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Don't Hire in Desperation Navigating the K-12 Teacher Shortage

Don’t Hire in Desperation – Navigating the K-12 Teacher Shortage

The last few years have caused dramatic shifts across all industries. Arguably, one of the most significantly impacted professions has been teaching K-12. Schools are struggling to fill essential seats in classrooms.

According to a recent survey from the Learning Policy Institute, teacher demand exceeded supply by more than 100,000 in 2019. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected more than 270,000 public school teachers would leave the profession between 2016 and 2026.

Keep in mind, this was before anyone could have predicted the impacts of the 2020 global pandemic. Shifts in recent years have undeniably exacerbated staffing problems in the education industry across the country. From health concerns to layoffs to hybrid learning and more, K-12 teachers have had to juggle increasing pressure as impacts from the pandemic continue to drain the profession.

It’s not surprising that half of the teachers recently surveyed said the pandemic has made them more likely to leave teaching behind entirely. In fact, a 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher survey found that one in four teachers are now likely to leave their jobs, compared to one in six on average before the pandemic. 

In these critical times, it can be easy to jump at the first applicant just to get teaching staff in front of students. However, hiring in desperation in any industry can devastate hiring budgets and harm work cultures and communities indefinitely. 

There are serious implications for hiring in desperation your district cannot afford. It’s vital hiring pros hold out for the right candidates when hiring K-12 educators.

School Districts are Facing a Dilemma

Finding the Right Fit is Critical in Education 

You’ve heard the phrase “one bad apple spoils the bunch.” This is often true when it comes to dissatisfaction in the workplace. Attracting candidates who fit into your workplace culture is incredibly important for maintaining employee engagement and satisfaction. An employee who is unhappy in their role can spread negativity, causing costly turbulence and turnover.

Culture fit is critical for teaching candidates because the job is highly collaborative. Teachers who don’t feel like they fit into the work culture are less likely to be engaged and have the potential to turn a positive work culture into a negative environment. Not building personal connections with peers and other support staff puts a strain on the workplace energy for everyone in schools.

This disconnect can also take a toll on the mental health of teachers which is already declining in the current education climate. According to survey results from WeAreTeachers, 75% of teachers say their mental health is worse since the 2020-2021 school year. 

Perhaps most troubling of all, if you rush to fill an empty seat with just anyone, it can impact educational outcomes for students. If the teacher doesn’t fit into the overall teaching style and environment of the school, it can interfere with how well students perform and how happy they are. If less effort is put into instruction, teachers may not be able to connect with students and meet their enrichment needs.

Turnover Costs More Than Money

The costs of turnover can be steep. According to a calculator from The Learning Policy Institute, replacing just one teacher can cost between $9,000 and $21,000 depending on the school district. But the true cost of employee turnover has to be calculated in more than just dollars and cents. 

Losing talent strains remaining teachers and support staff. When there are revolving gaps in staffing for education, teachers often sacrifice their planning periods to fill in for other classes. Losing this time means that exponentially more planning has to occur at home, chipping away at teachers’ work-life balance. 

Longer hours take a significant toll on mental health and employee engagement. According to the survey from WeAreTeachers, 48% of teachers report working more hours than before the pandemic. The decline of work-life balance has the potential to cause even more educators to disconnect and consider looking for new opportunities. This rate of turnover can throw your organization into a tailspin applying more pressure on your hiring personnel to offer jobs to candidates in desperation. 

Of course, turnover comes at a cost to the quality of students’ education as well. Students may have to receive instruction from teachers who are not experts in certain subjects during transitions and gaps in hiring. This makes it harder for students to grasp certain concepts or to excel academically. These repercussions can quickly impact your school reputation and enrollment rate

If students don’t perform as well on assessments or report poor learning experiences overall, school funding and resources are often impacted. A school that earns a bad reputation for educational vigor because it can’t keep staff and students engaged often leads parents to look for alternative education choices.

Schools have a huge impact on their communities. Many people consider the reputation of the school district before deciding to move to a new area. If the school earns a poor reputation for low morale, student success and satisfaction, and staff retention, the development and value of the surrounding neighborhoods could be jeopardized. 

What Your Hiring Team Can Do

Improve the Candidate Experience

One way to avoid worst-case hiring scenarios while filling empty seats quickly is by improving the candidate experience. If you make your hiring process more inclusive, convenient, and personalized, you’ll organically attract top candidates who will be excited to join your team. 

