But times have changed. Dramatically. These days as more and older teachers retire, and interest in the teaching profession has cooled, many districts are scrambling to find and hire qualified teachers. Whereas once teachers faced a highly competitive labor market, now there are state teacher shortages and subject area shortages leaving districts woefully understaffed in many of their schools.

On a national level, the situation facing school districts has become so severe, the United States Department of Education has officially identified Teacher Shortage Areas (TSA). A TSA is defined as a subject matter or grade level within a state with a shortage of elementary or secondary teachers. Shortage areas also exist in underserved communities where the pay and conditions are less attractive and teacher shortages contribute to equity concerns in high poverty and high-minority areas. This further impacts disadvantaged students. For a nationwide list of TSAs visit the list provided by National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services (NCPSSERS) .

Here is what you should know about teacher shortages and job market disparities in the teaching profession:

Area and State Shortages: Teacher shortages are impacted by a range of factors such as cost of living, wages, and differences in working conditions. These factors vary substantially by state and city, and by school districts. As you consider your job prospects, you may want to think about where you want to reside, and where you want to teach. You will find that disparities in salary and work environments exist. This can create different job markets and impact your prospects for employment.

Teaching Subject Shortages: State and districts are also experiencing shortages by subject teaching areas. According to the Department of Education, in the 2015 – 2106 school year, DC and 40 other states reported shortages in science, 48 states and the District of Columbia (DC) experienced shortages in special education. DC and 42 other states had shortages in mathematics. The teacher shortage in both special education and mathematics is considered is especially severe. The demand for teacher in these subjects is especially high.

Emergency Certification and Alternative Pathways to Certification

As schools grapple with the teacher shortage crisis some states are taking a teach first, get certified later approach. They are granting emergency teacher certificates, a limited certificate that allows individuals with a BA to immediately start teaching while they pursue credentialing.

Emergency certification has become a somewhat obsolete solution as numerous alternative paths to becoming a certified teacher are now fairly commonplace. Alternative pathways commonly take a similar teach-first approach by allowing newbie teachers to immediately begin teaching with an initial license (you will need a BA from an accredited college or university to get started on this fast path) as they complete a teacher educator training program. These programs can typically be completed in just one year. Like emergency certification, alternative pathways are a helpful option because they provide future teachers flexibility and a fast track to becoming a credentialed teacher. However, if you plan on teaching in Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Wisconsin or Oklahoma these states do offer emergency certification.

Sign-On Bonuses, Perks and State and District Incentives

Many states and districts have started to throw the kind of salary perks into their employment packages more typically associated with job offers in other industries. For example, some Maryland schools now offer sign-on bonuses, tuition reimbursement and even laptops to come teach in their schools.

Other districts are finding creative ways to increase compensation for teachers with performance based incentives. For example, the District of Columbia public school offers IMPACTplus. Here teachers can receive annual bonuses upon an implemented teacher evaluation system. In Colorado’s Harrison School District Two, under the Effectiveness and Results Plan., teachers can earn pay raises that correspond to student achievement and teacher performance.

Pursue a Masters – The Higher the Level of Education, the Higher the Salary

In the teaching profession, higher earning potential is tied to the higher level of education a teacher pursues. One way teachers benefit from this is to pursue continuing education credits. This not only has a positive impact on salary, but may also satisfy ongoing licensing requirements.

But for the best bang for your buck and a direct path to professional development, it may be worthwhile to pursue your masters. According to US. News and World Report, teachers who have a masters earn a salary that is on average $20,000 higher than those with a bachelor’s degree. Not only is the masters considered a badge of honor in the teaching profession, but a master’s in education or a master’s in education leadership allows teachers to move from classroom work into education leadership or administration where there may be greater rewards. Educators with a masters can also teach at a community college.

Fortunately, earning a masters is more manageable than ever. Many online masters of education programs now feature the same rigor, accreditation and requirement-readiness curriculum as their on-campus peers but with the convenience and flexibility that online study provides. Further, the process of earning the degree through an online program can be completed in about the same time as a post-Baccalaureate program. As an incentive, whether you pursue an online or on-campus master’s degree, many districts offer partial or full reimbursement to those teachers pursing a more advanced degree.

Happy Teachers

What does this all mean for you? It means that with national teacher shortages a recurring problem in American classrooms, new teachers are likely to find themselves in high demand.

As you ponder whether the teaching professions is right for you, and what path is best, be sure to consider demand, salary range by area and subject, perks like tuition reimbursement and the level of education you want to pursue.

Nedda
Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.