Overcoming Shortage of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
We have a growing demand for Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in both rural and urban areas in the United States. Both deaf schools and mainstream schools are continually looking to fill vacant teaching positions as demonstrated on various job search sites. Studies showed a significant increase in the number of deaf and hard of hearing children and adolescents in the country as the U.S. population grows; however, the number of future educators being prepared to teach deaf and hard of hearing students has remained stagnant. Some have argued that there is a decline in the number of individuals seeking to become Teachers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing. We also have teachers planning their retirement in the near future which will affect the job market across the country.
It is without any doubt that we have a shortage of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in both quantity and diversity. It is increasingly difficult to build appropriate educational resources to meet the needs and demands of widely dispersed, ethnically diverse deaf and hard of hearing students, many of whom have a secondary disability.
Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in high demand
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is expected to be an increased demand for special education teachers, including Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing of approximately 20 percent in the next decade. However, states and school districts across the nation are facing shortages of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and will be unable to meet this need.
There are many theories as to why we have a shortage of teachers as cited throughout the literature. Some say that we have a shortage because of the distribution of teachers. More specifically, we do not have enough teachers who are both qualified and willing to teach in urban and rural schools. The student enrollment is on an upward trend, and it is expected to grow by 3 million in the next decade which means we will have more deaf and hard of hearing students and fewer individuals are entering the teaching profession which contributes to the teacher shortage.
Others have argued that it is not an insufficient production of qualified teacher candidates that cause the shortage, but rather the high rates of turnover in teachers due to low retention. It has been reported that the United States loses about 8% of its teachers annually. Other studies revealed that other factors exacerbated the teacher shortage including inadequate pay and poor work environments, insufficient teacher preparation and mentoring, poor or lack of administrative support, rigid accountability policies, no input in school decision-making, and inadequate learning and collaboration opportunities.
Retention difficulties for quality Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Some studies revealed that approximately a quarter of new teachers depart from the teaching profession within four years. More specifically, the turnover of teachers is more common in special education. Interestingly, the teacher turnover rates showed that the most skilled teachers leave the teaching field at a much higher rate. Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing who are newly hired are regularly faced with burdensome workloads or job requirements. The U.S. Department of Education explained that many teachers are often placed with the most difficult students, asked to teach several subjects that they are not certified in, and to oversee extracurricular activities. This occurrence is likely more prevalent with the Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing working in schools with smaller deaf and hard of hearing programs. In addition, each deaf or hard of hearing student has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that has to be updated yearly. There are so many student evaluations to complete and meetings to attend, in addition to the grading and lesson planning done by general education teachers, taking away from actually teaching deaf and hard of hearing students. It makes sense then, that many Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing become tired of this additional required documentation and eventually leave the profession.
Implications for the shortage of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
This shortage of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a significant and direct impact on the quality of education that students receive. School administrators who face difficulties in recruiting and hiring qualified job candidates tend to do these three things: (1) employ unqualified teachers, (2) place teachers trained in different fields to teach in short-staffed areas, or (3) heavily rely on substitute teachers. In addition, many schools resorted to hiring teachers with minimal skills in American Sign Language (ASL) or assigning educational interpreters to cover this gap. Deaf and hard of hearing students who work with teachers who are less qualified can have a profound negative impact on achievement and language acquisition that last a lifetime for many students.
Regardless the reasons for the teacher shortage, one thing is clear: unless federal and state policymakers take action, the shortage will become more severe and will contribute to devastating consequences for deaf and hard of hearing students. The consequences may include: (1) closing deaf and hard of hearing educational programs across the United States; (2) expanding class sizes by combining younger and older deaf and hard of hearing children in same classrooms; (3) using a revolving door of substitutes; (4) assigning teachers outside of their field of competence; (5) recruiting and employing untrained teachers; or (6) heavy reliance on educational interpreters, just to name a few. In the end, it is the deaf and hard of hearing students who have the most to lose.
What can states and school districts do to recruit Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and retain them for the long term? Here are some possible strategies provided that federal and state grant dollars are guaranteed through legislative action:
Fund and expand high-quality introductory programs for both aspiring and newly graduated Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Such programs not only will encourage new teachers to stay in the profession, but also enable them to become competent more quickly. The introductory programs can also include peer mentoring that focuses on improving the performance of new teachers and providing professional training opportunities to them.
Develop a strong preparation program (whether it is at the state or national level) for aspiring Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to help them pass certification or eligibility exams and other state requirements to obtain a teacher’s license.
Increase salaries for Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and set up pay scales that compensate qualified teachers who accepted specialized roles and additional responsibilities. Also, the states or school districts should reward those willing to teach in high-need locations by giving them higher salaries and possibly sign-on bonuses and relocation stipends.
Provide scholarships or forgivable loans that underwrite preparation for Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, particularly those who will work in high-need locations in exchange for a 3- to 5-year service commitment.
Retain talented and seasoned Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with tailored or advanced professional development opportunities, including paid mentoring opportunities to work with new teachers.
Adopt policies that allow input from Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in administrative decision-making at their respective schools. Studies showed that teachers having a strong say over school’s policymaking and greater autonomy in the classroom improves their commitment to teaching.
Grow your own teachers by creating a teacher pipeline with deaf education programs across the country. Create guaranteed internship slots or teacher residency programs for aspiring future Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to gain work experience. Ensure that the teacher residency programs pair interns with experienced teacher mentors and provide more classroom-based training and experience.
Post Deaf and Hard of Hearing teacher job opportunities on deaf job boards that target aspiring teachers. Niche job boards usually draw more qualified job candidates than general job boards.
Ensure competitive pay in step increases, including enticements to allow Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to have affordable housing, particularly in the urban areas, as well as childcare, and paid opportunities to teach part-time or mentor after retirement.
Develop or strengthen administrator training programs to develop principals and school administrators for deaf education programs to ensure positive and dynamic teaching and learning environments for Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of hearing, which will have a significant influence on a teacher’s decisions to stay in the field.
If we care about reducing teacher shortages and improving the quality of education for all deaf and hard of hearing students—we must act on the strategies listed above to overcome shortages of Teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing students have the best possible access to quality instructors who are trained, treated fairly, and well compensated for their work.