Teacher recruitment and retention: A snapshot of an ongoing crisis

Teacher meeting
There is a teacher recruitment and retention crisis in Michigan and across the country. Why is there a crisis? What can be done? This first post in a blog series on teacher recruitment and retention provides a snapshot of the crisis and some initial recommendations on how to fight it.

Teachers are the bedrock of our schools and communities. They help students learn essential skills and knowledge to become contributing members of society. They are also essential workers assisting students in building critical social emotional learning (SEL) skills. 

Unfortunately, recruiting and keeping qualified teachers has been challenging for many years. 

According to a 2019 National School Boards Association report, teachers cite feelings of being unprepared, low pay, increasing job responsibilities, pressures to meet testing standards, and a lack of mentoring for not staying in the field of education. 

These challenges have been made worse by the increased professional and personal demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the last two school years, teachers have faced increased workloads, rapidly and regularly changing work conditions, and a divisive political environment where their health and well-being have been sidelined or ignored.

This blog presents a summary of research about some trends around teacher recruitment and retention nationwide and in the state of Michigan. Some initial recommendations are provided to encourage thinking about how to recruit new teachers and retain existing ones. 

This blog is part of a larger initiative by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) exploring topics of educator social and emotional well-being, support, and retention.

Long-term trends and impacts

There have been worries about teacher shortages for many years. Although the 2019 National School Boards Association report indicated that while the number of teachers nationwide had increased steadily since 1989, retention has long been an issue. Approximately 10% of teachers leave within their first year, and 44% leave within five years. This high level of attrition leads to an increasing shortage of experienced teachers. 

The high cost to replace teachers places a strain on already limited resources. For rural districts, the average cost to find a new teacher is about $10,000; the cost is roughly double in urban districts. In the end, a shortage of teachers can threaten the stability of providing a quality education, as noted by an educator in the 2020 Michigan Department of Education Annual Report: “The teacher shortage is the biggest threat to public education. Too many students are beginning and ending a school year with long-term substitutes in their classrooms because no one is applying for the opening.”

According to a Frontline Research & Learning Institute analysis of teacher preparation programs, Michigan saw nearly a 52% drop in teachers (2,671) graduating from teacher preparation programs between 2010 and 2018. During this timeframe, there was almost a 68% decrease in enrollments in teacher prep programs. 

To put these numbers into perspective, the Michigan K-12 student population decreased by about 5% during the same time (Frontline Research & Learning Institute). This growing gap between the number of teachers and the number of students is concerning, especially given that a 2016 study of teacher shortages by the Learning Policy Institute shows this gap continues to grow significantly nationwide in the future (see Figure 1 graph provided by the Economic Policy Institute).

Figure 1

A Learning Policy Institute study reveals severe long-term teacher shortages nationwide (graph courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute).

Graph shows two lines. One line for demand for teachers and another line for supply of teachers. The data are for 2003-2025. The graphs indicate a teacher shortage by showing a gap between projected demand for teachers and projected estimated supply of teachers. The estimated gap begins in 2014 and gets wider through 2025. By 2025, the gap is roughly 100,000 teachers.

The combination of teacher attrition and declining enrollments in teacher prep programs has led to a severe shortage of teachers in Michigan, as indicated by alarming news reports in the last 18 months (Crowe, August 12, 2021; Patel, June 23, 2021; Russell, May 20, 2020). Even more concerning is how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened these trends just when maintaining a secure and stable education system is of utmost importance to our communities.

“The teacher shortage is the biggest threat to public education. Too many students are beginning and ending a school year with long-term substitutes in their classrooms because no one is applying for the opening.”

Respondent for survey included in 2020 Michigan Department of Education Annual Report

Crisis worsening during COVID-19 pandemic

In an MVLRI study on Michigan teachers and administrators’ social and emotional needs, nearly two-thirds of teachers surveyed considered leaving their jobs during the 202021 academic year. 

Approximately two-thirds of teachers felt overwhelmed by the amount of work they had to do and indicated they felt bothered by feeling down, depressed, anxious, or hopeless. Given that about 1 out of 4 teachers participating in the study were not offered any social and emotional supports during the 2020–21 academic year, there are alarm bells about how long teachers are willing and able to hold on. As one elementary teacher wrote, “We are constantly being told that we need to meet the social and emotional needs of our students and their families…..where is the support for us? When I’m empty, there is nothing I can give to anyone else!” 

As noted earlier, such reported feelings and experiences are even more concerning given that Michigan’s university students have a declining interest in pursuing teacher preparation programs, which brings up two pressing questions: What will happen to the future of K-12 education when teachers feel unsupported in the work they do? What can be done to recruit and retain teachers?

“We are constantly being told that we need to meet the social and emotional needs of our students and their families…..where is the support for us? When I’m empty, there is nothing I can give to anyone else!” 

Michigan Elementary School Teacher quoted in MVLRI research report on social and emotional needs for educators

Initial thoughts on recruiting and retaining teachers

Several innovative initiatives have been pursued within and beyond Michigan to attract new teachers and keep existing teachers in their schools:

  • Detroit’s Teach 313 program offers monetary incentives to teachers to relocate to Detroit where there is a teaching shortage. The program also partnered with businesses and other organizations to offer teachers discounts to buy products and services they need.  
  • The federal government has enacted student loan forgiveness and deferment programs to help states recruit teachers to fill positions where there are critical shortages (for example, see Michigan Department of Education’s Critical Shortages Federal Loan Forgiveness Program).
  • Some states and school districts have offered to help teachers with the costs to become certified, especially in areas that are often difficult to fill, such as special education, science, and math (for example, see Florida’s Critical Teacher Shortage Program).
  • Some states like Michigan have enacted mentoring program requirements that support new teachers by connecting them to experienced teachers (see a Michigan State University report on Michigan’s mentoring professional development requirements).

To assist and retain teachers, school districts can offer free or cost-effective social and emotional supports to take on the challenges of being a teacher (for example, see the implications section of MVLRI’s recent social and emotional learning study for educators).

Final thoughts

Although some of these initiatives require funding and community buy-in, today’s investments are negligible compared to the long-term benefits a community gains when quality teaching talent is recruited and retained. When teachers feel supported and satisfied in their work, they are more likely to stay in their essential roles as educators. 

Communities at large ultimately benefit from a stable and adequate supply of teachers who provide future generations with the tools and guidance to build the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed and contribute to society. 

Upcoming posts in this blog series will examine successful programs to recruit teachers as well as the importance of providing social and emotional supports in designing any teacher retention initiative.

Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!


The author would like to thank Tracy Gieseking, Kristen DeBruler, Christa Green, and Christopher Harrington from the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute for their contributions and advice in writing this blog post.

Picture of Ed Timke

Ed Timke

Dr. Ed Timke is a research specialist for Michigan Virtual. Although he specializes in qualitative research — such as interviews, focus groups, ethnographies, and textual and visual analyses — he was trained in mixed methods research while in his doctoral program in communication and media at the University of Michigan. Ed has taught online and face-to-face courses on writing, research methods, global media and communication, the role of advertising in society, and intercultural communication at American University, Duke University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan.

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