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!

Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part III): Tutoring Strategies and the Effectiveness of Remote Learning

Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part III): Tutoring Strategies and the Effectiveness of Remote Learning

Across the country, education leaders are scrambling to address the pandemic’s detrimental impacts on student learning. One of the biggest questions school districts are trying to answer is how to find the most effective tutoring strategies to combat learning loss

Dr. Susanna Loeb, director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, and her colleagues propose high-impact tutoring as the most promising, evidence-based solution. A second concern is whether online tutoring is proven to be as effective as in-person tutoring sessions. 

In our January 2022 Pearls of Wisdom webinar (embedded below), Dr. Loeb shared her thoughts on these vital questions with Pearl CRO Nate Casey.  We’ve summarized the webinar discussion into a three-part blog series to highlight Dr. Loeb’s key points. In Part I, we discussed the benefits of high-impact tutoring. In Part II, we reviewed Dr. Loeb’s work with the National Student Support Accelerator at the Annenberg Institute.  And now, in the third and final part of our webinar recap, we’ll be discussing the best tutoring strategies and comparing the effectiveness of online vs. in-person tutoring. 

Finding Effective Tutoring Strategies

In the webinar, Dr. Loeb revealed that she’s been “working with districts across the country to test the effectiveness of different approaches to tutoring (…) and to better understand the challenges of implementing high-impact tutoring to overcome those challenges.” 

Among the initial findings from the Annenberg Institute’s research was that “the desire to increase scale comes with a push to decrease quality.” That problem, in turn, quickly cascades into other issues such as assigning too many students per tutor, offering too few tutoring sessions per week, and providing insufficient coaching for tutors. 

By contrast, “high-impact tutoring focuses on quality,” by decreasing the number of students, increasing the frequency of tutoring sessions, and supporting tutors with training. Dr. Loeb noted, though, that “building tutoring into the school day can be tricky. Schools need to be creative to do this well.” 

The most effective tutoring times, her group found, were during homeroom or intervention periods, electives, or before and after school. However, having in-person tutors on hand during these times isn’t always easy, which is why the advantages of online tutoring options are being further explored.  

It is important to note that the problems with K-12 remote learning during the first year of the pandemic were not because online instruction is less effective; the issues were related to curricula not being designed for online lessons, teachers who lacked experience teaching online, and the use of platforms that weren’t designed for teaching in the first place. Online learning also suffered during the first part of the pandemic because of poor internet access and too few modern devices in the hands of underserved students.  These issues don’t necessarily apply to online tutoring, especially if the right tutoring platform is utilized. 

For High-Impact Tutoring to Work Online, Convenience Is Key

Accessibility is a crucial ingredient to making high-impact tutoring work. It also happens to be a key feature of online learning. Indeed, accessibility is one of the leading reasons why college students look for online degree programs. Per Inside Higher Ed, the Department of Education cited that “51.8 percent of students took at least one online course in 2019-20.” Among other benefits, there are no commutes involved, which saves time and energy.  

“Tutoring is an excellent way to increase equity in schools,” stated Dr. Loeb. “However, it can only do this if the students who need it the most get it. That is why it is important to offer tutoring as part of the school day for students who need it the most.” 

When attending tutoring sessions becomes a hassle, students and parents lose interest because access isn’t convenient. Convenience, therefore, is key — but scheduling in-person tutoring isn’t always convenient. That’s where flexible online sessions come into play. Online tutoring removes such barriers to access. So why aren’t more schools doing it?

“Most research on high-impact tutoring looks at in-person programs,” Dr. Loeb told us, noting EdResearch’s “Design Principles Series.” She added, however, that “we’ve seen a lot of virtual school work and virtual tutoring as a result of the pandemic and the initial evidence is very positive. Virtual tutoring can be very effective.” 

Dr. Loeb noted that tutoring during the day “can be virtual even if students are in school. Students would be in classrooms on computers, perhaps with a teacher monitoring the class while the tutors come in virtually.” She raised the idea that in-person sessions might be “ideal” when they “allow [tutors and students] to get to know each other better.” But even the most ideal scenario can’t be effective when all parties don’t show up. Strong tutoring relationships help address students’ academic needs, but this requires attendance and enthusiasm from all sides. 

The Importance of Tutoring Software

Reviewing benefits of online tutoring platforms and software like Pearl, Dr. Loeb pointed out that they “offer the possibility — through audio and video recordings of sessions, for example — of studying the interactions between students and tutors to see what is working and what isn’t.” This capability can greatly help tutors adjust their methods so their work is more effective with each student. 

“Technology-based programs could learn about students’ needs and make those tutors great on the academics while the students benefit from a much more diverse group of educators,” she said. “I’m excited for the learning that we can have from the tutoring that is going on at scale. I am excited about models that use new technologies so that the relationships can be even better and so that the tutor can focus on student needs.”

On How to Attract and Retain Tutors

Schools must not only ensure that tutoring sessions are convenient for students, but for tutors, as well. 

“Districts across the country are having trouble finding teachers, substitute teachers, and, relevant for us, tutors,” Dr. Loeb said. “They need to think about how they can attract and retain the tutors they need.” 

Perhaps the best way to entice qualified tutors is to offer remote work opportunities. This seems especially true given the fact that so many workers have fled the labor force during the “Great Resignation” and are looking for online work they can do from home. 

