The Nationwide Teacher Shortage Is Real 

The Nationwide Teacher Shortage Is Real 

So how are we going to find all those tutors we need?

2021 saw the birth of the so-called Great Resignation as, around the nation, workers fled jobs by the droves. Many businesses laid-off workers because of a lack of customers. Some workers used the opportunity to finally switch careers and leave behind jobs they hated. Others quit because of frustrations with Covid protocols or other problems brought on by the pandemic. One sector slammed especially hard? Education. 

Teachers have been in exodus mode for months now. Burned out, tired of getting blamed for student knowledge gaps (since even before the pandemic) or just plain fed up from dealing with angry parents, K-12 teachers around the country have decided to opt-out and either retire or look for other work. Indeed, the Learning Policy Institute noted in January 2022 that “the current staffing crisis in public schools is taking center stage in communities throughout the country.” 

Meanwhile, an Education Week survey clearly demonstrated that school districts are struggling to staff vital teaching posts, with 37% reporting “moderate” problems, 25% claiming “severe” shortages and 15% warning of “very severe” issues. 

The teacher shortage is so bad that in some states National Guard troops are being deployed to classrooms to keep schools from shuttering their doors. 

How did we get here and what’s the way ahead — if there even is one?

Shortage of Teachers: An Old Problem, Exacerbated

Interestingly, the teacher shortage isn’t a new issue; it’s simply been thrust into the spotlight as the gap widened due to Covid. 

In a recent Pearls of Wisdom webinar with Pearl CRO Nate Casey, Patrick Steck, Senior Director of Policy for Deans for Impact, points out that: “Teacher shortages are not a new topic in our field of education. The US has long struggled to attract, train and reward enough teachers to actually serve our students adequately.” 

But Steck also observed how “uniquely different” this round of shortages has been. “At the start of the school year, teachers reported levels of exhaustion that we might expect heading into the end of the school year.” Clearly, stress overload has been a prime driver behind teachers exiting en masse, and it’s impacting certain hard-struck communities worse than others. 

“Teacher shortages,” Steck says, “are often vexing for specific subject areas like Math, SpEd, ELA, and English Language Arts, and geographies — particularly our rural communities across the country. We have a hard time recruiting a workforce that actually reflects the students it needs to serve.” 

How much of a negative impact has the shortage caused so far? Such measurements are difficult to calculate with precision, yet one indisputable fact is that teacher shortages are exacerbating the learning loss problem, which has already reached epidemic proportions. 

The Pandemic-Fueled Learning Loss Crisis

Learning loss and knowledge gap problems are detrimental to this generation’s students and their futures, but the impacts can get passed on to their own children, too. Many studies have been done on the correlation between academics and income potential. In particular, a study by the University of Miami succinctly concluded, “High school grade point average (GPA) is a strong predictor of future earnings.” 

In contrast, students who don’t fare well in K-12 classes may not make it to college and may struggle with a lifetime of lower earnings. They’re thus at greater risk of raising children in impoverished conditions. Over time, the cycle repeats, creating intergenerational poverty. Indeed, the National Center for Children in Poverty highlights this issue, noting “Poverty rates for adults who were poor during childhood are much higher, especially for those individuals with high levels of exposure to poverty during childhood.” 

Beyond the long term impact on individual families, the problems caused by learning loss and the knowledge gap extend even to the economy on the whole. Indeed, a look back in time highlights the future problems awaiting the nation if we cannot fix these issues immediately. For example, McKinsey & Company’s COVID-19 and learning loss—disparities grow and students need help emphasizes that in 2009, if the achievement gap within students of color communities had been properly addressed, then “today’s US GDP would have been $426 billion to $705 billion higher.” 

Although it is not a sole factor, the nationwide teacher shortage is at the root of this complex tangle of problems. The shortage is not only obviously real, it’s creating tangible long problems for students, families, communities, states…and for the entire nation. 

The question is, how can it be fixed? Without sufficient teachers standing in classrooms, what can be done today to get students on the road to recovery from the deleterious effects of Covid on their learning? 

