“We have a teacher respect issue in this country,” says the U.S Secretary of Education as districts tackle teacher shortages

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is urging districts to use federal funding to help keep teachers on the job. One district in Virginia discusses its three-prong strategy to recruit.
classroom(DC Bureau)
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 11:05 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Margaret Browne knows recruiting educators isn’t an easy job. But, it’s her job at Alexandria City Public Schools.

“A lot of the strategy was around recognizing that we had to be creative. We have to be nimble,” she said, as she detailed the three-prong strategy that has helped the district find success to overcome the teacher shortage concerns happening nationwide.

“One, partnering with universities, establishing a good partnership where we knew their ed schools would send us their strong folks. Along with that, making sure student teachers and interns from those universities were converted into full time staff. Two, It’s working with professional organizations, tapping that career switcher pipeline I talked about. And lastly, just getting out into the community, working with organizations, particularly around our non instructional staff, with community centers, workforce development organizations and other community organizations,” she said.

Browne said she focuses on connecting job candidates with principals to help them understand the mission of the district. The district also organizes specialized interview days. For example, to recruit special education teachers Browne said they allowed candidates to meet and work with their curriculum development team.

“We’re really pleased that we have a 2% vacancy rate of full-time teachers, which has come a very long way. We’ve been able to fill 231 instructional vacancies since March. So, we’re really pleased and a lot of kudos to our school leaders who tirelessly interviewed and selected those candidates and partner with us to get that far,” she said.

The U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, said teacher shortages were a long-standing issue even before the pandemic.

“With the economy the way it is. People have options. But also, I think it’d be short-sighted for me to talk about this without acknowledging that we have a teacher respect issue in this country too. That, if we’re not serious about paying teachers a competitive salary, improving working conditions, and including student and teacher voice in decisions that are being made, you know, the profession will lack the amount of people that it needs to get and the quality applicants that it needs to have,” said Cardona.

A July survey by the American Federation of Teachers by Hart Research Associates found 79% of educators surveyed reported job dissatisfaction. Nearly 9 out of 10 said schools have become too politicized. Since the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, the AFT reports “educators increasingly fear the scourge of gun violence in their schools, with nearly half of all members concerned about a mass shooting.”

“The shortage is an issue, but we need all hands on deck and we need to think about it not only short term, but long term. This is the best profession we should be. It should be a place where people want to go to. And, I’m confident that in some states they’re really moving the needle on that,” said Cardona.

Cardona is urging schools districts to use funding from the American Rescue Plan to fuel support for teachers. On the issue of school safety, he acknowledged the passage of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act and federal funding to help make districts safer and provide mental health support.

“I am confident, however, that with the use of American Rescue Plan dollars we’ve been pushing at the department to use the money to provide bonuses, to bring expert teachers out of retirement, to work with higher education institutions, to get our student teachers into the classrooms earlier so that they can have that experience of learning while maybe also getting paid and getting their college credits to get their credential. We need innovation right now more than ever,” said Cardona.

Browne is one of the people working to innovate new ways to hire teachers.

”What we found is that even if we’re not going into our traditional pipelines through education schools, that we’ve a ton of career switchers. And, there’s a huge pipeline of folks who are looking to get into teaching that have been in the workforce for ten or 15 years. And so, what we’re doing is really working with them to demonstrate the value of teaching,” she said.