“A rural school looking for high school math tutors may be better off with virtual tutors,” Dr. Loeb said. “I wouldn’t rule out online tutoring, especially given the new evidence that it can be effective.” She went on to note that “it may be difficult for schools to find tutors with the skills they want — maybe they want tutors who speak a language other than English or tutors with strong high school math skills. In this case, they may attract tutors with these skills if they use online tutoring, but not if they use in-person tutoring.”

She also highlighted the difference between teacher and tutor education and training. “One of the great things about tutoring is that many people can be excellent tutors. Many people with less teaching experience or no teaching experience can also be exceptional tutors, especially if they get some initial training and have some coaching and oversight while teaching.” 

Final Thoughts

It seems certain there are many potential tutors out there just waiting for the right opportunities to come along where they can teach online. The challenge is integrating them into the school day and providing them with the most up-to-date resources so they can establish positive academic relationships with the students they tutor. This includes the right software (like Pearl!) to facilitate such positive learning experiences. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Part III recap of Dr. Susanna Loeb’s webinar with Pearl’s Nate Casey. If you missed them, don’t forget to check out Part I, How High-Impact Tutoring Helps At-Risk Students Impacted by COVID-19, and Part II on the Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator. 

You can also watch the entire webinar below, and be sure to sign up to be notified of upcoming webinars!

5 Tips for Optimizing Tutoring

5 Tips for Optimizing Tutoring

How to become the best instructor is not as simple as understanding the content that you are teaching, in fact knowing what you are teaching is only the foundation. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t know what you’re teaching, you’re never going to be able to figure out how you have to teach it, but there are also less obvious variables that need to be considered as well. 

1. Know who you are teaching – If you don’t know who you are teaching to, you minimize your chances of being an effective instructor. Even if it’s just one student, you need to understand what their learning needs are – I’m not just talking about what they need to learn. Learning for each student goes much deeper than this. Sure there may be some obvious learning challenges to address in some cases, like dyslexia, dysgraphia, physical challenges, etc., but when it comes down to it, understanding where a student is in their current level of understanding, what life experiences they’ve had inside and outside of the classroom, and what makes them want to learn, is the key to breaking down walls and building up learners.

2. Understand your strengths and weaknesses – As hard as we may try, none of us are perfect, so being able to reflect on who you are right now as an instructor and who you want to be, is super important. Just like some of the behaviors and thinking that we develop from our families, very often we have teaching styles that mimic or are in response to the learning experiences we had as learners in the classroom. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however we can never get caught up in thinking that the way things were taught in the past, have to be the same way kids should be taught now and in the future. The only way we can really grow as instructors is by practicing self-reflection and taking responsibility embracing our successes, but also finding solutions in the cases where students aren’t engaging or understanding what we are trying to help them learn.

3. Being prepared for everything – You didn’t just jump in a car one day and roll onto the expressway (hopefully!), so jumping into a session with a student or group of students shouldn’t be any different. Practice! Practice! Practice! You practice driving so that in most situations you will be able to handle whatever comes your way – the same holds true for being an effective instructor. The more prepared you are the better your chances are for helping your students reach their goals and maximize their potential. Structure is important – students should have a clear understanding of what the learning goals are and the path that you will take together to get there, however, over-structured or over regimented learning sessions can be just as bad as chaotic ones. It is important that you leave some wiggle room for what might happen and/or a pivot that might be an essential part of helping students master their understanding. If you are prepared, you’ll have the flexibility to adapt to go “off-roading” whenever you hit a “roadblock.”

4. Never make assumptions – When you go into a session with your mind made up about what a student can accomplish in a day or a lifetime, you are setting them up for failure. Everyone learns differently and at a different pace. As instructors it is not our place to set limits, it is our place to set goals that help each student grow and maximize their potential. It’s natural to compare and contrast students – we want to have some type of metric to use to gauge where a student is at in their evolution of understandings and skillsets, however when we use these comparisons to judge or put limits on students, we create unnecessary barriers for them instead of ladders to help them get over the barriers that they have no control over. Not every student will build rockets or go to the moon, but who are we to tell them that they shouldn’t reach for the stars.

5. Teach them how to fail – I’m not saying that you should go out and tell students to get F’s on their report card – we’d all be out of a job if that was the case, but what I am saying is that learning from failure and to critically think about things and to ask questions is essential. We know that nowadays you can jump online and find out facts about anything and everything and that it’s pretty easy to regurgitate text from a book, but what students struggle with the most in our very competitive culture, is understanding that failure is just as important, if not more important than success. Teaching students to not get discouraged or stuck when things just didn’t turn out how they expected and to reflect on what caused the failure, is probably one of the best and most universal skills that you can teach them. Some of the greatest discoveries have come about via iteration – there is a lot to be learned from it. Reminding students of this, walking them through the process of reflection, and helping them move forward, rather than judging them on their failures will help you build trust and to connect with your students.

There are lots of logistics that we can address when talking about optimizing instruction for tutors, like understanding all of the technical components, establishing schedules, reviewing behavioral expectations, explaining communication protocols, etc., that are keys to successfully teaching students, but sometimes we need to examine the intangibles (listed above) to take learning from a good experience to a great one!