Tutors to the Rescue

As a leader in the field of tutoring software, we at Pearl believe that tutoring is the clear evidence-based winner when it comes to solutions for filling the teachers gap and addressing learning loss. In fact, America is currently experiencing a “Renaissance in tutoring” as evolving technologies make it easier than ever to introduce qualified tutors into homes and classrooms — without the need for their physical presence. 

Finding the Right Tutors

Finding qualified, suitable tutors comes with its own unique set of challenges. “Communities are really struggling to find enough tutors to meet student needs,” Patrick Steck notes in the webinar, while highlighting that districts are even mobilizing teacher candidates as tutors to help fill the gap. 

Meanwhile, passively advertising tutoring jobs on the usual job portals like Indeed is bound to net plenty of applications, but sometimes it pays to be more proactive. Reaching out to the areas where potential tutoring pools exist can be fruitful. As Steck further states, savvy districts are “seeking support from retired teachers, in-service teachers, college students, community volunteers, and in some cases even high schoolers to support their younger peers.” 

Integrating Online Tutoring 

It may take time to find and train the right tutors, but the search can be easily expanded with one simple change — expanding the parameters to include online tutors. While in-person tutors are perfect for many situations, online options are great alternatives, especially with a bit of foreplanning. The key is to work out the logistics in advance. “Some…logistical challenges exist across the virtual tutoring field,” said Tutored by Teachers’ co-founder Shaan Akbar in an interview with Education Week

Too often, school administrators and staff scramble to cover for teacher shortages by implementing virtual tutoring without sufficient preparation. They sometimes fail to take into consideration the practical implications of incorporating such lessons into the school day (for example, they must physically usher students into areas where they can make their online tutoring appointments). But when done right, the online tutoring can be a lifesaver for everyone involved. 

Online tutors have far more flexibility, as well, which is critical for ensuring consistency. As EdSource writes, “Consistent tutoring with the same tutor can go far. In addition to helping students develop and make progress on their learning goals, tutors can serve as caring, reliable and inspirational role models to students who historically have not had the same access to personalized and stable resources and supports as those able to afford them.” 

Choosing the Best Tutoring Style

In terms of finding the most effective tutoring style, studies have demonstrated “high-impact tutoring” to be the best option. High impact tutoring refers to “three or more sessions per week,” per the National Student Support Accelerator, a program based at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. 

The Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes Among Adolescents study conducted at Chicago Public Schools discovered that, “By providing personalized instruction and coordinating closely with teachers, students, and families, tutors were able to complement in-classroom learning and help students progress two to three times faster than their peers.” Their findings discredited “conventional wisdom” by proving that it is not “too difficult or costly to substantially improve the academic skills of children who are behind once they reach high school.” 

Professional Development for Tutors

Regardless of whether tutors and students are meeting physically or via online platforms, schools must commit to supporting tutors so they, in turn, can properly assist students. This tutor support should involve ongoing training and professional development similar to what teachers are offered. 

As Education Week advises, “Include tutors in teacher professional learning. Whenever possible, have tutors attend curriculum-specific professional learning and training alongside teachers. This will build a shared investment in the materials and better prepare tutors with the knowledge and skills they need to accelerate instruction.”

Utilizing Feedback

Feedback is another vital element of a successful tutoring program. Ideally, teachers and students should have the ability to provide feedback directly to administrators through surveys or other means. Insightful, candid feedback regarding tutor performance helps schools gauge the success of individual tutors or groups, so that issues can be properly addressed in a timely manner. 

In conjunction with that, there should be mechanisms in place to use that received feedback and incorporate it into constructive feedback provided to the tutors, so they can adjust and improve as needed. 

Summary

The national teacher shortage is real, but so are the solutions — finding and training qualified, motivated tutors ready to engage students with high impact sessions…via virtual platforms (like tutoring platform Pearl), when needed. Implementing flexible online tutoring can quickly alleviate problems related to onboarding the right tutors and helps maintain consistency and motivation. Advanced platforms like Pearl were made to facilitate these types of lessons, so schools can deliver on-target tutoring where and when it is needed the most!

