The teacher-hiring crisis is far from over. High teacher-turnover rates are outpacing the sharp decline in student enrollment numbers in K-12 public schools.
Consider just a few examples of the nationwide trend. North Carolina faced a 12.1% teacher departure rate for the 2021-2022 school year, followed by 15.6% of teachers exiting the profession for 2022-2023. Louisiana had similar rates, at 11.1% and 13.9%, respectively. Washington State came in at 10% and 12% for those same years, experiencing the highest percentage loss of teachers for the state in more than three decades.
This increased attrition rate, combined with college and university schools of education attracting and, in turn, producing fewer teachers, is putting significant pressure on school leaders. Between the 2008-2009 and 2018-2019 school years, the number of individuals completing a teacher-education program dropped by nearly 33%. Covid-19 only further eroded the depleted pipeline of teachers.
The Dilemma Schools Leaders Face
The need for school leaders to hire quickly and fill critical classroom positions is real and often overwhelming, especially when multiple teacher vacancies occur in mid-summer or a teacher departs mid-year. When school leaders need to fill teacher vacancies, they face the temptation to take whomever they can get — regardless of whether the candidate possesses key qualifications and characteristics. The school leader faces a tough situation because until a teacher can be hired, a classroom of students is left with substitutes to supervise and instruct.
Many factors lie outside the school leader’s control in these teacher-shortage situations, with a dwindling supply of talent being preeminent. This is why it has never been more important for school leaders to focus on what they can control: how they execute the hiring process and understand its connection to retention.
The Hiring Process
A comprehensive, well-ordered hiring process is essential and should lead seamlessly into faculty training, support, and review. With those later stages in mind, hiring methods should never limit their focus to simply the “basic” qualifications necessary to fulfill the “basic” needs of the classroom.
Every position imposes particular expectations, and every applicant brings a unique set of advantages and disadvantages to meeting them. The hiring process must be designed to uncover these qualities as well as assess, articulate, and document how each will affect that candidate’s path to success. When school leaders approach hiring as closely connected with talent management and support, a stronger, more vibrant school faculty results.
Mistakenly, school leaders often think of the hiring process as distinct from the downstream work of culture-building, professional development, and accountability. In overlooking the interconnectedness of these components, school leaders fail to curate talent recruitment and development processes that lead to greater retention. In so doing, they compound the hiring and retention challenges they face. Properly understood, the recruitment and hiring processes should form the foundation for teacher onboarding, resourcing, and reviewing.
An essential part of that process is identifying areas for professional growth and establishing a corresponding support plan. When the hiring process conveys to candidates that the school leader cares deeply about who they are, understands their strengths and weaknesses, and will work diligently to support their development, they are more likely to accept a position.
Clarity, support, and accountability are some key differentiators within leaders’ control that make their schools more attractive. These ingredients signal that the environment the candidates will enter is collegial and disciplined and that the leader is focused on their success. Such forthrightness provides a personalized roadmap for candidates’ further development. Teachers want clarity from their leaders, and this approach eliminates ambiguity, which damages a school’s long-term attractiveness and retention more than many school leaders realize.
With the teacher-vacancy problem a pressing reality, an expedient approach to hiring is tempting. Yet hasty hiring decisions are detrimental to candidates and schools. Deliberate and comprehensive approaches to hiring do not require several weeks to complete. Thoughtful, measured processes — where important questions are asked and assessments made, along with appropriate documentation undertaken — ensure that leaders don’t waste their limited time.
School leaders can proactively help mitigate the teacher-hiring crisis they find themselves in by building cultures that attract and retain quality teachers, exercising a disciplined and comprehensive approach to hiring, and providing clear expectations upfront with aligned accountability. Even amid the shrinking pools of teachers, school leaders have an opportunity to turn the tide — moving from desperation to deliberate and disciplined hiring.