Why Solving the Teacher Shortage Is Critical for Edtech

Opinion | Market Trends

Why Solving the Teacher Shortage Is Critical for Edtech

By Nicola Soares     May 14, 2018

Why Solving the Teacher Shortage Is Critical for Edtech

School districts nationwide are facing a critical teacher shortage and the situation is only expected to worsen in the next few years. This issue has many implications for student learning, but one that is often overlooked is that a shortage of qualified instructors can have a crippling effect on a school district’s ability to implement technology effectively.

At a time when the demand for highly qualified teachers is increasing, owing to rigorous performance standards and a push to reduce class sizes in many communities, the supply of teachers is dwindling because of high turnover rates, the retirement of the baby boomer generation and a decline in the number of students choosing a teaching career.

According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Learning Policy Institute (LPI), which has been closely following this crisis, nearly eight percent of U.S. teachers leave the profession every year, most before reaching the age of retirement. Teachers cite a lack of administrative support, professional learning opportunities, time for planning and collaboration, and input into decision making as key reasons for their dissatisfaction.

At the same time, enrollment in teacher education programs dropped from 691,000 to 451,000 between 2009 and 2014, LPI says. That’s a 35-percent reduction during this period. As a result of these factors, many school systems are struggling to hire and retain qualified instructors in certain geographic regions and areas of specialization, such as STEM, English language learning and special education.

States and school systems are trying a number of measures to fill these gaps, such as reducing the barriers to licensure and recruiting professionals from other fields to teach as a second career. School districts are also relying heavily on substitute teachers to fill vacant positions and ensure classrooms are staffed.

Obviously, there is a strong relationship between continuity of learning and student achievement, and continuity of learning suffers when students are being taught for extended periods of time by multiple teachers with different instructional approaches. While much of the focus centers on the content knowledge, the absence of other areas of expertise—such as classroom management skills and the use of 21st century tools and pedagogies—has just as much of an impact.

Implementing school or district technology programs with fidelity is hard enough with one, consistent group of teachers. It becomes even more challenging when the teachers being asked to use classroom technology have likely not taken part in edtech professional development to learn how tools are used in a specific classroom or school. And while technology can address a variety of education challenges, the misuse of it can be disruptive to learning.

Edtech companies have a vested interest in helping states and school systems tackle this challenge. If technology is not being used effectively across a school or district, this ultimately reflects on the solution provider. Illustrating success is critical for edtech companies to renew contracts and close sales.

Both edtech providers and school districts have their own parts to play. First, here are three things that edtech providers can do to help solve this crisis:

Make training and support widely available.

Edtech companies should post video tutorials and other supporting materials to help teachers who are unfamiliar with using their products. This would help all teachers integrate the technology more effectively, but especially substitute teachers who work in a wide variety of classrooms.

Volunteer in local schools.

Offer your employees’ expertise to local school systems, particularly if they are struggling to hire and retain teachers in subjects where your staff might have experience. For instance, you could set up a volunteer program in which staff help out at local schools for an hour or two per week, working with new or substitute teachers to help them design lessons that take advantage of technology.

Support 'second career' options for employees.

No company wants to lose its top employees to another career. But if employees are ready for a new challenge and are so inclined, edtech companies can help them move on to a teaching career by making information about such a transition readily available—including the state requirements for certification and a list of colleges or programs they can apply to.

And here are three things that school systems can do:

Include substitute teachers in edtech professional development.

While substitutes hired for long-term assignments would get the same professional development opportunities as teachers under contract, school systems should consider offering edtech PD to the subs on their regular call list as well. That way, if any of these employees were needed to step in and fill a teaching vacancy, they would be better positioned to integrate technology into their instruction from day one.

Focus on teacher retention efforts.

If teachers are leaving the profession because they don’t feel well supported, school systems should make an extra effort to ensure that faculty do feel appreciated and supported. Recognizing teachers publicly for their efforts, providing them with the coaching they need to excel at their job, and including them in decision making can go a long way toward increasing staff morale.

Partner with a professional staffing firm.

A professional staffing firm can help school systems find qualified candidates to fill teaching vacancies, as well as substitute teachers who possess the technology experience and skills required for classroom instruction.

A shortage of teachers affects the quality of instruction that students receive in many ways, including teachers’ ability to use technology effectively. Edtech providers should work closely with school systems to help address this challenge.

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