The Teacher Shortage, 2021 Edition (2023)

This past year, K-12 has tackled a mind-boggling number of new challenges as COVID-19 threw a wrench into nearly every aspect of our lives. However, one obstacle that many districts continue to face has posed a problem for years: the teacher shortage. And as you can expect, the pandemic certainly did not make the shortage any easier.

We surveyed almost 1,200 school and district leaders across the country about their experiences with the teacher shortage, and the results paint a grim picture.

The Landscape of the Teacher Shortage

Like many issues in education, the pain of the teacher shortage is not experienced equally by all districts — but it is certainly becoming more prevalent. Two-thirds of survey respondents report teacher shortages, a record high since we launched our first teacher shortage survey in 2015.

The Teacher Shortage, 2021 Edition (1)

While many rural school systems cited their location as a major factor behind their teacher shortage, districts in all settings are struggling. Teacher shortages are most common in urban school systems, with 75% of districts in cities of any size reporting shortages. In comparison, 65% of rural districts reported shortages, along with 60% of suburban districts.

Across all settings, 44% of districts with shortages reported having difficulty filling vacancies across grade levels and subjects, while the remaining 56% reported only having shortages for specific positions. This suggests that the teacher shortage has worsened noticeably overall: in previous years, only about 34% of districts with shortages struggled to find applicants across different subjects and grade levels.

The Hardest Vacancies to Fill

The most common shortage cited should come as no surprise: 71% of districts with shortages find it challenging to find Special Education teachers. And as we have seen in previous years, the substitute shortage claims second place — though it is close to becoming the most common shortage.

67% of survey respondents reported a substitute shortage this year, which is in line with substitute shortage data from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute. It’s possible that substitutes felt intimidated by the prospect of online and hybrid teaching or did not wish to risk catching COVID-19 from in-person classes. (Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the substitute shortage will disappear entirely, even after the pandemic.)

Other top shortages are:

  • Secondary Math (reported by 46% of districts with shortages)
  • Paraprofessionals (35%)
  • Secondary Physical Sciences (26%)
  • Bilingual Education (25%)

Some vacancies — such as Secondary Math and Sciences — historically have been hard to fill. However, the rise of the paraprofessional shortage is worth a discussion. It’s possible that the paraprofessional shortage, like the substitute shortage, has worsened due to COVID-19.

Paraprofessionals and substitute teachers may have determined that the relatively low wages simply were not worth the risks of working during a pandemic. If so, these positions may become easier to fill once access to vaccines improves. Otherwise, districts will need to focus on exploring comprehensive strategies to ensure they have a healthy pipeline of qualified capable paraprofessionals. It’s not just about having vacancies filled: paraprofessionals are a fantastic source of competent teachers if your district has a “Grow Your Own” program.

One administrator writes:

I think our district could do a better job of attracting and retaining our paraprofessional positions. We could recruit [paraprofessionals] and train them [until they are] well qualified and [receive more pay] so they stick around. Then, many of them do want to get their teacher certification, which [our district] would directly benefit from since they would be familiar with the district and want to stick around. We need to do a better job of ‘growing our own.’”

The Causes of the Teacher Shortage (and How You Can Counteract Them)

The teacher shortage is not a new phenomenon, and a true solution will require incredible shifts on a national level in how education is funded and perceived. This change can happen someday, but that’s cold comfort to the thousands of districts currently struggling to staff classrooms with high-quality educators.

So, let’s talk about what can be done today.

The first step in solving any problem is understanding why it’s happening. The top three reasons for the teacher shortage, as reported by our survey respondents, are as follows:

  1. A lack of fully qualified applicants
  2. Salary and/or benefits are lacking compared to other careers
  3. Fewer new education school graduates

Problem 1: A lack of fully qualified applicants

The most common reason given for districts’ shortages is that there simply are not enough fully qualified applicants. Some administrators wrote that they rely on first-year educators to fill openings, but these new hires may lack sufficient preparation to succeed in the day-to-day work. As one respondent noted, hiring teachers who may have potential but need to develop their skills can lead to an unsustainable revolving door of job postings and ongoing turnover — unless targeted, impactful professional learning opportunities are available to help them become more effective and remain with the district

“We are able to hire many teachers, but not many are actually ‘able’ to perform the job well. Our district advertises that we have weekly professional development opportunities, and we do! However, they aren’t targeted enough to help those teachers who lack the skills needed to help them become better educators. We use them for a year or two and throw them away — replacing them with the next person who usually cannot do the job.” — Survey Respondent

Of course, investing in the professional growth of beginning teachers who have potential is one way to counteract the impact of the teacher shortage, and this ties directly into the role of retention: teachers who feel supported are teachers who stick around and don’t need to be replaced. And 69% of districts without teacher shortages report having high or very high retention rates, compared to only 42% of districts with shortages.

