Teacher Recruitment Essay

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Teacher recruitment includes varied efforts to attract potential candidates to the profession and/or to vacant teaching positions. Although the United States prepares sufficient teachers to staff available openings, teacher recruitment serves two broad purposes: diversifying the teacher workforce and staffing key shortage areas. Recruitment policies and programs, leveraged by states or local districts, generally address teacher preparation, entry requirements, and hiring incentives. Some of these initiatives appear promising. However, teacher turnover threatens the success of recruitment efforts. Nevertheless, teacher recruitment plays an important role in shaping the teaching profession, especially teacher characteristics and pathways into teaching. This entry looks at goals of teacher recruitment, strategies for accomplishing it, and teacher shortages.

Purposes Of Teacher Recruitment

The urgency for teacher recruitment depends on supply and demand. Some studies predict nationwide teacher shortages in coming years. Other speculations are more moderate; arguing regional shortages— inequities in teacher distribution (rather than insufficient supply of teachers)—will continue to be the norm. Regardless, two conditions drive contemporary efforts to expand the pool of teacher candidates: teacher demographics and specific shortage areas. The former has national scope, whereas the latter is somewhat more localized. Each presents its own unique set of challenges, but the concern that cuts across both is teacher quality.

Forcing A Shift In Teacher Demographics

There are two demographic issues pushing teacher recruitment: diversity and academic ability. The first tackles long-standing patterns of who becomes a teacher. The teaching population continues to be dominated heavily by White females. Yet student populations are increasingly more diverse, especially in areas of the country like California and Texas. The disparity between student and teacher demographics underlies efforts to diversify the teaching force—recruiting minorities and males so that the race/ethnicity/gender of the teaching population more closely matches the student population.

A second issue concerns teacher candidates’ general academic ability. Statistical studies show that students with lower college entrance exam scores are more likely to become teacher candidates than those with higher scores. These figures cause alarm about teacher quality. If education is the next generation’s hope for the future, students deserve the “best and the brightest” as teachers.

Attracting Teachers To Key Shortage Areas

The No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2002, requires all teachers to hold credentials appropriate for their teaching position. The mandate prevents districts from hiring teachers who are “out of field,” a practice used to fill vacancies in the past. Consequently, there is a push to attract candidates for national shortage areas in mathematics, science, bilingual, and special education—there are simply not enough teachers preparing for these areas. Labor market specialists point out that potential mathematics and science specialists often have a wide array of career options in industry and government, with better salary and benefits than teaching typically offers.

Certain geographic areas and types of school districts are especially prone to teacher shortages. States with large student populations (e.g., California), high poverty urban centers, and isolated rural districts often struggle to fill vacancies with qualified teachers. Wealthier districts are more likely to have resources that attract qualified teachers—salaries, working conditions, and other incentives. Consequently, high poverty schools are less competitive in the teacher market—a situation that leaves the neediest students at risk for substandard education. The recruitment challenge is twofold: increase the number of applicants without sacrificing quality.

Teacher Recruitment Strategies

Whereas local districts typically operate their own recruitment programs, many states sponsor statewide or district teacher recruitment efforts. At the federal level, Title II Teacher Quality Enhancement Recruitment Grants support state and local efforts to recruit highly qualified teachers for acute shortage areas. States/districts strapped for teachers are the most aggressive, employing multiple strategies to attract qualified teachers. Some districts, for instance, hire marketing specialists to put together recruitment campaigns that include job fairs, slick Web sites, and media coverage. Other types of strategies include specialized teacher preparation programs, streamlined licensure policies, and incentives. As might be expected from locally controlled recruitment, there are many versions, reflecting local variation and staffing needs.

Specialized Teacher Education Programs

Because teacher education programs are dependent on students for their livelihood, recruiting teacher candidates goes hand in hand with teacher preparation. Although teachers tend to cite intrinsic (e.g., helping children, contributing to society) rather than extrinsic (e.g., salary) rewards as reasons for becoming teachers, job security attracts them as well. Programs targeting shortage areas can promise (and sometimes even guarantee) participants teaching positions upon completing their degrees.

