I have been an educator for the last 33 years. I started as a paraprofessional in a second-grade classroom. Then I went on to be a literacy specialist and eventually a district instructional specialist.
Now, I am a professor who works with undergraduate and graduate students striving to become teachers. My students know that I think teaching is the best job in the world. I have loved every job I have held in the education setting. I would say the most rewarding part of teaching is getting to know your students’ strengths and helping them learn and grow over time.
Now is a great time to go into teaching. Many teachers who started at the same time as I did have retired from the public schools. So, there are lots of openings right now. Area districts are hiring teachers at a fast pace. Springfield Public Schools hired about 300 new teachers this year, and there are still vacancies to fill.
Area colleges are working with high schools to recruit future teachers into the profession. Typically, these programs are called Grow Your Own. The idea is that students in the area will decide to go to college and come back to teach in their home district. It is a great way to encourage future teachers and to give them a strong sense of community. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is encouraging these partnerships with grant funding to address some of the shortages.
Public schools are the heart of any community. And teachers are the most important part of the school setting. Everyone has fond memories of their favorite teachers or activities in school. Those memories are embedded in the place and those experiences are cherished for years to come.
In some ways, rural school districts face more challenges in filling teacher vacancies. There are programs in place to address teacher shortages in smaller districts. One program, the Ozarks Teacher Corps, is designed to get students teaching in their home districts by focusing on place-based education. Julie Leeth has been at the forefront of this program since it started. The scholarships issued reward students from rural communities who want to complete their teacher education programs and return to their hometowns to teach. It is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the Rural Schools Partnership and area colleges. It’s been very successful since the program started 2009.
Since 2010, 92% of the students in the program were placed and were successful; three quarters of the teachers are still teaching in the district that hired them out of college; more than 85% of them want to remain in a rural location; and over 60% of the students who have completed the program are still teaching within 30 miles of their hometown. One more stat: Strikingly, 100% of the students in the program said they would recommend teaching in a rural setting as a career.
The program provided opportunities for networking with other future teachers and visits to other rural districts. The students valued the opportunities to interact with each other and network with other future teachers. One of the students wrote, “The connections I made through the Ozarks Teacher Corps are some that I will never forget. I am very proud to have been a part of the program.”
Again, I believe teaching is the best job in the world. We serve as community leaders who build a solid foundation in teaching and learning, and we create spaces for students to learn and grow. Now more than ever, public schools need the support of every community member. An investment in public schools in both rural and urban settings is an investment in our future. I am proud to be a lifelong educator, and I am looking forward to a future of successful teachers and students.
Laurie Edmondson is a professor of education at Drury University. She can be reached at email@example.com.
A baked goods vendor at Farmers Market of the Ozarks expanded to a brick-and-mortar operation; the first lending center for Old Missouri Bank opened; and London Calling Pasty Co. added a new food truck.