69% of districts without teacher shortages report having high or very high retention rates, compared to only 42% of those with shortages.

Of course, correlation is not causation, and it’s likely that the factors that lead to higher teacher retention are also responsible for attracting more candidates. But let’s back up for a moment.

No one starts out as an expert. That’s the whole point of having an education system: learning is an ongoing process, and everyone has to start somewhere! And yet, there seems to be a gap in the capabilities that schools need and the skills new educators learn in their teacher prep programs. If there were greater collaboration between teacher preparation/certification programs and the administrators who hire these programs’ graduates, this gap could narrow. New teachers would be more prepared to enter the classroom on their own, and districts would have more candidates who fit their definition of “qualified.”

Some evidence behind this strategy: our survey found that the most effective (though not the most popular) recruitment channel for recruiting high-quality applicants is partnering with institutes of higher education and teacher prep programs. It was also reported to be one of the most effective channels for recruiting a higher number of applicants.

Problem 2: Salary and benefits lacking compared to other careers

This is a tough one, because it could be solved by throwing money at the problem — but there simply isn’t any money to throw. Districts operate on such limited budgets, and salaries and benefits already comprise on average 80% of their expenditures. When other careers offer better salaries and benefits, it makes it more difficult to recruit new teachers or keep experienced educators in the profession.

There’s no easy way around this. At its heart, this is a funding problem, not a budgetary one. A district may be able to make small gains by redesigning their teacher compensation systems, or coming up with innovative employee perks, but in the long term, this problem can only be solved by increased funding for K-12 education.

Problem 3: Fewer new education school graduates

The third most common reason cited for the shortage is that institutes of higher education and teacher prep programs are graduating fewer new teachers. Whether undergraduate students shy away from the low salaries associated with teaching or they perceive that educators are treated unfairly by students, parents, or the community, education schools just aren’t attracting as many enrollees as they used to.

People have little understanding of or respect for the work that teachers do. Few outside of education realize the pressure that has been placed on educators to continually do more with less ‘for the good of the students.’ Many districts have punitive evaluation systems that put the onus of learning on teachers rather than on students and require nothing of parents. Until these attitudes change, there will be fewer and fewer individuals choosing to become professional educators, more teachers will leave the profession due to disillusionment, and the teacher shortage will rage on.” Survey Respondent

These are systemic issues that require a systemic solution.

But if there’s one thing school systems can do, it’s reach out to young people and spark an interest in a future profession. As we’ve written before, Verona Area School District is a wonderful example of how districts can build their teacher pipelines through a Grow Your Own program.

You may enjoy this hand-picked content:

[Podcast] Grow Your Own Teachers

Looking Forward

Without a doubt, the teacher shortage is very real and very painful for the districts it affects. There’s not much optimism to be had in the topic, either — over two-thirds of our survey respondents believe that it will become more difficult to find qualified teaching candidates in their district over the next three years. Only 7% believe the situation will improve.

But if there’s one thing we have learned over the past year, it’s that we never know what the future will bring, so it’s always worth having hope.

To dive deeper into the results of our 2021 and 2015 teacher shortage surveys, watch this webinar. In it, we discuss things you can do in your district right now to support and retain your educators, including:

  • Cultivating a safe, diverse, and accepting environment for educators to grow
  • Creating individualized growth paths and resources for educators
  • Providing educators with measurable data for better planning around professional development

The Teacher Shortage, 2021 Edition (2)

Annie Buttner

Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the K-12 staffing shortage, and best practices in human capital management.

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Is there really a teacher shortage in the US? ›

As of October 2022, after the school year had already begun, 45% of U.S. public schools had at least one teacher vacancy. That's according to limited federal data. For several months, NPR has been exploring the forces at work behind these local teacher shortages.

What state has the highest teacher shortage? ›

Illinois has the lowest number of underqualified teachers at 1.17 positions per 10,000 students while New Hampshire has the highest at 348.79. Notably, New Hampshire has not reported teacher shortage areas to the U.S. Department of Education since the 2019-2020 school year, according to the report.

What are the main reasons for teacher shortage? ›

Here are just a few of the longstanding problems plaguing American education: a generalized decline in literacy; the faltering international performance of American students; an inability to recruit enough qualified college graduates into the teaching profession; a lack of trained and able substitutes to fill teacher ...

Did the pandemic cause a teacher shortage? ›

What this report finds: The pandemic exacerbated a preexisting and long-standing shortage of teachers. The shortage is particularly acute for certain subject areas and in some geographic locations. It is especially severe in schools with high shares of students of color or students from low-income families.