Teacher education programs recruit teachers into key shortage areas in several ways—early outreach, “grow your own,” and shortage-specific preparation programs. Early outreach acquaints elementary and secondary students with teaching as a career through job fairs, clubs, coursework, and tutoring/teaching experiences (e.g., the Teacher Cadet program). State and district “grow your own” or “pipeline” programs produce the teachers they need themselves, often in partnership with teacher education institutions. These programs provide financial assistance for undergraduates, paraprofessionals, or teacher aides to obtain their teaching license in shortage areas, often in exchange for a multiyear teaching commitment. Teacher education institutions increasingly offer an additional approach, tailoring undergraduate and postbachelor’s programs for urban districts or other shortage areas— mathematics, science, bilingual, and special education. Many early outreach, grow your own, and shortage-specific programs are designed to attract men and minorities to the profession as well.

Alternative Certification Programs

Alternative certification programs are another method for drawing nontraditional populations, including minorities, mid-career changers, and retired professionals. Labor market specialists suggest that teacher certification requirements may keep talented individuals from pursuing teaching as a first or second career. Alternative routes, as they are sometimes called, recruit individuals with subject expertise to high-need teaching areas. These programs streamline the path into teaching, allowing college graduates to become full-time teachers sooner than state certification would normally permit.

Alternative certification programs have mushroomed during the past decade. However, programs vary widely, from entry requirements to educational components to on-the-job support. Teach for America and Troops to Teachers are examples of national programs that recruit teachers through alternative certification pathways. At the state level, in 2006, nearly all states reported offering alternative routes to teacher certification. Moreover, districts increasingly design their own alternative route programs for shortage areas. For instance, Chicago and New York both have “Teaching Fellows” programs, recruiting academically and professionally successful individuals to teach full-time in shortage areas while completing teacher certification requirements.


Specialized teacher education programs and alternative routes offer ready-made teaching positions as their plum. A parallel recruitment line targets the financial rewards of teaching. Monetary enticements run the gamut—increased salaries and benefits, housing assistance, loan forgiveness, scholarships, and signing bonuses. Most states use at least one of these incentives to recruit teachers. A few states, desperate for qualified teachers (e.g., California and North Carolina), use them all.

Impact On Teacher Shortages

It is difficult to evaluate the impact that innovative recruitment strategies have on teacher demographics and shortages. Although states and districts design recruitment with such purposes in mind, few studies rigorously examine their effects. There is still much to be learned, and results are mixed. At present, it appears that some alternative certification programs attract a population that is more diverse by ethnicity, gender, and age. Few conclusions can be drawn about teacher education or grow-your-own programs; the research is insufficient. Moreover, there are no conclusive results about the influence of these programs on teacher quality. The same holds true for incentives. Although financial rewards, to some extent, may attract more teachers, there is limited evidence about how these incentives influence the demographics or quality of the teacher workforce.

Shaping The Workforce

The composition of the teacher workforce has been relatively consistent. A more open labor market heightens competition for teachers. Recruitment strategies have the potential to bring more, and demographically diverse, individuals to teaching. It appears unlikely that shortage areas can attract qualified teachers without re-imagining how teachers are educated, certified, and compensated. Much more research is needed, however, on the implications of recruitment innovations on teacher quality.

Furthermore, the extent to which recruitment practices shape the teacher workforce and affect key shortage areas is moderated by teacher attrition. The teacher labor market has been described as a revolving door or a leaking bucket because of teacher turnover. Recruitment efforts can open the door or fill the bucket. However, the hiring practices and working conditions that teachers encounter can just as quickly drive them away. Recruitment, then, is not an isolated activity—its impact is tightly tied to teacher retention.


  1. Allen, M. (2005). Eight questions on teacher recruitment and retention: What does the research say? Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.
  2. Hirsh, E. (2001). Teacher recruitment: Staffing classrooms with quality teachers. Denver, CO: State Higher Education Executive Officers.
  3. Wilson, S. M., Bell, C., Galosy, J. A., & Shouse, A. W. (2004). Them that’s got shall get: Understanding teacher recruitment, induction, and retention. In M. A. Smylie & D. Miretzky (Eds.), Developing the teacher workforce (pp. 145–179). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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