Leaders in the field of education are sounding the alarm that a teacher shortage is hurting Missouri schools—and that it’s about to get worse. Local education experts plan to put their heads together Thursday to try to combat the factors leading to the problem.
The teacher shortage is a national phenomenon; and to be clear, it’s not that qualified people don’t exist—it’s that they simply are deciding not to be teachers, or that they’re getting out of the field early.
There are many factors, and Missouri stands out in at least a couple of areas.
First, the starting salary for public school teachers is among the lowest in the country, at $31,842 – that’s according to the latest data from the Learning Policy Institute.
Missouri’s also nowhere near the top of when it comes to mentoring, retention, or student loan forgiveness of public school teachers.
Dr. Stephen Kleinsmith, director of school and community partnerships at Missouri State University, says all of these factors together mean Missouri schools could be headed for a crisis.
That’s why he’s helping put together a think tank in Springfield Thursday.
“The dean of education for Missouri State College of Education, Dr. David Hough, was wise enough to see this challenge coming our way. It’s coming. It’s on us in many places throughout the country–Missouri, especially,” Kleinsmith said.
The PDK Poll of the Public Attitude Toward Public Schools showed in 2018 that 54% of American parents would not like their children to choose teaching in public schools as a career.
That’s the first time a majority of parents have felt that way since this poll began tracking these sentiments in 1969. Kleinsmith says the numbers worry him.
“We don’t have enough teacher candidates going through the colleges of education throughout America. The data is just crystal clear on that. And then on top of that, you compound that with the attrition rate. We have teachers getting out of the profession much too early,” Kleinsmith said.
This means schools are ending up with a very shallow pool of candidates when they go to hire, especially in rural or high poverty areas.
Another partner in this week’s think tank is Care to Learn, which serves the hunger, health, and hygiene needs of kids throughout the region.
Doug Pitt is founder of Care to Learn.
“If a kid’s hurting, if a kid’s hungry, if a kid is maybe just having distress from being made fun of for the clothing he’s wearing, he could care less about math, right? And English doesn’t matter. Well, that becomes a teacher’s issue at that point,” Pitt said.
Poverty is directly related to the teacher shortage, experts say, because it adds extra stressors to the profession of teaching. Pitt says teachers are the front line of administering Care to Learn, since they are often the first to see a child’s need.
“We need great quality, compassionate teachers in the classroom who are educated not just in their field and expertise, but really, anymore, they’re social workers at the same time. But if we give them some great tools to alleviate some of that, it helps the classroom, the other students, just because of the distraction. And it helps the teacher," Pitt said.
And many school districts in the Ozarks region are considered high poverty. Teachers also pay for their classroom supplies out of their own pockets.
Kleinsmith says Thursday’s think tank will bring together teachers, school board members, former lawmakers, students, and higher education leaders to look at how to improve the teaching experience locally, and to attract more qualified candidates to consider the field.