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3.1 Recruitment: Who Teaches, and Why?

Here’s what 4 out of 5 elementary grade teachers have in common, still.

Teacher-green-wall (1)
Attracting talented people to the teaching profession in sufficient numbers has become difficult in California. Part of the challenge is demographic.

Women comprise more than 80% of the teaching workforce in elementary grades

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regularly surveys the demographics of teachers. Women comprise more than 80% of the teaching workforce in elementary grades and more than half of it in secondary grades. This ratio has remained stable for generations. In 1964, more than half of working women with college degrees were teachers. By 1996, however, the ranks of working college-educated women had grown dramatically. The teaching profession’s share of educated women’s work had fallen to 15%.

Teaching is a Choice

With increased professional options for women, the teaching profession has struggled to attract the strongest candidates. In the 1960s, about a quarter of all female teachers graduated in the top 10% of their college class. By the 1990’s, only a tenth did so.

K-12 education is very labor-intensive, and therefore expensive. Staff-related costs (wages and benefits) are by far the largest category of expense in the school system. As the US economy has grown more productive, wages for jobs requiring a college degree have risen at about twice the rate of inflation. Teacher pay, which has merely kept pace with inflation in the last 40 years, has failed to keep up with this trend.

Wages for jobs requiring a college degree have risen at about twice the rate of inflation. Teacher pay has merely kept pace with it.

Average teacher pay, adjusted for inflation, has changed very little since 1970. (NCES data adjusted for CPI, 2012 dollars)

Average teacher pay, adjusted for inflation, has changed very little since 1970. (NCES data adjusted for CPI, 2012 dollars)


Average Teacher Salary Compared to Average Income per Capita, selected states 1970-2012.  (Sources: NCES,

Average teacher pay has not kept pace with overall rising income per capita since 1970. (Sources: NCES, Census) Additional charts like these are available on EdSource. 


Teaching is Attracting Fewer Top Students in America

Ultimately, the supply of teachers depends on the attractiveness of the teaching profession. As these demographic changes have taken place, teaching has become less attractive relative to alternative professions.

In an analysis of 2001 data, McKinsey, a consultancy, compared teachers in the US with top-achieving school systems such as Finland, Singapore, and South Korea. They found that these education-focused countries consistently attract teachers from the top ranks of college graduates, and that teachers in these countries earn salaries comparable to lawyers and engineers. In the US, by contrast, they found that teaching disproportionately attracts graduates from the bottom third of college graduates.


Research by ACT in 2015 confirms the conclusion. Many high school students take the ACT exam as part of the process of applying for college. Along with the exam, students are asked to fill out a survey indicating their interest in various college majors. “Interest among ACT-tested graduates in becoming educators continues to decline at an alarming rate,” reports ACT in its 2015 Conditions of Future Educators. “Students interested in education have lower-than-average achievement levels, particularly in STEM areas.” The declining interest in education as a profession is more acute in California than in other states. Nationally, ACT found that about five percent of those taking the ACT test were interested in teaching or other education-related professions. In California, only three percent expressed interest in education-related work.

To overcome this macroeconomic challenge to the attractiveness of teaching, take a direct approach. If you want brilliant people to become teachers, ask them. They might say yes. The most prominent example of this strategy is national college-campus recruiting powerhouse Teach for America, which actively recruits top talent from top colleges to begin their careers by teaching at least for two years.

Teaching is not always a first career, however. For example, California-based Encorps (founded by a former member of Full Circle Fund) recruits talent among experienced professionals who want a meaningful next career. If you’re wondering whether teaching is for you, and what would be involved in making a career switch, have a look at Teacher.org.

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  • ckocivar@mac.com says:

    ACT’s National Condition of Future Educators 2015 Report continues disturbing news about our future teachers.

    Key Findings

    1. “Interest among ACT-tested graduates in becoming educators continues to decline at an alarming rate. Of the more than 1.9 million students who took the ACT in 2015, fewer than 88,000 students indicated an interest in education majors or professions.”

    2. “Students interested in education have lower-than- average achievement levels, particularly in STEM areas.”

    3.”Interest in pursuing an education career is low among males.”

    4. “In general, there is a lack of diversity among students interested in education. ”

    Read the full report: http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Future-Educators-2015.pdf

  • ckocivar@mac.com says:

    Want to take a closer look at the teacher shortage in your county?

    The Learning Policy Institute provides an interactive map where you can check out teacher shortage indicators.


  • ckocivar@mac.com says:

    Add this to your list of programs to watch:

    Videos on the Emerging California Teacher Shortage

    From PACE–Policy Analysis of California Education
    New evidence on the scale of California’s emerging teacher shortage
    New approaches to teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention

  • riledup2010@gmail.com says:

    It’s a shame that not all teachers choose to be teachers because it’s their passion. Many people become teachers because they can basically become teachers no matter what their degree is in. Teaching seems to be a good option when you are out of options. Given the state of California’s financial support of education, I cant imagine that we will ever recruit the most qualified people to teach our children.

  • hetds@yahoo.com says:

    How does one determine the “best” teacher candidates?

    Subject matter experts are all too often the poorest of teachers since they are too far away knowledge-wise from their students. They lack patience and empathy.

    Visit Lev Vygotsky and learn about the ZOPED.

    Why should a Kindergarten teacher have to pass College Algebra before being credentialed?

  • ptalisa@aol.com says:

    Men are scared because kids can blame them for stuff they didn’t do. I have seen this happen to 2 men teachers and guess what after it hit the paper and the police checked it all out and found the men didn’t do wrong. No parents wanted their kids in the class. So if their was a way to teach the men teachers who to protect them self I think more would do it

  • Tay Fe says:

    Many teachers complete the educational requirements but are not able to sign a contract. These teachers remain under a preliminary credential until the complete a beginning teacher induction program (BTSA) which if they do not have students they are not able to apply and receive a regular credential. The BTSA induction program needs to be rethought,

  • digalameda@gmail.com says:

    Becoming a teacher is much more difficult than you think and it is literally a series of hoops to jump through. As I went through my credential program, the more intelligent and competent students found other jobs while the less competent stuck it out to get their credential. At times people think “if can’t do something else, I can always teach”. I asked myself several times “is this person really going to be a teacher?”

    The best teachers I have come across are not the ones fresh out of college but the ones who are on their second or third career with real career experience!

  • jenzteam@yahoo.com says:

    Can’t answer this one. Perhaps men are more motivated to be a higher wage earner? Women tend to be more nurturing, however just like the nursing profession this has shifted over the years. Male teachers should be recruited heavily as there are so many boys who lack a father figure.

  • Jeff Camp says:

    While there is plenty of reason to worry about whether top students find teaching an attractive profession, there is also reason to hope that the specific claim that “teachers come disproportionately from the bottom third of college graduates” may turn out to be a #myth. http://hechingerreport.org/debunking-one-myth-about-u-s-teachers/ points to an informative working paper from Goldhaber and Walch at the University of Washington. Using a combination of statistical sources, they describe a much more nuanced picture of the dynamics of the teaching population. http://www.cedr.us/papers/working/CEDR%20WP%202013-4.pdf

  • CM says:

    One idea to explore might be: Invite successful professionals from various walks of life to teach in classrooms. Many universities do that. Try that in high schools too.

    • hetds@yahoo.com says:

      Georgia recruited Math. Teachers from Germany to teach in hS.

      They lasted one year!

      Not everyone can or should teach.

    • Jeff Camp says:

      Hi, Hetds — if you have a link to information about Georgia’s program, please add it to your comment. Thanks!