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What Causes Teacher Shortages?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2016
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Teacher shortages can be caused by a number of things and this issue is a growing problem in many countries that offer public education. The matter has been extensively studied by a variety of governments and states in order to determine how best to swell the ranks of teachers, and what factors might be eliminated in order to attract more people to the profession. Often, there are so many causes of teacher shortages, however, that addressing them all can be difficult to do.

In places like the US, some teacher shortages were felt when teacher to student ratio was reduced in the lower grades. This meant that many schools needed twice as many teachers to teach the same number of students, and it created a demand that couldn’t always be filled immediately. Greater training requirements, restrictions on hiring, and a more structured method of teaching to fulfill certain educational requirements also made the field unattractive to some people who might otherwise have become teachers.

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Another factor that can’t be overlooked is teacher pay. Especially when pay is less than cost of living, as it may be in certain large cities and urban areas, it can be difficult to encourage teachers to teach, and it may result in teacher shortages. When pay doesn't afford a reasonable living, teachers may look to areas they can work where their pay will stretch farther. It is fairly unreasonable to expect a teacher to remain working in an area where he or she could never afford to buy a home or even manage the bills, especially since many teachers may now have to fund some of their supplies from their own salaries.

Certain districts and schools may suffer from teacher shortages because they are either dangerous or poorly funded. Few teachers want to work in environments that hazard personal physical risk, and it can be difficult to teach if buildings are substandard or if a school can’t afford modern and updated supplies for students. An additional factor that may influence some teachers is degree to which same language is spoken. In schools with few main language learners, teachers must either speak a secondary language or evolve means in which to communicate lessons to students who may not yet be fluent in the primary language of the country.

Cost of education has risen for public students and college students have also felt this. Higher cost to attend college and become a teacher may be a direct result of some teacher shortages. With many students now reliant on student loans to pay for school, pay for teachers again becomes an issue. How does a teacher that is poorly compensated repay loans for education and have a salary that maintains cost of living?

Alternately, in certain fields like math and science, those who might teach may be attracted to private sector jobs instead. Private sector jobs may offer much higher compensation, and some people abandon teaching after a few years to take one of these jobs, or never plan to teach. This has created near constant teacher shortages in these fields, particularly at secondary school levels.

There may be many other factors that cause teacher shortages, and all must be evaluated in order to fully staff schools and eliminate the problem. Such evaluation must be complex and look at ways to attract teachers, compensate them accordingly, offer them environments in which they can best do their jobs, and give them incentive to remain as teachers instead of leaving for private sector work. Some areas of these evaluations focus on how to streamline teacher training or how to help create greater funding for training so that teachers need not enter the profession with high loans they must repay.

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