How to Reduce Teacher Shortages

Teacher supply shortages are a real problem in many countries, states and districts, particularly in fields such as English, mathematics, science and special education. The problem is especially pronounced in low-income communities.

In some states, policymakers are implementing short-term strategies to meet the teacher shortages, which exacerbate, rather than solve, the problem. For example, some states have lowered their standards to allow untrained teachers to be hired in order to meet demand. When states and districts put untrained or unqualified teachers into classrooms to fill vacancies, they leave at 2 to 3 times the rate of teachers who are fully prepared.

Teacher Demand Trends

The demand for teachers is rising as a result of changes in student enrollment, student-student ratios and teacher attrition.

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) the population of school-aged students will increase by about 3 million students in the next decade.
  • Districts are trying to lower student-teacher ratios.
  • Teacher attrition is responsible for the largest share of annual demand.

Teacher Supply Trends

The supply is uncharacteristically low and has been decreasing.

  • Projections that incorporate historical data on the teacher pipeline and teacher re-entrants indicate a declining trend in the teacher supply.

Implication of Attrition

Reducing teacher attrition is just as important as attracting more teachers to the profession. According to the Learning Policy Institute, teacher attrition accounts for up to 90% of annual teacher demand. Decreasing annual attrition by just 50-percent could all but eliminate teacher shortages. High turnover rates result in high costs of recruiting for the same position, which is estimated to be over $15,000 per teacher.

Understanding the reasons for teachers leaving the profession is key to reducing teacher attrition.

  • According to the Learning Policy Institute, less than one-third of teachers leaving their profession each year is due to retirement. Most teachers leaving their profession voluntarily cite dissatisfaction as a key reason.
  • Teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools have higher attrition rates.
  • For most regions, teacher attrition is higher in cities than in suburban areas.
  • Teachers are twice as likely to leave the profession when there is a lack of support from administrators.
  • Other factors associated with high attrition include the quality of school leadership, opportunities for professional learning, instructional leadership and time for planning and collaboration.

How to Relieve Teacher Shortages

In trying to solve teacher supply shortages, a long-term solution focuses on recruitment and retention.

  1. Competitive and equitable compensation to offer teachers a reasonable wage across all communities. Offer incentives to make living as a teacher more affordable, including housing and childcare support.
  2. Targeted training subsidies to enhance the supply of qualified teachers. Offer loan forgiveness and scholarships to retain teachers in high-need fields and locations in exchange for commitments of 3 to 5 years of service. In areas of high housing costs, provide relief to teachers with capital grants and loans to develop non-market housing and/or offer housing allowances.
  3. Improve mentoring, working conditions and career development to reduce teacher attrition. Offer mentoring and induction programs to increase retention, confidence and problem solving capacities, and decrease isolation. Create supportive working conditions. Create principal training to ensure productive teaching and learning environments are fostered.
  4. Enable teacher mobility by eliminating interstate barriers (e.g. licensing barriers and pension rules) so surpluses in one state can satisfy shortages in another.
  5. Shorten the salary grid (removing the lowest three or four steps on the grid) to make starting wages more competitive.

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., and Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Darling-Hammond, Linda. (2017, May 9). We Can Solve Teacher Shortages. Here’s How. Retrieved from

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. (2018). Education Funding [PDF file]. Retrieved from