Teacher Shortage, or How to Write a Job Description

I live in a really good (read: high taxes) school district. We’ve lived here for 7 years, and specifically bought the house we are in now to be in this school district. It came at a premium, but we were willing to pay it to be in a good school district.

I have several friends who are teachers. They live in this good school district, but teach in other school districts. Why? Because getting a job in this district is extremely difficult. So, they commute and pray for openings here.

Which brings me to this article from the New York Times:

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The retirement of thousands of baby boomer teachers coupled with the departure of younger teachers frustrated by the stress of working in low-performing schools is fueling a crisis in teacher turnover that is costing school districts substantial amounts of money as they scramble to fill their ranks for the fall term.

Hmmm, what’s the problem? My friends are desperate for jobs close to home. Other school districts are desperate for teachers. How can we solve this problem?

Well, first, let’s identify the problem. Is it a shortage of people who can teach? I could teach. Granted, I’m not a certified public school teacher, but I’ve taught at a university. It always boggles my mind that while I’m not qualified to teach government to a bunch of 10th graders, I’m qualified to teach the same subject on a much more advanced level to college seniors.

So, perhaps lack of certified teachers is the problem. But, with programs like Teach for America and emergency certification programs, I think finding people who meet the criteria isn’t the problem either.

Upon reading further in the story (2nd paragraph–I do do complete research before pushing post), we find this:

Superintendents and recruiters across the nation say the challenge of putting a qualified teacher in every classroom is heightened in subjects like math and science and is a particular struggle in high-poverty schools, where the turnover is highest. Thousands of classes in such schools have opened with substitute teachers in recent years.

Ah-ha. We need more math and science teachers.

At the university I attended, in order to get a degree in math education you had to take a bunch of education classes and a whole lot of high level math classes. Lots and lots of advanced calculus and other things that I don’t know about because I majored in something much more squishy (political science).

Why? Why is that in the job description for a math teacher? Most schools (that I am aware of) offer calculus, but don’t require it. In fact, here are the math requirements from North Carolina (the state with bad teacher shortage mentioned above). For people on a “university prep” path, Algebra II and one “higher level” math class or “integrated math” levels 1-3 are required. For other paths, the math requirements are even lower.

But, here is the University of North Carolina’s requirement to get a degree in Mathematics Education to teach high school.

  • Math 231 Calculus
  • Math 232 Calculus II
  • Math 233 Calculus III
  • Math 381 Discrete Mathematics
  • Math 383 Linear Algebra with Differential Equations
  • Math 551 Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometries
  • Math 416 Matrix Algebra
  • Math 515 History of Math
  • Math 533 Number Theory
  • Why? If the vast majority of your students aren’t going to be taking calculus (let alone, calculus II and calculus III and Matrix Algebra) why require that for your certification?

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to require things that the teacher will actually use on the job? Why not, if you have 4 math teachers in the high school, require only one to have all the fancy higher level math skills. The rest of your teachers need to be qualified to teach “integrated math” and alegbra I.

    Kind of opens up your field of available teachers, doesn’t it? Someone that might be a great algebra teacher just may switch her major if she doesn’t have to take so many years of higher level mathemetics that she will most likely never use.

    And now for our general HR application–job descriptions. Are we writing job descriptions to make them sound more impressive then they really are? (10 years of experience, MBA, required.) Is it really?


    Maybe not.

    You really need to think about what is necessary to do THIS job. Not, boy, I really like people from Harvard! It’s fine if you want to hire people from Harvard, but is it a requirement?

    Making high level requirements that don’t truly fit the job can result in getting applicants who are barely qualified on paper and tremendously overqualified in practice. They are then bored and that increases your turnover.

    Make sure your list of requirements are truly requirements. Then you can add your nice to haves (7 years experience, bachelor’s degree in business, social sciences or similar. MBA preferred).

    Related Posts

    8 thoughts on “Teacher Shortage, or How to Write a Job Description

    1. Yes, but my education classes taught me how to work a VCR and make a bulletin board! Oh wait, I already knew those things (but had to take the class anyway).

    2. I have a degree in Education from the University of North Carolina. I taught for three months before going on to find a job where I could feed my child. Best I can tell, the problems boil down to this: 1) Teachers are frighteningly underpaid. 2) We are taught in college to teach one way, and expected to teach entirely differently in schools and 3) The hours are ridiculous; get to work at around 6:00am, go home at around 5:00… by 7:00pm, you are working again- grading papers, making lesson plans, etc…

    3. I think the problem lies with the teacher unions. When you must pay science and gym teachers the same amount, gym teachers are going to be overpaid and science teachers are going to be underpaid. I’m not denying that gym is important, especially with the childhood obesity epidemic, but I also believe in supply and demand. If gym teachers were paid 20% less than science teachers there would still be a line around the block when interviewing for gym teachers because jobs in any sports-related field are scarce. You can’t even compare the college curriculum of a phys ed major vs. science or math. If it’s really hard to become a math teacher and relatively easy to become a gym (or shop, driver’s ed, ect.) teacher, why pay them the same? No wonder nobody wants to be a math or science teacher.

