Can returning teachers provide a solution to the Texas teacher shortage?

A female teacher smiles as she leads four young students through a school hallway with large sunny windows.

Hiring and retaining teachers is one of the most important issues facing public education today. Three-quarters of current Texas teachers are seriously considering leaving their jobs, according to the most recent Charles Butt Foundation Texas Teacher Poll. That number is up from 58 percent in 2020, the first year the Texas Teacher Poll was administered. The teacher attrition rate, which represents how many teachers leave the field each year, has increased from its steady rate of 10-11 percent for years to a historic high of more than 13 percent in 2022-23, according to Texas Education Agency (TEA) data

Addressing the challenges facing the teaching profession requires a multi-pronged approach. Higher education institutions and teacher preparation programs are preparing future teachers to enter the profession. School administrators are working to hire new teachers and replace teachers who leave and retire. And importantly, school leaders, researchers, and education advocates are working to highlight why teachers are leaving so the crisis does not worsen. 

Amid all these efforts, the Charles Butt Foundation explored the following questions: 

  • Can returning teachers (teachers who previously left the classroom and chose to return to the profession) provide much-needed support to the teaching profession by replacing teachers who have recently departed? What are the motivations of returning teachers? 
  • What are their experiences upon returning? 
  • What can we learn about this unique subset of teachers, and can they provide a solution to the teacher shortage? 

The Motivations of Returning Teachers 

The 2023 Charles Butt Foundation Texas Teacher Poll surveyed a total of 1,029 Texas teachers. Of those, 240 individuals reported they at one point left their job as a public school teacher and have returned. These teachers were asked about their main reason for returning to the profession in an open-ended question. The Charles Butt Foundation Learning & Impact team analyzed their responses using qualitative research analysis methods. They found five primary reasons teachers chose to return to the profession: 

1. Job Security

Respondents shared that job security in the form of a reliable and steady paycheck and a fixed schedule was a primary reason to return to the classroom. 

2. A More Accommodating Schedule 

Teacher Poll respondents who cited schedules as a reason for returning emphasized comparable teaching and caretaking schedules. 

3. Opportunities to Reconnect with the School Community 

Many returning teachers reported returning to the classroom to reconnect with the broader school community. In our research, the research team coded these opportunities as reestablishing their communication, connection, and positive impact on students, communities, and the teaching profession.

4. Seeking Fulfillment and Purpose

Teachers described their decision to return as an attempt to seek fulfillment and purpose through teaching. Teachers sought opportunities to connect their careers to what was meaningful to them, be intrinsically motivated in their day-to-day work, and pursue their professional goals. 

5. Pursuing a Better Experience at a Different School or District 

Mobility among various school environments is a benefit some teachers reported taking advantage of to seek better opportunities or a healthier school environment. 

Challenges Faced by Returning Teachers and Current Teachers Alike 

Understanding the motivations for why teachers returned to the classroom is only one window into the teacher experience and its relationship to the teacher shortage crisis. 

Many teachers reported returning to the classroom and experiencing the same challenges (or even new ones) that initially caused them to leave the profession in the first place. These experiences, combined with the overwhelming number of current teachers who say they have seriously considered leaving the profession, confirm the urgent need to address the structural, cultural, and systemic challenges teachers experience. 

Studies highlight that early career teachers experience stress from a lack of district support, low salary wages, increased workload, and poor relationships with staff and administrative leadership (Bartanen & Kwok, 2023; Rosenblatt et al., 2019; Tompkins, 2023). Research has shown that teachers leave for a variety of reasons. In recent years, teachers have emphasized having limited resources to support diverse student populations, not being advocated for by administrative leadership, and having insubstantial opportunities for mentorship throughout their employment (Rosenblatt et al., 2019; Tompkins, 2023).

Texas Teachers Share What is Needed to Improve the Profession 

As reported by the 2022 and 2023 Charles Butt Foundation Texas Teacher Polls, teachers say pay and burnout are their top stressors. When explicitly asked about support they need, teachers shared the following imperatives: 

  • Increase teacher salaries (96 percent; 2023) 
  • Support teachers in handling student discipline (94 percent; 2023) 
  • Take teachers’ opinions into account when setting school policies (94 percent; 2023)  
  • Give teachers autonomy as classroom leaders (94 percent; 2023) 
  • Advocate for teachers in interactions with parents and the community (93 percent; 2023)  
  • Provide adequate supplies and equipment (92 percent; 2023) 
  • Provide adequate campus security (92 percent; 2023) 
  • Manage the amount of non-instructional tasks and responsibilities given to teachers (91 percent; 2023)
  • Provide adequate support staff (91 percent; 2023) 
  • Funding to assist students with mental health needs (86 percent; 2023) 
  • A schedule with more planning time (85 percent; 2022) 
  • District-wide days off for teacher and student well-being (85 percent; 2022) 

Supporting All Teachers to Benefit Texas 

In conclusion, teachers returning to the profession do so for various reasons, highlighting many of the benefits of teaching. These findings of the Charles Butt Foundation’s research indicate, however, that while returning and current teachers have a desire for impact in the teaching profession, they need support with improved working conditions to continue fulfilling their purpose as Texas educators. For returning teachers to be one of the solutions to the teacher shortage, education stakeholders must address the structural, cultural, and systemic challenges teachers identified. All teachers–returning, current, and future–deserve a well-supported and fulfilling career; this will benefit our teachers, students, schools, and the state of Texas.