What is causing the teacher shortage in the US and UK?

What is causing the teacher shortage in the US and UK?
Students across the Uk and US are suffering from teacher shortages. But what is causing the crisis? Source: shutterstock.com

Schools in the US and the UK are facing an education epidemic as teacher shortages are impacting children’s learning and teachers’ morale.

Students on both sides of the pond are suffering from understaffed classrooms, high teacher turnover and a distinct lack of individual attention.

The shortages are reportedly caused by a lack of graduates choosing to enter the profession and many teachers leaving the sector early in their career, especially those in science, maths and language subjects, according to a National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) study.

Teachers leaving these subjects is particularly problematic with STEM graduates now in higher demand around the world, according to Professor Robert B. Laughlin, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University and winner of Physics Nobel Laureate at a press conference in January.

So what is causing the plague of teacher drop-outs in the US and the UK?

In countries such as the Netherlands, teaching is a highly respected profession.

Teachers are paid upwards of US$60,000 per year in there, almost US$20,000 above the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average for teacher salaries.

However, teachers in the US usually start on only US$36,000 at the beginning of their career and only £19,600 (US$27,800) in the UK.

“I think teachers in the UK and US feel undervalued for their hard work,” Polly Falcon, a recent graduate who is training to be a secondary school maths teacher in the UK, told Study International.

“Teaching is not regarded as a respectable profession in the UK which is outstanding as you hand your kid over at 5 years of age. I don’t want my kids to be left with a technician or robot,” Graham Brown-Martin, parent and Chief Education Adviser for edtech company pi-top, told Study International.


“There’s a culture that teachers aren’t as clever as those that go into high profile professions like law and banking. But, really, we are the ones responsible for creating the next generation of politicians, economists and society’s influencers,” added Falcon.

Prof Laughlin agreed, saying the best minds need to be recruited to teaching to prepare students for the challenging digital future.

“Better pay is needed to encourage more teachers to join the profession. Currently, two things are happening: institutions are redirecting investment to research faculties; and students are aware the future is digital so they are focussing their energy on these endeavours.”

Although low pay is a possible reason for the teacher shortages, Falcon pointed out all new teachers know about low pay before they embark on their career, so there must be another reason.

She speculated that a ‘deskilling’ in the teaching industry could be to blame for the low retention rates of teachers early in their careers.

“There’s a deskilling in the teacher industry. If you want to be a teacher, you do a year PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education).

“But in 2010 and globally there was a shift towards Teach First; after a six-week course and a degree and you can be a teacher in the UK,” Brown-Martin explained to Study International.

Lauren Slye, a current PGCE student said: “The topics have helped to prepare me as they underpin a lot of what being a teacher is. [But] they’re not as useful as placements are, as this is where you have hands-on practice. I would say drop out rates are high because it’s such a hard job.”

While many students just take the first job they are offered, Slye says this leads to many new teachers taking a job that is not right for them and eventually leaving the profession.

Programmes such as the UK’s Teach First are now attempting to prepare trainee teachers for the challenges of the profession by providing placements throughout their two-year training.

“While many schools face these recruitment challenges, it is those serving low-income communities that are hit the hardest,” a spokesperson for Teach First told Study International.

“That is why, as a charity, we focus on placing talented teachers in the schools facing the greatest challenges. And we’re proud that independent research has shown our teachers have a positive impact on pupils’ grades.”

The teacher shortage in the US alone is projected to reach 100,000 in 2018, according to a study by the Learning Policy Institute entitled, ‘A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand and Shortages in the US’.

But through innovative training schemes and continued pressure on the government to increase teachers wages, the end of the education epidemic may be in sight.

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