To properly address the teacher shortage, we need to fundamentally reimagine the role of a teacher in the modern classroom

Pay isn’t the only reason for the teacher shortage–it’s time to rethink the classroom

To properly address the teacher shortage, we need to fundamentally reimagine the role of a teacher in the modern classroom

Students still need in-person relationships. The local classroom includes academic coaches giving feedback and making sure students make progress, along with social-emotional monitors fostering community and supporting wellness. These roles also communicate with families and ensure that the classroom is a welcoming space.

There is, of course, an obvious objection: “You can’t solve a teacher shortage by hiring more teachers.” Spreading the reach of the teacher expertise across many classrooms while including in-person coaches does not necessarily increase overall headcount any more than the current fill-the-gaps measures would.

If you want a glimpse of the teacher shortage crisis, just look at the data. According to the National Survey released this week by the National Education Association, 53 percent of public schools report being understaffed at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, with a further 60 percent reporting severe shortages since the start of the pandemic.

These shortages are, unsurprisingly, exacerbated across racial and income lines. According to analyses of several decades, it is non-White children living in the most neglected neighborhoods, who are most likely to suffer at the sharp end of the teacher shortage crisis.

In many cases, the government’s response only makes this crisis worse. State policymakers have expedited teacher certification and lowered the requirements for obtaining emergency substitute teaching licenses. Some states have even permitted the emergency hiring of untrained teachers.

Hiring more underprepared teachers and then expecting them to perform the role of three people will exacerbate the crisis. If we are hiring yet-to-be certified professionals, they can first be trained in the roles of academic coach and social-emotional monitor while an expert instructional designer (unbound by geography) can ensure that students have access to quality lessons.

A rethinking of distance limitations provides an opportunity to increase teacher compensation to be commensurate with other professionals that require the same level of expertise. Indeed, research from the Economic Policy Institute suggests that teachers earn approximately 20 percent less than those with similar, nonteacher degrees. Research shows that each new hire in a school can cost more than $20,000, and this investment doesn’t pay its dividend if that teacher leaves within 2 years.  By implementing policies that boost retention, we can afford to pay teachers what they deserve and retain their expertise.

“Teaching Without Walls” is not an easy, silver-bullet solution, and will certainly be state- and school-specific. I’m not suggesting that we triple the number of teachers in every classroom. Instead, we should focus our attention on broader solutions in the areas where students are already lacking a qualified teacher. This approach will require transforming teacher professional learning and collaboration, but there are research-based approaches that make this doable.

Reactionary proposals, however, offered by people who have never taught a class of young people with hopes and fears, traumas and dreams, will deepen the hole dug by our current system.

Our youth deserve a reimagining, and not a regurgitation, of failed proposals. World-class learning is possible, but only if we free ourselves from the “way we’ve always done things” and apply the technology-enabled solutions made commonplace from the pandemic.

By recognizing and valuing the different forms of teaching expertise, we can build a profession that is attractive, rewarding, and most importantly, sustainable. That is a viable way to attract new talent into the profession, and ultimately, keep it there.

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