THE BLOG
01/06/2015 05:02 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2015

We Need More Great Teachers

The demand for sources of diverse teaching talent in this country is real. It has always been hard to convince people to teach and take on this incredibly rewarding but challenging work, and today, it is particularly hard. Across the country, teacher shortages are making headlines: well into the school year, Arizona still has more than 500 vacant teaching positions; Nevada's Clark County School District is recruiting outside the state to fill its similarly sized shortage; and Montana has more than 1,100 vacancies, in a shortage that's most acute on American Indian reservations and rural schools on the outskirts of reservations.

Chronic shortages also persist in specific subject areas. Forty-nine states report a shortage of teachers in special education, and 90 percent of high-poverty school districts have difficulty attracting highly-qualified teachers in this area. In many states, colleges of education are producing math and science teachers in the single digits. And U.S. early childhood education programs rank just 15th in the world in teacher-to-child ratios, due in part to a lack of qualified pre-K teachers.

Of course, shortages aren't the only issue -- it's also about building stronger pipelines into the profession. Principals from around the country tell us that their schools are at their best when they have access to diverse talent pools to help fill their open roles. Schools in high poverty communities can struggle to find teachers who fit with their educational philosophy and school culture, and having a more robust set of candidates from all kinds of teacher preparation programs can ultimately mean better outcomes for their students.

We're working with our partners in the field to address these needs, and to date we've received 26,000 applications to join Teach For America's 2015 corps. The quality of our applicant pool remains strong, with applicants from a diverse set of backgrounds, institutions, and professional sectors, and we're committed to our usual rigorous admissions process to identify the best candidates for our school partners. While the level of interest we're seeing is inspiring, with a couple months left in our recruitment season, we're not on pace to meet our communities' growing needs.

Nationally, teacher preparation programs are seeing this same pattern of decreased interest. Having weathered the hard years of the recession, college graduates are understandably gravitating towards professions they perceive as financially sustainable and stable and, in turn, public service and teaching are receding as primary options. The highly polarized public dialogue around education and the uncertainty around district budgets aren't helping, either. In a recent poll of teachers, only 13 percent would "recommend that a young person go into teaching."

We believe there is a tremendous amount that we can all do to ensure more individuals see this as the most critical and rewarding path they can take. At Teach For America, we're continuing to focus on ensuring that all of our teachers have the preparation, support and sense of community they need to sustain themselves in this joyful, but challenging work. This year we're working with 60 college juniors who applied early to our teaching corps, and giving them additional training throughout the year before they start our institute in 2016. A dozen of our regions have launched programs to support corps members who want to keep teaching after their initial commitment. Both programs are new this school year, and if they work, we'll expand them--giving more of our teachers additional preparation before they enter the classroom, and additional incentive to stay there long-term.

We know that Teach For America is only part of the solution. Across the education community, we must take steps to prepare teachers for one of the toughest jobs they may ever commit to. We need to create environments that support them and foster their continued development. Our children's future depends on our collective actions today.

There is an urgent need for teachers, no matter the path they take to the profession. From the moment a student walks in the classroom, the most important factor in their success should not be the color of their skin or the income of their parents--it should be their own potential, brought out by the person standing at the front of the room.