these vacancies and must navigate challenging student behaviors, which can in turn affect substitutes’ decisions to return to a campus. With less stability in teaching staff at a school, student behaviors may worsen, perpetuating the challenge of filling vacancies.

But for many educators, these shifts aren’t new. In fact, this multifaceted “Great Resignation” began long before COVID-19 shut school doors; these pandemic patterns simply reflect an existing trend.

What factors influence teachers’ decisions to stay in the profession or leave it entirely? How do hiring trends for full-time positions impact those for substitute roles? And, perhaps most importantly, which strategies help districts attract and retain high-quality talent in such a market?

Let’s take a closer look.

Teacher Hiring Trends: A Double Shortage

Educators are in the midst of a double shortage in practice: one for full-time classroom staff, and the other for the substitute teachers who step in when vacancies arise. And administrators must navigate both of these challenges simultaneously to ensure their students can continue their learning journeys.

The number of full-time teachers is declining

The Bureau of Labor & Statistics (BLS) forecasts that the job outlook for both elementary and high school teaching positions will change little, if at all, between 2022 and 2032. Yet there will be, on average, anywhere between 62,000 and 109,000 job openings for these positions every year. Further, the BLS highlights, “Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.”

The numbers from the latest teacher hiring and departure trends mirror this forecast. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that, between 2020 and 2022, over 300,000 teachers left the workforce — a 3% drop overall in the field. And according to Statista, another 50,000 teachers in September 2023 alone quit their roles.

But the shortage of qualified full-time teaching candidates begins even earlier in the hiring process. The Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that enrollment in teacher preparation programs decreased by over a third between 2010 and 2018. CAP caveats that these trends vary by demographics such as ethnicity and gender, and that teacher labor markets are hyper-local. However, they emphasize that the results of these trends are the same: there are fewer candidates overall in the hiring pipeline for schools and districts.

Fewer full-time teachers means more substitutes needed

With a shrunken pipeline of newly qualified teachers and an exodus of experienced ones, districts lean more heavily on their substitute teacher workforce to fill in vacancies. This increase in demand for substitutes has grown quickly in the last three years, far outpacing available staff. What’s more, the Journalist’s Resource reported in January 2023 that districts’ need for substitutes to fill vacancies will only continue to grow.

For now, the substitute teacher shortage may well be the new normal, compounding stress already on the shoulders of district and school leaders as they try to attract and retain full-time and substitute staff.

What’s driving the double shortage?

Why are teachers leaving their positions or the field entirely? Why are there so few substitutes available to fill in? Most importantly – why aren’t more people interested in becoming either full-time or substitute teachers?

In their 2022 op-ed, Dr. Elizabeth D. Steiner, Heather L. Schwartz, and Melissa Kay Diliberti explain that a huge activator for resignations among educators is low morale — as expressed by full-time teachers, substitutes, and administrators alike. Of course, this trend is concerning for districts trying to keep their educators in classrooms and schools, but the authors warn that low morale has a ripple effect:

“Given how many teachers enter the profession through social networks, poor morale among today's educators might dissuade tomorrow's from entering the field.”

The Learning Policy Institute summarizes the following additional factors that may contribute to a teacher’s decision to leave the classroom:

  • Inadequate preparation and training for new teachers
  • Lack of school and district support for new teachers
  • Challenging and demanding work conditions
  • Lower compensation compared with peers at similar education levels
  • Better career opportunities in other industries

Substitute teachers’ concerns mirror many of those expressed by their full-time counterparts, though with unique nuances. According to the latest Red Rover survey results, many substitutes seek flexibility, tangible opportunities to “make a difference,” and additional training (especially in trauma-informed teaching) when considering a new gig. And yet, substitute teachers face challenges with adequate pay, student behavior issues, and a lack of support from school or district staff.

The result? Only 73% of substitutes report that they plan to return next year.

Now more than ever, it is essential that district and school administrators respond to what both full-time and substitute teacher candidates want from job positions, to the best of their abilities and resources.

Three Must-Have Strategies to Recruit Candidates, Revitalize Fill Rates, and Retain Teachers

Districts have various levers available to navigate this double shortage, but limited time and resources affect which ones admins can actually pull. However, regardless of circumstance, every district can implement these three must-have methods to recruit qualified teaching candidates, revitalize their vacancy fill rates, and ultimately retain both full-time and substitute teachers in their school communities.