A great first step is to simplify scheduling candidates for the interview. For educators who are already employed, scheduling can be especially tricky. An asynchronous interview format for the initial screen can make it easier to connect with busy teaching candidates without depriving them of their sparse and valuable free time.

First and foremost, be clear in your communication with candidates about the full scope and length of your process. If you set reasonable expectations early on you can prevent the right talent from dropping out of your process too soon.

One-way video interviews are a smart way to connect with education candidates. In a one-way video interview, you provide structured questions for candidates to answer through a video they record at their convenience. This process can take as little as 15 minutes. Your hiring team can accurately assess for fit through the video screening process from the first ‘meeting’ with no time wasted for candidates. 

After the initial screening process, live video interviews are a great next step to help you expand your talent pool past your own backyard. Teachers can breeze through the initial interviews from long distances, making it possible for you to find smart, capable talent willing to relocate but not close enough to come in for an early in-person meeting.

Live video interviews also allow more of your hiring decision-makers to weigh in with feedback on the exact same recorded responses. Streamlining this stage means fewer interviews for busy candidates. 

It’s critically important to focus on asking the right questions to earn the trust and confidence of your education candidates. Create a list of reliable, structured interview questions that screen for non-negotiable qualifications. This makes it easy to vet all candidates based on the same priority criteria for their job fit and satisfaction and your districts’ needs. Structured interview questions help to remove bias in the hiring process, improving equity and inclusion in your district.

Taking advantage of personalized communication during the process is another smart way of connecting with potential education hires. Making positive impressions and personal connections with teachers in the hiring process makes it easier to attract enthusiastic team players to work in your school. 

Basically, don’t send an automated email when you can create a real connection through a personalized message. No one wants to communicate with (or work for) a robot! Video messaging can be used to help candidates feel familiar with leadership and staff, and even give a glimpse into your workplace culture.

Finally, if you haven’t streamlined your evaluation process, it’s probably time to take a serious look at how you qualify candidates. Structuring evaluation criteria and streamlining feedback for smoother collaborative decision-making ensures candidates move through your fair hiring process faster. 

For instance, when sharing interview responses or videos, create an evaluation rubric you can share with your hiring team. If everyone is judging based on the same criteria, your team can make better decisions faster. Ensuring everyone in the decision-making process gets access to the same video interview responses and can see all feedback allows final decision-makers to make the most informed choices.

Getting everyone on the same page earlier and making decisions faster means you’re more likely to scoop up top talent before your competition. And most importantly, these talented educators will be happy in their roles – employees who will add and not detract from your workplace culture. 

Build Trust in the Virtual Process

At this point, teachers are very familiar with online video tools. For the past few years, a portion of their teaching has occurred over these tools, so you don’t likely have to worry about their familiarity with video interview technology. Depending on their experience with reliable tools and support, you may need to do a bit of work to build their confidence in your system. You can start with your current staff! 

It is a good idea, to get employee buy-in for updates to your hiring process. Share video introductions of candidates with current teachers who work close to the position or even have held it in the past to get employee feedback. This can help weed through initial candidates and drill down to the best people for the role while encouraging the use of video to streamline evaluations and communication. Getting employee support helps with gaining quality referrals and confidence in decision-makers. 

Video is a great way to show off your culture and school brand to prospective talent. Use video to create testimonials from current employees that you can use in the recruitment process. Meeting staff through video helps candidates get a better feel for the personalities and real people behind the job opportunity. This can help candidates identify if the job and work environment are a good fit for their skills and personality. 

A great byproduct of educators now being more comfortable with video is that it creates the opportunity to share more through video about school activities and events. While school leaders and teachers cannot usually post to social media with video footage of students, now that they’re more likely to be comfortable on camera they can use video to promote what’s happening at the school. This makes school news more accessible and personal, helping educators connect with parents and their local communities. 

Video can show off how hard your school is working to provide great educational outcomes and enriching experiences for students. Video brings a more personal touch to school events and learning projects. Best of all, these videos can enrich the whole education system and the relationships within it, while helping to rally community support behind the school district. 

This support makes your school more attractive to educators looking for their next great opportunity. This means more applications for your open positions and more top-tier talent excited to walk through your door. Once your school is an in-demand place to work, you’ll never again have to hire educators in desperation and risk hiring the wrong people again. 


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Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 6,000+ customers in over 100 countries.