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It’s no secret in the K-12 learning community that there is a teacher shortage. In fact, while the shortage is already problematic, the continual growth of this issue poses an even bigger threat to the educational experience of both learners and the teachers who choose to enter and remain in the field. As a result, teacher recruitment—as well as other teacher shortage solutions—has required creative and oftentimes untraditional approaches to help fill vacancies and ensure a quality education for our students.

Nationwide evidence of the teacher shortage

The downward trend of available educators has been a noticeable slope for some time now, culminating in the current state of dire shortages. In fact, Pew Research found that over a 20-year span, from 2000 to 2020, education-based degrees were down 19 percent. This problem is only intensifying. A recent USA Today article reported that “Nearly 9 in 10 public school districts struggled to hire teachers heading into the school year.” Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that research has shown this continual trend is not an aberration of the COVID-19 pandemic, either.

How the teacher shortage is affecting K-12

This teacher shortage creates intense challenges for all involved—teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Some of these issues are rather apparent. As districts employ fewer teachers, class sizes swell to accommodate the same number of students with fewer instructors. The National Education Association (NEA) notes that this leads to overworked teachers and administrators and less successful learning outcomes for students. In fact, many school districts remove teachers’ prep periods in order to have them cover additional classes, yielding poorer planning for all students and added stress for educators.

Met with the challenge of either offering increasing class sizes or bringing in underqualified educators to keep class sizes at previous rates, districts are in a catch-22. In both situations, students receive less successful learning environments. For those school districts who identify qualified teachers, they are resource-cuffed in recruiting against other school districts also desperate for licensed educators.

That same NEA article cited the well-known Project STAR study out of Tennessee—often seen as the most famous study on class size—which found that the students in smaller classes did significantly better on academic tests, and that the difference persisted for years. And not only are results in the classroom diminished, but these teacher shortages also mean that learners have less access to critical and specialized courses that can often be difference-makers in their overall education and future academic success.

How to address the teacher shortage

There are several ways school districts can address this seismic challenge; however, identifying successful teacher shortage solutions has required many schools to explore creative new approaches.

Left with few identifiable options to fill open vacancies each year, some school districts have been forced to change the requirements necessary in order to be hired. Some have leaned heavily on programs that seek to overcome training deficiencies, like Indianapolis’s increased use of Teach For America (TFA) participants who make short-term, two-year commitments and are provided with intensive training.

Others, like Charles M. Sumner Education Campus in Maine, have stepped up their nontraditional recruiting practices. Principal, Jackson Green, shared with The Washington Post that, desperate for a math teacher, he recently hired a waitress without a degree, allowing her to work toward a degree while teaching.

Taking these drastic measures, however, has still not created the necessary long-term solutions school districts need to consistently provide high-quality, credentialed teachers for their students. A growing trend that has shown tremendous promise, though, is leveraging the use of virtual classrooms, virtual teachers, and online teaching strategies to expand the reach of a single educator while also broadening the scope of available job applicants.

Are virtual classrooms a sustainable solution?

An investigation into the online teaching strategy for teacher shortage solutions by Fast Company in 2022 found, “While multiple brick-and-mortar districts across the country are desperately seeking to fill vacant teaching positions, online schools say they are often attracting far more candidates than they can hire.”

A state-wide approach to expanding access

Initiatives like Classrooms for Colorado LIVE have leveraged the power of online teaching by supplementing students’ in-person, on-campus education with virtual teachers who can reach more learners at once. Where some school districts have chosen to hire more individuals who lack the necessary prerequisites, CC LIVE is able to put highly qualified math teachers in classrooms across the state, supplemented by a “classroom supporter” in each classroom, via a virtual classroom platform.

“We don’t have teachers living in the communities where teachers are needed…Classrooms for Colorado LIVE—using Class for digital delivery of a teacher—helps schools start to think about their applicant pool, not just being in their community,” notes Roxie Mitchell, Program Coordinator.