Which states need teachers the most? ›

According to U.S. Department of Education data from the 2022-2023 school year, Maine is experiencing the most teacher vacancies in special education, math, science, language arts, early childhood, elementary core subjects, art and music, and career and technical education.

Why are teachers struggling this year? ›

This data also suggests that spiking stress levels, student behavior challenges, and a harsh political spotlight have all taken their toll on many American teachers.

What state has the lowest teacher salary? ›

Where teachers are paid the least. On the other side of the pay scale, teachers, on average, earn as little as $47,156 a year in Hawaii, the lowest-paying state. It may be especially difficult to make ends meet on wages that don't keep up with the state's notoriously high cost of living.

Why are teachers quitting 2023? ›

Clip: 04/10/2023 | 17m 51s | Staffing shortages, burnout, funding cuts, and debates over the curriculum are adding to the pressures on America's educators. In her new book, bestselling author Alexandra Robbins followed three teachers to see how these issues are changing the way they work.

Which teaching subject is most in demand? ›

According to the Department of Education, the past few years have shown an increased shortage of teachers in certain subjects and an oversupply in others. High demand jobs exist in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and local languages.

What will fix the teacher shortage? ›

Nearly 90 percent said that better pay is the biggest factor in teacher retention. That is followed by better staffing and more manageable workloads; reducing class sizes; and stronger discipline policies and more student support programs, which included access to counselors and mental health professionals.

Why America's teacher shortage is going to get worse? ›

For starters, shortages are occurring because of increased demand on public schools. As of fall 2017, 50.7 million students were attending public elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2025, that number is expected to expand to 51.4 million.

How bad is the teacher shortage in America? ›

It's a "crisis" in many districts. Others have more success filling positions. More than three-quarters of U.S. states are experiencing a teacher shortage, highlighting a growing concern among public education and government officials about issues that were exacerbated during three years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How many teachers quit in 2023? ›

In April 2023, about 59,000 teachers and other educational staff quit their jobs in the United States. The number of quits among staff in the educational services industry reached its highest point since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2022.

When did the teacher shortage begin? ›

Multiple indicators point toward an educator shortage crisis that has been brewing for more than a decade, since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

What are the long term effects of teacher shortage? ›

Teacher shortages lead to missed or insufficient learning opportunities. There may be a discontinuity in the delivery of instruction, and key concepts may be overlooked altogether. These occurrences limit the educational opportunities that students can and should receive.

Which state is the easiest to get a teaching job? ›

The 10 Best States To Find A Teaching Job
  • Illinois. ...
  • Florida. ...
  • Arizona. ...
  • Connecticut. ...
  • Alabama. ...
  • Arkansas. ...
  • Texas. ...
  • North Carolina. With current shortages in the usual fields, there are predicted shortages of teachers across many categories.

What state is ranked 50 in education? ›

State Rankings
StateAcademic Performance RankOverall Rank
South Carolina4149
47 more rows
Nov 1, 2019

Where is the best place to be a teacher in the US? ›

New York held the No. 1 position partly due to its high rankings in teacher salaries and public-school spending per student — achieving No. 1 in each category. Utah, which carried the second highest ranking in the opportunity category, held the second spot overall behind New York.

Is it harder to be a teacher now? ›

Teaching is a valuable and rewarding profession, but it can also be tiring and exhausting. Teaching is arguably more difficult now than it has ever been for a variety of reasons, including learner behavior, fast-changing technology, and poor compensation.

How many teachers quit within 5 years? ›

Up to 30% of new teachers are quitting their job within 5 years of teaching. 13% of teachers reported quitting their job due to not getting paid as much as they should have been paid.

Why are teachers overworked? ›

The pandemic and shifting political landscape have left teachers feeling overworked and undervalued. According to a 2022 Gallup poll, K-12 teachers report the highest burnout rate of all U.S. professions.

What state pays teachers the best? ›

1. New York. New York is among the best-paying states for teachers. Reasons include an average annual salary of $92,222 that, although below the state's average income of $107,000, is still more than the salaries paid in other states.

Who is the highest paid teacher in the world? ›

Luxembourg. According to an OECD report, Luxembourg (a European country) has the highest-paid teachers in the world. Another source indicates that a bachelor's degree holder is entitled to an initial salary of €67,000 (US $70,323.20) per annum at the start of their teaching career.

What is the highest paying job in the world? ›

The Top 6 Highest Paying Jobs in the World
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • General Surgeon.
  • Senior Software Engineer.
  • Investment Banker.
  • Data Scientist.
  • IT Systems Manager.
Mar 29, 2023

Where are most teachers quitting? ›

In Washington state, more teachers left the classroom after last school year than at any point in the last three decades. Maryland and Louisiana saw more teachers depart than any time in the last decade. And North Carolina saw a particularly alarming trend of more teachers leaving mid-school year.

