In the midst of the longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history, worker shortages across many industries are the norm. Education is no different. America is experiencing a shortage of teachers at all levels of the K-12 system. We are losing teachers due to retirement of baby boomers and because others are simply leaving the profession after years of less-than-ideal conditions. At the same time, fewer young people are choosing to become teachers.
Our country and our local communities must get ahead of this issue for the sake of our economic and civic health. If left unchecked, this trend threatens to strike at the heart of our communities – our kids’ futures and our quality of life.
Coming up short
The shortage can be felt in the classroom. Thirty or more states have teacher shortages in English as a second language, foreign language, science, special education and math, according to a June 2018 survey by All Education Schools.
The shortage also can be felt in terms of perceptions of the field. For the first time since 1969, more people answered no (54%) than yes (46%) when asked if they would like their child to become a teacher. As recently as 2009, 70% of parents asked this question said yes.
Our state faces its own education challenges. Missouri ranks 49th in average starting teacher salary, according to Niche.com, a comprehensive education data tracking site. Nearly one-third of teachers in the state have less than five years’ experience, meaning there are fewer seasoned teachers in classrooms. Younger teachers are filling the gap, but – as with so many other sectors of the economy – there aren’t enough.
Not what it used to be
A 2017 survey by Education Week found that teachers cited four challenges when it came to both recruitment and retention: salary, school climate, autonomy and leadership support.
Boosting salaries and supporting our teachers will go a long way toward stemming the tide. Certified teachers in the state of Missouri are required to have a bachelor’s degree, and their starting salary should recognize this academic achievement. Because this is fundamentally tied to public funding, this is ultimately a political issue. It’s no wonder we’ve seen record numbers of teachers running for office nationwide. At least 177 current teachers filed to run for state legislative seats in 2018, an Education Week analysis found. At least 43 current teachers won their races.
Teachers want the autonomy to put their training to work creating curricula within their specialty that works for their students. They also want to know their leadership will support them.
But of these top challenges, school climate might be most important. Lockdown drills are the norm today, and respect for the field has wavered. If teachers don’t feel they’re valued for the greater societal role they fill, then it’s that much harder to work in an already tough environment.
Stemming the tide
A big-picture solution that offers varied opportunities to respond to the challenges is a step in the right direction. Some ideas embraced nationally by educator preparation programs include:
• Grow Your Own programs that encourage local youth to become teachers in their hometown schools. Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education created a resource guide for districts to use to create their own teacher pipelines, and this year, Drury University is collaborating with the Monett School District to encourage more local Latinos to choose teaching as a career.
• Alternative certification programs for nontraditional students seeking initial certification. These programs are approved by the state. The second-largest teacher shortage content area in Missouri is special education, which is why we established the Drury Alternative Track to Special Education. Practicum requirements are completed in the school in which the student is employed as a paraprofessional or on a provisional certificate.
• Civic engagement. Teacher education programs that engage with local nonprofit organizations have the opportunity to expose the profession to the public. Good teachers have a deep understanding of their community’s contextual factors and recognize the importance of collaboration. Springfield currently is focusing a lot of energy on placemaking – ensuring this is the kind of community that attracts new, often younger, workers. We know jobs go where the people are in today’s economy.
Great schools help lay the foundation for great communities, and well-prepared and supported teachers are at the heart of these schools. Springfield and Missouri can gain a competitive advantage if we can address this issue.
Shannon Cuff is dean of the school of education and child development at Drury University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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