Using virtual teachers to increase district-wide offerings

Calcasieu Parish School Board in Louisiana also chose to flip the traditional idea of virtual learning on its head, allowing students to continue to come to physical schools while beaming in highly qualified virtual teachers to boost the academic offerings of the schools. CPSB developed their district-wide virtual program for their high schools to address the challenges the district was facing. In doing so, the school board has seen 30 extra virtual courses added to their curriculum and has been able to serve over 500 additional learners—a stark contrast to the diminishing offerings of many teacher shortage-plagued schools across the U.S.

“When you say ‘virtual’, people think the students are home. They think maybe the teachers are at home, but that’s not the case [at Calcasieu]. The students are actually on their campus, but they’re not virtual all day long. And that’s really the game changer. They are face-to-face their entire day. But if they want to take a particular virtual class, which we offer through the virtual instruction program, they go into a special computer lab, and in that lab, they log in. Live time, live instruction. When they log in, their teacher logs in, and they are actually having a conversation with their teachers. And our teachers are located here with me in one school building,” adds Dr. Doug DeVillier, Virtual Program Director.

Westmoreland Intermediate Unit 7 (WIU7), whose eAcademy has been operating for over 15 years, has been modifying its virtual classroom offerings because of advancements in online education platform technology and constituent demand. By offering virtual coursework in asynchronous, synchronous, and blended modalities, engagement has increased noticeably. These upgrades have allowed their educators to do more and provide enhanced teaching techniques that result in better learner experiences.

“When we’re looking at the future of education, we need to prepare for every class that we offer our students to be face-to-face, virtual, and blended. And I think Class fits into that because it can bridge the gap, and it can be used in all of those scenarios,” points out Becky Henderson, Distance Learning Supervisor.

Expanding academic opportunities via virtual learning

Laurel Springs School is a 100% virtual campus that has been in operation for over 30 years, and serves students across the globe. Operating in eight time zones, students represent over 100 countries with educators from 41 different U.S. states. Even with their historic use of online education, Laurel Springs is discovering new insights that take their use of diverse educators to the next level. This can be exemplified in their use of talk time tracking:

“Tracking talk time with [our virtual classroom platform] is even better than in a live setting because, as teachers, we’re trying to get to everybody. We’re trying to make sure that every voice is heard. With the talk time tracking, we see which students are eagerly participating and which students need to be brought back into the conversation. Teachers are able to see if our students are paying attention and doing the activity,” says Renée Mindek, Dean of Student Engagement.

The Centre for Higher Education Studies, based in Victoria, Australia, has taken their education approach to the next level through the use of enhanced online classroom technology, as well. 100% of CHES’s students take at least one virtual course, but many choose a hybrid method that combines in-person and virtual learning. CHES’s approach has been another example of using virtual teachers to both provide access and an equitable experience, whether a learner embarks in a fully online, fully in-person, or hybrid educational experience.

“The key thing about any technology for education is it’s about how it allows for greater access and how it allows us as teachers to deliver our programs in an optimum way. At CHES, we want the learning experience to be enhanced for all students, and for teachers to have confidence that the right software can enhance what we can teach and to whom we can teach. Class enables every child to matter regardless of where they’re living, reduces the unfortunate inequity that exists, and gives access to everyone,” explains Sapphira Talbot-Strettle, Learning Specialist.

Online learning offers an innovative solution to the teacher shortage

While much of the discussion around virtual learning over the past decade has centered around the students experiencing their academic education remotely, the reality of leveraging remarkable technology to put qualified teachers in even more classrooms than previously possible speaks to a tremendous opportunity to overcome a daunting educational hurdle. Additionally, not only can the use of virtual teachers help address the teacher shortage issue, but the analytical insights that virtual classroom platforms provide can actually enhance the overall experience for all involved.

Are you curious to see how a virtual classroom platform can empower your school district to address teacher shortages? Reach out to a Class team member today to learn more!

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About Shelby
Shelby Jones is the K-12 Sales Director at Class. She’s held market-facing positions at leading EdTech companies nationally, and consults educators in their adoption of SaaS solutions for all departments. She’s passionate about start-ups, education, and technology.