Schools face shortage of teachers
As the school year draws to a close in Missouri, most teachers are more than ready for the summer break, as the lingering covid-19 pandemic has added extra stress the past couple school years and a looming teacher shortage is brewing like storm clouds on the horizon.
Recent news stories of 650 vacant teaching positions in the Springfield public school system draws attention to a bigger statewide crisis in the making, one that Ozark County is not immune from: a teacher shortage.
The Missouri State Board of Education has been keeping an eye on the looming shortage and has formed a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission to get ahead of the issue.
The problem is recruitment and retention of teachers. Not enough people are studying to become teachers. In fact, the number of people enrolled in educator preparation programs across the state has declined nearly 30 percent over the last decade. At the same time, too many current teachers are leaving the profession. By their fifth year of teaching, over half of new teachers leave their career in education.
At least in Missouri, teacher pay is one clear reason why people are no longer attracted to the profession and also why many choose to leave their career. Missouri is last in the nation in average starting teacher salary ($32,970), and 44th in the nation in average teacher salary ($50,817). Missouri has nearly 70,000 teachers, and just over 4,000 of them currently earn a salary between $25,000 and $35,000.
Ozark County, which is usually isolated from such trends, is starting to feel it, too.
At Gainesville, Superintendent Justin Gilmore said the district has five certified vacancies.
“We have been very fortunate to fill many of our other vacancies that included certified and classified positions,” Gilmore said. “High school math, English, science, and band/choir have notoriously been very difficult positions to fill. These positions have been next to impossible to find certified staff to hire. Gainesville has effectively recruited many different teachers and administrators over the years but that is becoming increasingly difficult,” Gilmore said. “All of the schools in the area are vying for the same group of teachers and administrators.”
Dora Superintendent Allen Woods said he thinks the real crisis hasn’t even reached Ozark County yet. “I think the teaching shortage is not even here yet,” Woods said. “Things are going to get worse before they get better.”
Bakersfield Superintendent Amy Britt said that teachers’ plates are full and overflowing, and their paychecks have not kept up with their added duties and worries.
Britt said Missouri is facing a critical shortage, not just in teachers, but in all areas of education.
Britt pointed to five things that have led to the shortage:
1. Low teacher salary.
2. Lack of respect for the profession.
3. Responsibility for all areas regarding raising children, including providing basic needs such as food and clothing.
4. Other responsibilities that exceed teacher training such as mental health, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence.
5. Pressure on educators from all sides.
“I work with educators who use their own money to provide for the needs of kids,” Britt said. “I work with educators who lose sleep worrying about the safety and well-being of students in their charge.”
Britt said most teachers she knows are more concerned about the success of their students than they are their paychecks.
“Yes, this is a challenging time in education, but we have been through challenges before,” Britt said. “Covid presented an unprecedented challenge, but we faced it with perseverance and determination to do whatever we could for our kids. This teacher shortage is real, but this challenge is different and will take all of us to get through it. With this challenge, comes an opportunity and the community plays a huge part. Supporting educators, believing they are doing what is in the best interest of the student, and working with schools as a team is the best way to provide an excellent education to our community’s future,” Britt said.
It’s going to be an uphill battle because, as one statewide survey puts it, teachers are stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed,
About half of 2,800 teachers surveyed by the Missouri State Teachers Association said they consider leaving the profession often. The respondents included both new and veteran teachers in grades K-12.