      For the record, I live in a district where the teachers are very well paid (and, yes, the taxes are very high). Many older teachers I know have summer homes at the beach and are going to be pulling in over 70K a year in retirement. However, I will admit that the situation in my district is not the same in most areas of the country. What I find strange is that the teachers in my district are so quick to jump on the “teachers are so underpaid” bandwagon when they are among the highest paid teachers in the entire country.

      I don’t debate that teachers put in more than the 7 1/2-8 hours a day their contract calls for, but who doesn’t? Teachers might work as many hours as other professions, but nobody whines about it more than teachers. The main difference is I might get a big raise this year because of my hard work and long hours while a teacher will only get whatever the union negotiates for them. I think unions are great if you work in a chicken plant in Georgia with unsafe conditions and get paid minimum wage, but not for professionals like teachers. If I was a teacher I would welcome the chance to negotiate my own contract.

    4. One reason it’s hard to get and keep good teachers is that they have to work in a school system where good teachers aren’t valued by anyone but students (often later) and parents (sometimes). The faculty lounge (if there is one) is often in the basement and the furniture is Salvation Army castoffs. If you want teachers to take time after school for preparation, it helps if they don’t have to work a second job to survive.

      The hiring process ignores some simple marketplace realities. In the US today, a person with math and science skills can usually make more money than someone who has spent the four years of college studying English Literature.

      Money is part of the answer, but only part. Most people who choose to teach don’t do it for the money. So incentive programs have to identify and reward quality teaching instead of superior test preparation. Then better teachers need to get better pay, but also rewards that matter, perhaps hazardous duty pay for teaching in some inner city schools, perhaps sabbaticals for personal development.

      When my girls were in school, one of them would up with a teacher who would have students who failed his tests walk around the room holding up their test paper and chanting “I am stupid.” We pulled them out of public school when we discovered that not only could we not get that nasty soul fired, we could not even get him disciplined.

      We’re talking about a system in most of the places I’ve seen that is set up to reward the wrong things, with a socialistic culture that treats everyone the same, regardless of performance, and where amassing credentials is more often the way to preferment than teaching our children to read.

    5. Wouldn’t it make more sense to require things that the teacher will actually use on the job? Why not, if you have 4 math teachers in the high school, require only one to have all the fancy higher level math skills. The rest of your teachers need to be qualified to teach “integrated math” and alegbra I.

      Two reasons:

      (1) To teach something well, you need somewhat more knowledge than is actually covered in the class you are teaching (so you can put it in context, understand what it will be used for, recognize the most important ideas, etc.).

      (2) Many people never really master the most advanced things they study, even if they get good grades. If someone passes an advanced calculus class, you can be pretty sure they have a solid knowledge of high-school calculus. If someone just passes a beginning class, you’d be crazy to count on them to teach it.

      This even applies to high school algebra. Many calculus students run into trouble because they aren’t really comfortable with algebra. If you want to make sure all high school teachers have mastered algebra, you can either design and administer algebra tests (which is expensive) or require that they have good grades in calculus.

      As far as these specific courses from North Carolina go, they seem pretty reasonable to me. The BC-level AP Calculus course in high schools probably covers all of Calculus I and II and possibly some of Calculus III (the divisions between these courses are not really standardized). The Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries course is really useful background for teaching geometry. The discrete mathematics and linear algebra courses are not quite as relevant, but they certainly are closely connected to high school mathematics. History of mathematics is also very useful background for a high school teacher.

      Number theory is the one subject I’d consider omitting (although I’m actually a number theorist and therefore have a soft spot for it). I’d strongly encourage high school teachers to take it, since it provides a great experience with abstract mathematics, it is fundamental to the history of mathematics, and it’s really beautiful. However, I wouldn’t make it a requirement. On the other hand, I’d replace it with an abstract algebra requirement.

      My feeling is that the required education classes are more of an issue than the required math classes. It’s really sad that I am considered qualified to teach calculus to first-year college students (and have done so a number of times), and in fact qualified to teach remedial high school math to college students (although I’ve never actually done so), but unqualified to teach high school math to high school students.

    Comments are closed.

    Are you looking for a new HR job? Or are you trying to hire a new HR person? Either way, hop on over to Evil HR Jobs, and you'll find what you're looking for.