Hiring and Training Rockstar Tutors With Patrick Steck of Deans for Impact

Hiring and Training Rockstar Tutors With Patrick Steck of Deans for Impact

Pearl’s CRO Nate Casey recently conducted a broad-ranging interview with Patrick Steck, Senior Director of Policy for Deans for Impact, an organization committed to improving student learning outcomes by stewarding the transformation of educator preparation. Patrick also served as a legislative assistant in the Texas legislature and is currently on the front lines ensuring future educators learn what’s needed to become great teachers. 

Below are time stamped highlights and key takeaways from our February 28, 2022 webinar about hiring and training rockstar tutors. You can also find the video of the full webinar embedded at the bottom of this article. And don’t forget to sign up to receive notifications of future Pearls of Wisdom webinars!

Impacts of the nationwide teacher shortage 

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As Casey points out during the interview, there is a huge demand for educators nationwide, with “over 50 million K-12 students and a need for over 3.5 million teachers.” Unfortunately, there aren’t enough teachers to go around, with the Learning Policy Institute calling the teacher shortage a “crisis” that’s “stretching schools to the breaking point.” 

An October 2021 survey by Education Week confirmed the severity of the teacher shortage crisis, highlighting dire feedback coming in from districts around the country, noting: 

  • 37% reported “moderate” shortages
  • 25% reported “severe” shortages
  • 15% reported “very severe” shortages

Steck says he isn’t surprised. “At the start of the school year, teachers reported levels of exhaustion that we might expect heading into the end of the school year.” One of the main reasons for that exhaustion has, of course, been the widespread and ceaseless disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the pandemic isn’t the only factor behind the dearth of teachers, it has obviously been a major one, with Covid driving up early teacher retirements by a whopping 26% in 2021. 

However, the federal government is fighting back, funding a range of timely programs to bring tutors in to fill the gaps. “The pandemic unleashed tremendous energy, resources, and plans around tutoring as a means to facilitate learning recovery,” Steck says on a positive note. 

From national service programs such as AmeriCorps grants to Federal Work Study programs, federal funds through ESEA and IDEA, and other relief funds such as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, there seems to be no shortage of available cash coming in. But simply throwing money at the problem isn’t enough. Districts must find and train the right tutors who can augment schools during the teacher shortage and beyond. 

But how do districts find such tutors in the first place?

How the tutoring landscape is evolving 

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As Casey points out, America is experiencing a “Renaissance in tutoring.” From in-person to online services, tutoring is the evidence-based winner when it comes to addressing student learning loss effectively. And, as mentioned above, tutoring is also a viable solution for tackling the crippling national teacher shortage at the same time. For these reasons and more, tutors are hot commodities these days. 

But not all tutors are created equal and not every tutor is suitable for every district or student population. That is why both quality and variety are essential. Luckily, as Steck points out, there is a treasure trove of potentially excellent tutors out there who simply need the right training to evolve and help students succeed. 

Effective tutoring training should be:

  • Grounded in the best scientific understanding of how students learn, using evidence-based practices tutors can deploy
  • Arranged to ensure tutors can create equitable inclusive learning environments through relationships they build with students
  • Aligned to a well-sequenced curriculum, particularly for tutors who might not be in-service teachers and are earlier in their development
  • Sequenced so tutors can engage in ongoing professional development opportunities so they can improve their skills. 

Clearly schools have a lot of work to do to ensure the correct training and opportunities are provided. As education author Ron Berger noted in Edutopia, “Districts face a hard reality. Many children lost a great deal of academic growth last year. Districts need to know which students need extra support, including tutoring in and outside the classroom. But educators need to assess students’ abilities in a way that motivates them to grow.”

Once districts know what their students need and what they want tutors to know before starting, then it’s time to source those tutors. Alas, that’s not as easy as it sounds, because while teachers are in exodus mode, tutors are finding themselves in increasingly higher demand across the board. 

