Teachers

Overview

Teachers

Coverage of teachers and the teaching profession is central to the education beat, but it requires an understanding of some complex issues — preparation, licensure, compensation, recruitment and retention, professional development, and unionism. 

Coverage of teachers and the teaching profession is central to the education beat, but it requires an understanding of some complex issues — preparation, licensure, compensation, recruitment and retention, professional development, and unionism. 

It’s a formidable topic that yields important stories: Research shows that among school-related factors, teachers matter most for student achievement, leading to persistent pushes to improve teacher quality. Teachers and their unions are also a powerful political force with considerable influence on education policy, funding, and, during the pandemic, whether and when schools would reopen. 

In recent years, big shifts have occurred in policy, such as the push and pull of high-stakes accountability measures. In addition, across-the-board pay raises have taken place in response to historic statewide work stoppages.

There are also perennial challenges, such as teacher supply. Many school districts struggle to find enough teachers in certain subject areas, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has steadily declined across the country over the last decade. School districts are also worried about retaining teachers: 8% leave the profession annually, and another 8% change schools. Teachers most often cite dissatisfaction as a main reason for quitting.

Turnover rates are higher among teachers of color. The teaching corps is overwhelmingly white, yet it serves an increasingly diverse population of students by race and ethnicity. This reality has sparked increased efforts to diversify the teaching ranks, as well as to rethink the training and support for educators already in classrooms.

Reporters can explore rich questions, such as: How can policymakers make the teaching profession more attractive — and sustainable — to a diverse group of qualified candidates? What new strategies are emerging to improve or reimagine teacher preparation? How should teachers be evaluated? What is the future of teacher compensation, and what do reporters need to know to better understand and contextualize teacher pay? How can districts rethink staffing models to better support high-quality instruction?

Updated June 2021.

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Data/Research: Teachers

To better understand issues facing the teaching profession, it’s important to stay abreast of the latest data and research.

Data on the Teacher Workforce

The National Center for Education Statistics collects in-depth data every couple years on teacher background, training, pay, professional development, class sizes and other issues. 

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History and Background: Teachers

The Evolution of the Workforce

The teaching profession was once dominated by men, many of whom considered the job a stepping stone to a more prestigious career. That began to change in the 1800s, when education reformers such as Horace Mann pushed for taxpayer money to fund public schools for all children, regardless of family income. State-funded “normal schools” to train teachers were also established, and women began to be recruited to fill the ranks.

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The Teacher Pipeline

In the traditional path to the classroom, an aspiring teacher enrolls in a teacher-preparation program run by a college or university and earns their bachelor’s or master’s degree in education. At some point during the program, the candidate spends some time student-teaching to get real-world experience. Upon graduation, the individual takes an exam to demonstrate their readiness to teach.

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Teacher Diversity

Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of teachers is an issue of growing concern in public education. Today, 80% of teachers are white, while more than half of those who attend public schools are students of color.

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The Schools Teachers Leave: Teacher Mobility in Chicago Public Schools

This report reveals that about 100 Chicago schools suffer from chronically high rates of teacher turnover, losing a quarter or more of their teaching staff every year, and many of these schools serve predominantly low-income African American children. In the typical Chicago elementary school, 51 percent of the teachers working in 2002 had left four years later, while the typical high school had seen 54 percent leave by 2006.