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.”
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.
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!