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The Teacher Shortage: Is It Cool To Teach?

Eric Westervelt/NPR

Jessica Adams in front of a fourth grade at Robert Forbuss Elementary School in 2015.

We hear all the time about the teacher shortage in Nevada. But what’s causing it? Do we need more and better training? Do we need to recruit more people from out of state – or even out of the country? Are people simply not going into the teaching profession anymore?

UNLV Department of Education is seeking to come up with answers to those questions and more. In 2014, the department created the Nevada Consortium on the Teacher Pipeline, and last month, the consortium put out its initial examination.

One of the authors of the report is Dr. Kim K. Metcalf, who is Dean of the College of Education at UNLV. He said while Clark County might hear about the problem more often it is actually a bigger problem in rural areas. Currently, Clark County needs about 700 teachers, which is the smallest number of vacancies proportionally in the state. 

But in rural areas of the state, if there is one science teacher that teaches all 4th grade his or her absence will be more sharply felt.

The real problem with the teaching shortage is that fewer people are entering the profession. 

“But in generally, that is all effected by the larger problem of there simply are not as many people choosing to go into education as there used to be and those numbers continue to decline,” he said.

There are a number of reasons why, according to Metcalf. When states cut back school funding and schools had to cut teaching positions during the Great Recession, many people decided not to go into the teaching field. 

“However, more broadly than that, for perhaps the past four decades enrollment in educator preparation programs have declined somewhere from between 30 to 42 percent nationwide”

He said that as professional opportunities for women and minorities have grown during the past four decades they're less likely to enter the education field.

While we know some of the reasons why, reversing the trend could be difficult. 

Metcalf said schools could look to the model used by the medical industry. Instead of a doctor seeing every patient, doctors will use physician assistants and nurse practitioners to see patients. He suggests schools could use aides that may not be fully licensed teachers to work in front of classrooms closely supervised by teachers.

“I think we’re going to have to do multiple things, and we’re going to have to be willing to look at very different ways to structure teachers’ work lives,” he said.    

Despite all the creative ways to use teaching time, Metcalf said paying teachers better and providing a flexible school model that isn't based on what was needed for the workforce 60 years ago, will help. 

“Until we are able to compensate people for the work because it is substantively and fiscally beneficial to them instead of relying on what I’ll call a ‘missionary’ perspective to this work…I don’t think it is reasonable to expect that we’ll be able to fill what are approximately 3.2 million teacher jobs throughout the country with folks that are in the upper quartile academically”


Dr. Kim K. Metcalf,  Dean of the College of Education at UNLV

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)