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Is There a Teacher Shortage in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area?

One way to address the challenge of finding teachers is by promoting transformative teaching: a method that encourages teachers to employ democratic leadership in the classroom and to be activists who influence policy.

Teachers are the inspiration behind so many great people who have changed humanity for the better. They educate children and help them understand how to function in a complicated world.

Their vital role in young (and old) lives means quality teachers are needed everywhere. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of teachers in the Washington, D.C., metro area — throughout the district, Virginia and Maryland — according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education.

That may come as a surprise to people who remember how difficult it was for teachers to find jobs in past years. The key is it’s not just any type of teacher who is needed but ones who are qualified in certain subjects.

“After years of teacher layoffs, districts began hiring again as the economy recovered from the Great Recession,” according to the Learning Policy Institute. “Many were surprised to find they had serious difficulty finding qualified teachers for their positions, especially in fields like mathematics, science, special education and bilingual education/English language development.”

If you are exploring teaching as a career, preparing for underserved subjects will make you valuable to schools and increase your likelihood of finding work. However, while hiring new teachers is an important part of any plan to solve the teacher shortage, researchers have found a large part of the problem lies with teachers leaving the profession, and not just to retire. In fact, about 8 percent of teachers quit every year, according to 2016 research.

“The teaching workforce continues to be a leaky bucket, losing hundreds of thousands of teachers each year — the majority of them before retirement age,” researchers write. “Changing attrition would change the projected shortages more than any other single factor.”

Groups have suggested ways to solve the teacher shortage crisis, including improving the attrition rate. For example, the The Hamilton Project was created to come up with public policy ideas that aim for long-term prosperity, and it recommends “innovative proposals from leading economic thinkers — based on credible evidence and experience, not ideology or doctrine — to introduce new and effective policy options into the national debate.”

For teachers who are in the classroom every day, those ideas may sound out of reach. However, not only can they have a say, they should speak up on issues that affect their profession.

“Naming and resisting policies that impede doing good work need to be addressed collectively,” education professor Doris Santoro told the National Education Association. “There is no shame in demoralization — it is the work that has changed, not the failure of an individual to tough it out. Teachers can ask themselves, colleagues, school leaders, policy makers, parents, whoever will listen: How are we able to access the moral rewards of our work? What do we need to do to ‘remoralize’ our teaching?”

One way to promote change is through transformative teaching, a method that encourages teachers to employ democratic leadership in the classroom and to be activists who influence policy.

“It is the practice of protecting all and fostering equitable treatment, often through activism or negotiation with the school system,” according to George Mason University.

Teachers who want to understand transformative teaching can earn a master’s degree in the subject to help them learn how to increase their impact in and out of the classroom. Because most teachers are already busy, the program is offered online and is an alternative to earning professional development credits. After all, education is a worldwide issue, and anything anyone can do is important.

“Preventing and solving teacher shortages so that all children receive high-quality instruction is essential in a 21st-century economy for the success of individuals, as well as for society as a whole,” the Learning Policy Institute says.

For details about the transformative teaching program, including how it can improve your abilities as a teacher and activist, visit George Mason University's website.