Investing in Teachers Beyond Teacher Appreciation Week

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This post comes from Lisa Lachlan-Haché, Ed.D., director of strategic partnerships, Etai Mizrav, equitable access and diversity lead, and Lois Kimmel, educator shortages specialist, all from the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the authors.

Teacher Appreciation Week presents a critical opportunity to create a renewed vision of how policymakers appreciate teachers. This renewal, coupled with new federal stimulus funding, creates an opportunity to go beyond appreciation to serious investments in the types of meaningful job rewards and supports that teachers value. Beyond expressions of gratitude, this year education leaders can commit to invest in comprehensive supports in attracting, preparing and retaining teachers.

States across the country have been impacted by chronic educator shortages and with the pandemic, shortages have likely been exacerbated. GTL knows from partnerships with state and district leaders that schools are often unable to fill teaching positions, and students are left without fully-prepared teachers in the classroom. Early retirement in some states has increased dramatically, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has declined. These shortages tend to disproportionately impact students living in poverty, English learners, students with disabilities, students of color and students from marginalized communities. Investments targeted to address these growing inequities can make an impact in closing the achievement gap. Through new federal funding streams, state policymakers have the opportunity to make significant, strategic investments to support equity by investing resources to stabilize and strengthen the educator workforce and increase teacher talent and diversity, particularly in underserved, hard-to-staff schools.

As education leaders make strategic decisions about the use of federal ESSER funds, they can consider directing these funds to strengthen the educator workforce. Given that the pandemic has likely impacted underserved schools disproportionately, educator workforce investments can help support proactive, targeted and purposeful policy and practice that is grounded in the unique needs and contexts of underserved schools. A data-driven approach, built on the GTL Center’s  Talent Development Framework, may help leaders visualize and identify where investments in talent are needed to address both short- and long-term needs.

Through a cross-state collaborative, supported by Regional Comprehensive Centers 1 and 9, GTL Center experts have worked with states to explore short-term solutions to educator shortages exacerbated by the pandemic — including increasing the ranks and quality of substitute teachers, leveraging teacher candidates, reducing teacher attrition and implementing innovative staffing structures.

Yet short-term solutions can be at odds with strengthening, growing and diversifying the educator workforce over the long term. States and districts can consider how they invest in teachers now, and how that investment can also support the teacher workforce in the long term. To address this need, the GTL Center has written a call to action for education leaders to prioritize new federal funding for investments in stabilizing and diversifying the educator workforce.

The GTL Center is also hosting meetings with state education agency leaders to build a more comprehensive, data-driven approach to addressing educator shortages, as outlined in the Talent Development Framework. This work requires looking at both subject-matter and school-level shortages to identify where in the pipeline a state is losing talent, why the state is losing talent, and how to take concrete actions to shore-up pipelines. The work also requires short and long-term solutions developed by a team of stakeholders that have a critical role in the talent pipeline (e.g., educator preparation programs and teacher associations). Once stakeholders have interpreted the data and examined root-causes, they can take action by implementing evidence-based strategies that support teachers throughout the career continuum.

To make any investments worthwhile, it’s important to ensure that schools have qualified, effective and diverse teachers and leaders in the workforce. Doing so ensures that all other investments find solid ground. This Teacher Appreciation Week, let us all have a renewed appreciation for teachers and invest in the teaching workforce.

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