Are You Thinking About Majoring in Education? A Few Things You May Want to Consider

Are You Thinking About Majoring in Education? A Few Things You May Want to Consider
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Is There a Teacher Shortage or Not?

Turn on the news or pick up a paper, and you’re likely to hear the same old mantra regarding the educational future of our nation’s children. We need better teachers… We need more qualified teachers… More, more, we need more teachers…

These words have planted the message in our heads that our entire nation is suffering from a teacher shortage – and that it’s not just any ol’ shortage either. It’s of epidemic proportions. Or is it?

Listen to the thousands – or, rather, tens of thousands – of recent education graduates and you’ll start to hear a different story. You’ll hear tales of qualified teachers sending out hundreds of resumes without getting a single interview request. School administrators talk about receiving over a thousand applications for a single job opening. Then, there are the stories about teacher layoffs, school closings and budget cuts.

So, what’s the real story? Is our nation suffering from a teacher shortage or not? Well, the answer is both yes and no – depending on how you look at the situation.

What Does the Bureau of Labor Statistics Have to Say?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the United States Department of Labor collects and analyzes huge amounts of data related to job market conditions, and regularly updates its Occupational Outlook Handbook with projected job growth rates, average wage information and a variety of other statistics of interest to job seekers.

As you can see in the chart above, the BLS projects that the average growth rate of all occupations from 2010 to 2020 will be 14%. The projected growth rate for grade school and middle school teachers is just slightly above average at 17%, and the growth rate for high school teachers is projected to be 7% over this same period.

Right off the bat, we can see that the projected growth for high school teaching jobs doesn’t look that great. While it may be positive at 7%, it’s still quite a bit lower than the average growth for all occupations. In addition, the growth rate for primary and middle school teaching jobs may look good at first, but it’s actually only slightly above average. Plus, one of the assumptions these growth rates are based on is somewhat questionable…

What’s Driving These Projections?

Lots of factors are used to arrive at these projected job growth rates, but there are two key assumptions that play a primary role:

  • Overall student enrollment will increase from 2010 to 2020.
  • The student-to-teacher ratio will continue to decline.

The first supposition is very much related to general population growth, and assumes that homeschooling and other up-and-coming alternative education options won’t put that much of a dent in traditional school enrollment. It also incorporates drop-out rates and other factors that some may not agree with, but in general, I believe that most people are willing to accept that our nation will have more primary and secondary students in 2020 than it did in 2010.

However, in my mind, the second assumption is highly questionable. The idea here is that if the student-to-teacher ratio keeps going down, each teacher will be responsible for fewer students. So, even if enrollment numbers remained constant, we’d need more teachers to accommodate the same number of students. With looming budget cuts, advances in technology and the constant push to learn how to do more with less, can we really assume that this ratio will continue to decline?

In fact, without a significant increase in education funding, isn’t it more likely that this ratio will start to rise again? And, if the student-to-teacher ratio does increase rather than decline, how will that affect projected teaching job growth rates?

Geography and Specialty

Even if we do accept the projections from the BLS, they’re definitely not all-inclusive. Certain geographical areas may currently be experiencing teacher shortages and those issues may become more severe as student enrollments rise, but other parts of the country have a pronounced over-supply of teachers.

More specifically, many southern and western states are reporting that they are in need of teachers, but several northeastern states are considered to be “teacher exporters.” That is, the northeast area of the nation is producing far more teachers than needed to fill vacant positions, and recent education graduates are being encouraged to relocate if they want to find a job in their field of study.

Likewise, a teacher’s area of specialty plays a major role in the supply-and-demand equation. Teachers with expertise in special education, ESL, math and science are generally in more demand, but even that depends on state and local needs. For more details on what types of teachers are needed in different localities across the nation, download the Department of Education’s 137-page Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide List.

What’s the Verdict?

The bottom line is that our nation will continue to need teachers – but the questions of how many and what types are still a little fuzzy. If you’re thinking about pursuing a teaching degree, be sure to do a little research first. Find out where teachers are most needed, and decide if you would be willing to relocate to any of those areas if you can’t find a job in your ideal school district.

Also, pay close attention to which disciplines are in demand. Want to study special education? You’ll probably have a lot easier time finding a teaching job. More interested in teaching history to high school students? In that case, you may want to have a back-up plan in place.


  • [2] “Digest of Education Statistics: 2011.” National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Source
  • [1] “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Source
  • [2] “Digest of Education Statistics: 2011.” National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Source.