Leading in precarious markets : teacher shortages and organizational stability in schools
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Teacher shortages are an ongoing problem in many state and local teacher labor markets. Research suggests teacher shortages are linked to state educational policies governing teacher salary, accountability, school funding, or teacher licensure and certification. Indeed, these policies can lead to a teacher shortage policy environment inducing teacher exit or discourage entry into the field. Shortages have significantly reshaped teacher labor markets in recent years with states like Oklahoma at the forefront. However, less is understood about school leaders’ sensemaking processes and actions in these environments, particularly as waves of teacher protest accompany shortages in many states. By exploring the teacher shortage landscape in Oklahoma, this study investigates school leaders’ understanding of shortages and examines the human resource management practices used to recruit, hire, and organize teachers for long-term retention. Additionally, with little attention paid to how school leaders make staffing decisions and set hiring priorities among various types of shortages, this study attends to shortages related to: (1) context-based shortages in schools serving students of color and low-income students; (2) the shortage of racially and ethnically diverse teachers; and (3) shortages in specific content or subject areas. Drawing from an interdisciplinary theoretical approach inclusive of cultural political economy, precarity, and sensemaking perspectives, this study focuses on the state and local teacher shortage environments in which school leaders are embedded. The study uses an embedded, single case design and includes document analysis and semi-structured interviews with 25 school leaders as data sources. Findings contribute to the field of educational leadership, teacher labor market studies, and education policy. Specifically, the study adds new conceptualizations of principals’ recruitment and hiring practices in shortage contexts. Evidence shows principals developed various coping strategies and mechanisms to navigate teacher selection processes in this environment. As a driver of teacher shortages, the state’s policy environment destabilized the local labor market in ways that significantly impacted school leaders’ practices and their capacity to retain teachers. This research offers implications for schools experiencing inequitable distribution of teachers and chronic turnover as overall findings reveal the hidden effects of shortages on school leadership and organizational functioning.