Confronting the K12 Teacher Shortage with Modern Hiring Practices

Female hiring manager completing a video interview with a healthcare candidate on her desktop computer.

The rundown

  • An alarming K12 teacher shortage is making it tough to fill ambitious rosters in school districts around the country, and the gap in K12 education talent is probably getting worse.
  • Attracting qualified and effective teachers calls for a wider candidate pool and a more flexible recruitment process.
  • With the appropriate technology, a modernized hiring strategy and team culture provide a welcoming atmosphere for incoming teachers, staff, and even students.

Table of contents

Facing a growing K12 teacher shortage

Following the Great Recession and in its aftermath, the hiring landscape in K12 school districts was discouraging. Many districts experienced layoffs and reduced hiring, making education a less popular career choice for university students.

Today, despite the fear of a lasting economic downturn following the COVID-19 pandemic, the landscape is much different. Educators are in high demand, and school districts are anxious to fill their staff with qualified, skilled teachers who will elevate their curriculum and better support students in a changing world.

However, the consequences of the previous lull are showing in the form of a growing K12 teacher shortage. And it’s making administrators’ big dreams of stellar staff rosters hard to realize.

To get in touch with—and hire—top talent in this difficult market, your district must prioritize modern recruiting practices, welcoming team cultures, and updated hiring technologies to help you stay ahead of the curve.

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Find exceptional educators for the kids who need them

The first challenge to overcome in any hiring effort is simply finding qualified candidates. This is especially challenging in rural areas, or districts with higher poverty levels. The unfortunate truth is: these communities don’t have an equal share of qualified local candidates or funds to attract out-of-district candidates.

Additionally, it can be tricky to attract talent from outside a district’s geographical area. Even for districts without these barriers, competition for local candidates can be high in populated areas with many schools and multiple school districts, causing difficulties for those seeking to diversify their candidate pool.

But — it isn’t hopeless. Get started finding new applicants with a few straightforward strategies: First, make sure you write your job descriptions in a way that welcomes new perspectives from candidates in different geographic areas and from diverse social backgrounds.

98% of people believe that a good teacher can change the course of a student's life.

Next, invest in advertising your opening on national job boards for educators (popular sites include EdJoin.org and TeachingJobs.com). You want to ensure potential applicants from more areas can find you, and that means going beyond district and city listings. This may sound simple, but it’s not commonly practiced: 94 percent of districts post job openings to their websites, but only 30% share them on job boards or social media networks. Adding one more avenue to advertise your job posting can put your schools at the forefront of potential candidates’ searches.

Make sure you have a modern applicant tracking system that can juggle candidates from multiple sources—including listings, personal recommendations, and even in-person applications.

And finally, make remote interviewing the primary strategy in your recruiting process. Opening the conversation up to far-flung candidates means you’ll need to offer them flexibility during the interview stage, which will minimize wasted time and help them feel more accommodated.

Attract talent with a talent-first team

Making an authentic effort to meet the psychosocial needs of your staff is a proven strategy for improving teacher retention and helping employees feel fulfilled at work.

You can relay this during recruitment. Currently, most school districts’ hiring processes are overly focused on dehumanized factors such as certification and years of experience. While these qualifications are important and should be considered, you should make it clear to every candidate that you’re interested in getting to know them as a person—as someone who can have a profound personal impact on your students.

One creative method to get to know more about your candidates is to skip the generic phone screening and offer candidates the chance to engage in one-way video interviews. These are opportunities for candidates to present themselves as they truly are, giving you a glimpse of their personality and working style that goes beyond what you’d read on a CV or hear in over-the-phone responses to canned screening questions.

83% of superintendents state that finding qualified educators is a leading challenge.

They also provide more flexibility. Candidates can complete the screening on their own time which, as we all know, is extremely limited during business hours for educators.

Beyond the first impression you offer to candidates, you should genuinely invest in the well-being of your current staff. This means showing you care about your teachers by offering competitive benefits, emphasizing a collaborative environment that invites social and professional growth, and involvement in your school community. Fostering good relationships between administrators, staff, teachers, students, and students’ families will encourage retention and help everyone in your school blossom—together.

Inspire educators with ongoing education

Professional development helps teachers continually improve in a rapidly evolving world. This ensures your curriculum is as robust and modern as possible with each generation of students, but it’s also an important way to help teachers continue to feel inspired, effective, and creative.

While there is good evidence to promote early career development programs (like mentorship opportunities), regularly scheduled collaboration with colleagues, and peer-to-peer observation—there’s also evidence that access to these development opportunities is limited. Sometimes it’s based on subjects or grade levels assigned to each teacher; often, it’s based on the economic demographics of school districts. But in every case, professional development provides teachers a lasting sense of purpose and bestows on students the evolving education they need and deserve.

You can stand out from the crowd by focusing on these areas of development. Offer stipends to attend coursework or workshops or encourage teachers to pursue public speaking and coaching opportunities among colleagues within and beyond their immediate networks. Even using online resources like Coursera works to unite teachers with the subjects and passions that interest them. And bonus—many of these courses are free!

Don’t forget your supporting staff

Schools and districts can’t operate smoothly without the support staff who keep the lights on and the school on track. This includes substitute teachers, aides, librarians, administrators, receptionists, guidance counselors, and more. All have a vital role to play in educating our youth. In fact, these team members constitute over half of most school districts’ workforces.

The efficacy of these supporting staff members — especially administrators and school leadership — significantly affects teacher satisfaction. Building strong, well-rounded teams means lasting tenures among teachers and better student outcomes.

Source: “Successful Ways to Leverage Your Teacher Hiring Technology in 2021 — Fireside Chat Recap

You should follow the same steps outlined above for support staff as well as full-time teachers, ensuring you cast a wide net for qualified applicants from different areas and backgrounds. In addition, asking the right questions to each applicant is essential to finding the right candidate for your school.

Finally, make sure the efforts of these critical team members are recognized. Giving teachers the appreciation they deserve is crucial, but it’s equally important for those behind the scenes. Encourage your teaching staff to organize appreciation days and events for these colleagues, as the reverse often happens in happy schools—and both parties deserve to be celebrated.

Always remember the mission

As an educational institution, you have a unique advantage that many other industries don’t when hiring new talent: a shared mission for the good of humanity. This shared mission has started them on the path that leads to your school community.

Teachers are in it for the students, and so are administrators, counselors, school nurses, and other members of your staff. While the logistical management, planning, and everyday functioning of a school may feel far from glamorous, the ultimate goal is to aid in the education and formation of the next generation.

Your school is the village that will help give your kids a route to a wonderful, successful, and productive life. Make sure you’re pursuing the selfless team, top-notch technology, and ongoing learning that will help you do get it right—for their sake.

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