Building a roster of amazing tutors 

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Districts around the country are eager to put their federal funding to work hiring tutors who can get started as soon as possible. But where should program leaders be looking for great tutors? 

Given the sheer amount of tutors needed (and the already existing demands on the most qualified tutors), Steck suggests considering traditional as well as overlooked alternative sources. 

Where to look for qualified, trainable tutors: 

  • In-service teacher pools
  • Retired teachers serving as paraprofessionals
  • Teacher aide undergraduates or graduates at university schools of education
  • Undergraduates majoring in subjects related, but not identical, to the ones needed
  • Qualified community volunteers 
  • Organizations that employ tutors 
  • Other sources, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and faith-based organizations

Mitigating risks of hiring tutors too quickly

[Timestamp 21:59]

When the government offers funding, school leaders feel they must act fast to allocate those dollars in a certain amount of time. But while trying to move quickly, they shouldn’t cut corners or they could end up squandering the resources made available by hiring the wrong tutors. 

Unfortunately, there’s an absence of any coordinated national effort, putting billions of relief dollars at risk of not being properly managed to produce effective results. It wouldn’t be the first time. Schools have been left in such conundrums before, of being offered funds but not knowing exactly how to properly utilize them. No district wants to repeat the mistakes of the past, such as with some of the poorly managed implementations of No Child Left Behind.  

Schools do want to hire quickly to meet deadlines, but need a feasible plan of action to do it right. They must ensure they’re using evidence-based strategies, as exemplified by the Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator based at Brown University. The focus, as Steck discusses, should be on finding high-quality tutors from the previously-mentioned talent pools. However, when possible, he also recommends to “incentivize the use of teacher candidates as tutors,” because “creating opportunities for teacher candidates to tutor really is a win-win!” 

Best practices for vetting and monitoring tutors

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After selecting the best sources for recruiting tutors, it’s time to vet the candidate pool. This involves knowing one’s district, its students, the unique challenges being faced, and the best ways to address those problems. Again, not every tutor fits readily into every situation, and so it is crucial to find candidates who are a strong match and who can align with both the needs and culture of the affected communities. In other words, it’s important to find tutors with the flexibility to adapt practices to student needs as well as to the requirements and conditions dictated by the school. 

Deans for Impact also promotes the idea of hiring tutors who possess a firm understanding of how the brain works, and a scientific understanding of how students learn. Simply being an expert in a needed subject doesn’t make a person suitable for tutoring children. The tutors must have a firm grasp of applicable pedagogy, as well as an awareness of the differences between teaching in-person and teaching online. 

After tutors are onboarded, Steck suggests monitoring and promoting tutor effectiveness to ensure positive student outcomes. 

Some methods to monitor a tutor’s performance include:

  • Providing on-the-job training, similar to in-service teacher coaching
  • Offering tutors timely, actionable feedback related to their instruction 
  • Establishing a system to track student growth for the length of the tutoring session
  • Speaking to students and parents to gain their insights and feedback about what’s working and what could be improved upon
  • Using surveys to obtain feedback from school leaders and teachers who can assess the tutors’ ability to support students and contribute to school culture
  • Applying incentives in a way that is meaningful to the tutor (not always monetary)

Summary

The knowledge gap has set some American students back by months, with underprivileged and underserved communities impacted harder than average. It’s up to educational leaders to implement the proper tutoring solutions…and to get things done right for students this time. We owe it to them, their futures, and their future families, who may be affected by the progress — of lack of progress — our efforts lead to in their lives. 

That is why Steck emphasized during our recent interview that his hopes are for tutoring to be “routinely available at no cost to students who need the additional support, especially those in communities historically underserved.” With luck and hard work, we’ll be able to continue the transformation of the tutoring industry so that, in ten years’ time or less, tutoring might “serve as a means for expanding and strengthening the pipeline of future teachers.” If successful, the nation might never face another teacher shortage again! 

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