Recruit candidates with a combination of diverse strategies

When demand outpaces supply in the job market, it’s essential for schools to get creative with their recruitment and interview strategies. Digital methods like social media blasts and virtual job fairs allow admins to cast a wide net in search of qualified candidates. Localized grassroots efforts, such as posting job ads in restaurants or libraries, help schools find teachers who already live in the area, removing a common barrier for candidates to accept positions that require relocation.

So why not combine both approaches? As EdWeek advocates, diverse recruiting strategies are most effective for schools and districts in the midst of a teacher shortage.

This same principle applies to substitute teacher recruitment, too. While old-school methods like robocalling are dead, modern technology offers districts ways to survive the teacher shortage by creatively filling their openings — even on short notice.

Red Rover, for instance, makes it easy and quick for district leaders to spread the word about vacancies among substitute teachers. Admins simply push a notification out through our absence management solution with a few clicks to advertise the where, what, and when of the job. Substitutes download the Red Rover app at no cost, and through it, receive these near-real-time notifications for substitute teaching opportunities. Better still, vetted substitutes can immediately accept a job opportunity right then and there — no extra steps necessary.

When districts and schools diversify their recruitment strategies, they have a better chance at attracting a wide pool of teaching candidates while simultaneously boosting their fill rates.

Revitalize fill rates with flexible scheduling

With more teacher positions vacant, districts may seek longer-term substitute teachers to fill the gap as they recruit full-time candidates. But long-term substitutes may be difficult to find, let alone hire for the full window of time they’re needed. It’s time for districts to move past staffing logic puzzles and get creative with filling long-term absences or vacancies. Flexible scheduling is key to revitalizing fill rates!

Absence management in unique times requires flexibility, not rigidity. With modernized K12 workforce solutions like Red Rover, district admins can organize partial fills for longer-term vacancies with a few steps, which may increase the likelihood that the vacancy is actually covered. Admins can also designate staff members with multiple positions and schedules in the solution, supporting these staff with streamlined time tracking for extra duty coverage and other creative strategies to fill classrooms when teachers are absent.

For one district in particular, this scheduling flexibility was critical to save their payroll department time and avoid chaos as they faced rising numbers of classroom reassignments to cover for vacant teaching positions. Read their success story here.

Retain teaching staff with supportive environments

Both full-time and substitute teaching staff share the desire to feel supported and part of a team helping students, regardless of how long they have worked in classrooms. A position anchored in a supportive, collaborative environment is a major draw for candidates. These elements can also become a magnet to keep quality full-time and substitute teachers.

Campuses that have cultures in place to support both new and returning staff thrive will have more success in retaining quality staff on their team. The good news is that admins don’t need to implement a whole new wellness program or drastically change school processes to respond to this job attractor!

In fact, admins are better off focusing on small, iterative improvements that boost the quality of a teacher’s everyday work life. Over time, these changes build momentum to help retain high-quality staff. Even something as simple as rethinking the classic ‘welcome binder’ can positively impact both full-time and substitute teacher engagement.

Let’s imagine a new substitute teacher arriving at their first gig with a new school — after all, almost half of substitutes this year are new to the role. This is a Red Rover school, meaning that the moment this substitute signed up for the job, they received digital school and classroom profiles that cover basic information about how this campus operates. Armed with things like daily school schedules, staff parking location, check-in instructions, available classroom incentives, and even ready-made lesson plans, this substitute is that much better prepared for their first day on the job.

What’s more, this substitute has also already taken advantage of free embedded training through Red Rover’s partnerships with SubSchool and STEDI. After reviewing lessons and tips for classroom management, this new substitute teacher has greater confidence walking into this gig. In turn, this school sends a positive message about the kind of support this campus provides to its substitutes.

By cultivating opportunities for continuous learning and creating simple ways for substitutes to access resources they may need for a gig, admins set their schools apart from the competition. It’s these small improvements that cascade to make a big difference — and in the end, motivate substitutes to return to specific campuses and boost fill rates.

Red Rover modernizes HR solutions for educators

The dual shortage of full-time teachers and substitute staff isn’t going away anytime soon. The more districts and schools invest in small but impactful changes to their recruiting and retention strategies, the better positioned they are to ensure that their students can continue their education, each and every day.

Educators deserve modern HR solutions built on a deep understanding of the K12 workforce’s needs and designed for customer delight. Red Rover is the partner for school and district administrators on both fronts. Schedule a demo today and learn how we can revitalize your fill rates while saving your staff both time and effort.

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