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Meet the Need for Teachers in Urban and Rural Schools

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic caused systemic shifts in school districts across the U.S., school administrators faced teacher shortages caused by various factors, including low pay and student debt. The pandemic deepened existing challenges facing lower-income, urban and rural school districts, including escalating educator shortages and teacher burnout.

Through Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Urban Education with a concentration in English program, graduates pick up the tools they need to simultaneously thrive within a changing educational environment and help students achieve their academic goals.

The Teacher Shortage in Urban and Rural Schools

Public school districts of all sizes and demographics reported struggling to hire teachers heading into the 2023-2024 school year, with 45% of all public schools stating they were understaffed.

While the problem has slightly improved since 2022, districts serving high-poverty or high numbers of students of color have faced the brunt of the hiring issues in both rural and urban areas. Federal data indicates that special education, science, math and foreign language teachers are among the most challenging positions to fill.

The challenge can appear puzzling. As researcher Chad Aldeman pointed out to NPR, there are more teachers nationally than before the COVID-19 pandemic. School enrollment has also dropped in the years since the height of the pandemic. However, districts serving economically disadvantaged students struggle to compete with more affluent communities that can offer higher pay or student debt forgiveness to new hires.

When districts can’t find enough qualified teachers for vacant positions, they often must increase class sizes, reduce the courses or after-school programs they offer, or hire employees without teaching certifications. These teachers often lack the training or experience necessary to handle students facing challenges in the classroom and at home, leading to higher rates of turnover that hurt student achievement.

In addition, teachers who come from lower-income backgrounds may see a teaching career as unfeasible because of the potential debt from paying for a four-year degree. This fear of lingering student debt removes many potential teachers from the pipeline.

Teacher Training and Support

Teachers face an array of challenges in and outside the classroom. Many school districts are deploying solutions to help educators find the support and training they need for successful careers. Some districts offer competitive salaries and loan forgiveness programs that reward teachers who have pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees, according to the Brookings Institution.

Other districts offer teacher residencies, where a candidate for a teaching position is paired with an experienced mentor educator for a full year of co-teaching in a K-12 classroom. Teacher residents are paid a stipend to learn the ins and outs of navigating the campus environment and often serve in different roles — including substitutes, tutors or teaching assistants — over a year.

Participation in residency programs leads to reduced teacher turnover and a more diverse pool of educators who are better prepared to succeed in their first five years of teaching. Teachers can also seek support from organizations like Save the Children, which offers resources to understaffed schools, such as tutoring rotations.

This method brings in experienced tutors to provide attention to individuals and small groups throughout the school day, allowing educators to continue teaching lessons as planned without letting students fall behind. The in-classroom support also alleviates teacher burnout by spreading out the responsibilities of instruction and classroom management to multiple qualified educators.

Learn Tools for Success in the Classroom With Norfolk State University

Students in Norfolk State’s online M.A. in Urban Education with a concentration in English program learn skills to teach in urban school environments while developing subject matter expertise in English grammar and writing.

Courses like Organizational Behavior in Classroom Society and Multicultural Concepts and Perspectives prepare graduates to educate students of diverse backgrounds and pursue successful, long-term careers in teaching.

Learn more about Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts in Urban Education with a concentration in English program.

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