Academic Minute Podcast
Tuan Nguyen, Kansas State University – Understanding the Issue of Teacher Vacancy
The shortage of teachers is a critical problem.
Tuan D. Nguyen is an assistant professor of education at Kansas State University. His main research interests teacher labor markets, education policy, and school improvement. He applies rigorous quantitative methods to examine the effects and unintended consequences of education policies, the barriers to persistence, and the effectiveness of policies designed to combat attrition, particularly for an equitable society.
Understanding the Issue of Teacher Vacancy
There has been a lot of talk about teacher vacancy in the news recently, and I want to break it down a little. So for teacher vacancy, there are actually three related problems. One is the current vacancy issue where many schools and districts (most of the time, high poverty schools, rural schools, and majority minority schools) are in dire need of teachers. We also tend to need more math/science teachers, and special educators. It is not the case that we have vacant positions in every district and equally for all subjects.
Two, there is also an issue of high teacher turnover. The pandemic has only worsened the teacher turnover rate over the last couple of years. We have not seen an exodus of teachers, but we have seen an uptick in turnover rate, and recent surveys suggest that teachers are stressed out and burnt out, in parts due to the pandemic.
Three, there is also an issue of teacher supply. Over the last 10 years, there has been a big drop in teacher production, 30-40% decrease. The decline in teacher production did not come out of nowhere, but rather, it is a reflection of how we have treated, or rather mistreated, teachers for a long time now, particularly with how some media have portrayed teachers, not as professionals, not deserving the respect and prestige that should come with this profession. And now we have legislation that dictates what teachers can or cannot teach, including racism, what books they can use, and they may have to carry guns in their classroom. This is not what teachers signed up to do.
In sum, to address teacher vacancy, we have to think about 1) making targeted policy decisions to meet specific needs for specific districts, 2) decreasing teacher turnover, and 3) increasing the respect, prestige, and salary for teachers so we have a healthy teacher supply line.
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