As the teacher shortage worsens in the U.S., researchers look to training for answers.

A smiling teacher stands in a school hallway.The U.S. has an elementary school teacher shortage that seems to have reached critical status—not only because such shortages have gotten progressively worse since starting in the early 1990s, but also because school districts find that these shortages have permeated to core subject areas such as English, science, and math.* Analysts and reporters alike struggle to understand exactly why the teacher shortage has only gotten worse; however, one reason that has remained consistent across all U.S. states throughout the decades—lack of or improper training.

In an NPR interview, Linda Darling-Hammond, CEO of the Learning Policy Institute and founder of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, says, “In some places … 1 in 5 teachers in high-minority schools and high-poverty schools is unprepared for teaching. When you think about how dependent on school children are in these communities and what it means for the quality of education they’ll receive, it’s particularly alarming.” Therefore, proper training, such as a BS in Elementary Education or a Master of Arts in Teaching that can lead to teacher certification, is imperative to teach in any environment.

Certain specializations offered through degree programs can also make a heavy impact. For example, many MS in Education (MSEd) programs now offer STEM specializations that can improve learning in core subjects. Similarly, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) with specialization in Special Education can combat shortages and training issues affecting students with disabilities and diverse needs.

The 4% Solution

In her interview, Darling-Hammond speaks of the “4% solution.” If the current annual attrition rate could be reduced to 4%, then those numbers would solve the teacher shortage. However, reaching 4% relies heavily on how well these educators are trained to navigate through any issues they may face. With a proper education, new educators can learn how to become effective leaders in the classroom and give themselves a voice as advocates in the ever-changing learning environment. As Darling-Hammond further states, “That's what makes people who want to produce learning happy. They are learners themselves.”

Giving existing teachers the opportunity to acquire new skills is also an important priority. This helps them to become even more effective in areas such as classroom management, teaching to a diverse classroom, understanding how to reach children with special needs, and conducting assessments, and improves teacher retention.

Created Opportunity

How can a teacher shortage create opportunity? During the recession in 2008–2012, school districts were forced to make cutbacks—laying off or eliminating upward of 80,000 teaching jobs in California alone.‡ Now that the economy has begun to rebound, many states are poised to begin hiring again, creating opportunities for those with a degree in elementary education or other core subjects, for instance, a bachelor of science degree or similar.

Qualified Learning Outside and Inside of the Classroom

Whether you attend a brick-and-mortar school or enroll in an online bachelor’s program, your training makes all the difference in your success as an educator. Programs such as Walden University’s BS in Elementary Education can help you prepare for teaching certification. When choosing a program, look for one that has accreditation (e.g., the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) to ensure you’re getting the training you need to become a qualified teacher. Such accreditation helps assure hiring administrators of the quality of your training, especially as The Washington Post writes, “Too many of our nation’s children do not have the qualified permanent teacher they deserve.”

What’s Next for Educators?

Your career options are not limited to physical schools, either. Many families choose to have their children enroll in online courses where they receive more one-on-one attention from their instructors—and increasing numbers of students K–12 enroll each year. More than 300,000 K–12 students attended online schools in the 2013–14 school year.§ This creates further opportunity for future elementary school teachers as online education begins to augment struggling school systems.

If you want to find out more about becoming an elementary school teacher and other programs in education, visit www.WaldenU.edu/bachelors/bs-in-elementary-education.


*V. Strauss, The Real Reasons Behind the U.S. Teacher Shortage, The Washington Post, on the Internet at www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/08/24/the-real-reasons-behind-the-u-s-teacher-shortage.

†E. Westervelt, Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time to Address the National Teacher Shortage, National Public Radio, on the Internet at www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/15/493808213/frustration-burnout-attrition-its-time-to-address-the-national-teacher-shortage.

‡E. Westervelt, Teacher Shortage? Or Teacher Pipeline Problem? National Public Radio, on the Internet at www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/08/19/432724094/teacher-shortage-or-teacher-pipeline-problem.

§F. D. Smith, 7 Telling Statistics About the State of K–12 Online Learning, EdTech, on the Internet at www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2014/11/7-telling-statistics-about-state-k-12-online-learning.

The BS in Elementary Education program leads to initial licensure and is approved by the Minnesota Board of Teaching (MBOT) and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. This program does not qualify for teacher state licensure in Kentucky or North Carolina. Students who are interested in receiving teaching licensure in these states should not enroll in this program. Walden enrollment advisors can provide guidance on licensure issues; however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand and comply with all state licensure requirements. Walden makes no representation or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain state licensure or endorsement.

The program learning outcomes are guided by the Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice and Minnesota Teachers of Elementary Education (K–6) Standards.

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