Why is teacher burnout so high? ›

Experts have identified several causes of teacher burnout, including inadequate workplace support and resources; unmanageable workload; high-stakes testing; time pressure; unsupported, disruptive students; and a wide variety of student needs without the resources to meet them.

Are teachers leaving in droves? ›

A 2022 study conducted by the Education Weekly Research Center found that just 12 percent of teachers nationally are very satisfied with their jobs, and a study from the National Education Association found that 55 percent of teachers are considering leaving the profession earlier than planned.

What type of teaching pays the most? ›

8 of the Highest Paying Jobs in Education
  • School Principal.
  • University or College Administrator.
  • Professor.
  • Speech Pathologist.
  • Instructional Coordinator.
  • Special Education Teacher.
  • Librarian.
  • High School Teacher.

What is the most common teaching degree? ›

Here are the most common educational degrees for this field:
  • Bachelor's degree in secondary education. ...
  • Bachelor's degree in special education. ...
  • 6 . ...
  • Master's degree in reading. ...
  • Master's degree in instructional design. ...
  • Educational specialist degree in educational leadership. ...
  • Doctoral degree in education.
Mar 30, 2023

What states have teacher shortages in 2023? ›

As a result, teacher shortages in 2023 could persist. As we head back to school we are already seeing massive shortages in Texas, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona. These shortages are exacerbated by the lack of substitute teachers as teaching jobs remain vacant into the 2023-2024 school year.

Will the demand for teachers increase? ›

BLS data predict that employment rates for kindergarten and elementary school teachers are likely to grow by 5% between 2021 and 2031, which is approximately as fast as the national average for other occupations. As current teachers retire, there may be an increased demand for qualified individuals to replace them.

Which teachers are most in demand in the United States? ›

While specific needs vary by institution, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are subjects that are always in high demand. Qualified math teachers should be able to teach in multiple areas, including algebra, calculus, and trigonometry.

Are teachers underpaid in the US? ›

Allegretto found that teachers are paid, on average, 23.5% less than other educated workers who choose other professions. “Even ones who want to become teachers often say they're not going to be because they know they're going to fall further and further behind,” she said.

Is there an oversupply of teachers? ›

We have an oversupply of highly qualified educators in some communities and extreme shortfalls in others — often those that have been hollowed out by decades of policy stagnation, economic disinvestment and white flight.

Are American teachers overworked? ›

K-12 teachers report the highest burnout rate of all U.S. professions, with more than four out of every 10 teachers noting that they feel burned out “always” or “very often” at work, according to a June 2022 Gallup poll.

How can the US fix the teacher shortage? ›

5 Strategies to Tackle Teacher Shortages
  1. Boost teacher pay. Raising educators' salaries is one of the most popular strategies states and school districts have used to ease the staffing shortage. ...
  2. Partner with teacher prep programs. ...
  3. Build bottom-up support. ...
  4. Tap into educators' passion. ...
  5. Treat students well.
Feb 10, 2023

How long has the US had a teacher shortage? ›

Multiple indicators point toward an educator shortage crisis that has been brewing for more than a decade, since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

What states have severe teacher shortage? ›

As a result, teacher shortages in 2023 could persist. As we head back to school we are already seeing massive shortages in Texas, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona. These shortages are exacerbated by the lack of substitute teachers as teaching jobs remain vacant into the 2023-2024 school year.

What are the negative impacts of teacher shortage? ›

Teacher shortages lead to missed or insufficient learning opportunities. There may be a discontinuity in the delivery of instruction, and key concepts may be overlooked altogether. These occurrences limit the educational opportunities that students can and should receive.

What is the current state of teacher burnout in America? ›

In the United States, 44% of teachers in K-12 education said they very often or always feel burned out at work, while for college or university teachers, the figure was 35%. These are the top two occupations among 14 listed in the 2022 Gallup Poll on occupational burnout.

Why teachers are quitting 2023? ›

The #1 reason why teachers leave education is compensation. 48% of educators are planning on leaving the field due to compensation, while 42% have already left because of the same reason. Expectations are the second most common reason – 33% plan on leaving while 31% have left due to this reason.

Where teachers are paid the most? ›

New York leads the nation in teacher pay with an average salary of $80,286, according to WalletHub.

How many teachers are going to quit? ›

The survey found that 1 in 5 teachers say they will likely leave the profession in the next three years, including 1 in 7 who say they will definitely leave. An additional 22% say there is a 50-50 chance they will leave.


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