Schools across the country are grappling with shortages of what many consider to be one of the most important jobs: teachers.
ST. LOUIS — Like so many schools across Missouri and across the country, Patrick Henry Elementary in Carr Square is facing a crisis: a teacher shortage. It is part of the St. Louis Public Schools, a district that is struggling to fill 113 teaching positions, or about 7% of its staff.
Sherri Bailey is part of the solution.
“The residential education program allows us to be in the classroom and take college courses at the same time,” said Sherri Bailey, a teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary.
She is enrolled in a new program that has allowed her to expand her skills as a substitute teacher to become a full-time teacher for children with special needs.
“I was kind of filling the teacher vacancies because they were away,” she said. “Now I’m able to lead and not just follow. I can create a lesson plan. I can bring that energy to the class.”
“Are you paid more now?” I-Team’s Paula Vasan asked.
“Yeah. And that’s the best part of it all,” she said.
Raising pay is one way state officials are working to address recruitment and retention challenges that have led to thousands of open teaching positions. The most important shortcomings relate to primary and specialized education.
“It’s a matter of supply and demand. We don’t have enough of what we need,” said Dr. Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He has seen enrollment in teacher education programs drop by around 25% over the past six years. The decline, he says, is likely spurred by the fact that Missouri ranks last of all U.S. states when it comes to the minimum starting salary for teachers.
In Missouri, that minimum is $25,000 per year. Many teachers in the St. Louis area often earn much more than that. Rural areas, he says, are struggling the most.
“So that means fewer people are preparing to become teachers,” he said.
National education officials are working to reverse this worrying trend. Last year they created teachmo.org, a new website to make it easier to apply to become a teacher. They have invested about $55 million in teacher recruitment and retention grants, which allow school leaders to provide stipends for additional work or expand programs to recruit students and support staff in the teaching profession. New grants have also raised teacher salaries in areas of the state where annual salaries are below $38,000.
“I think it’s a very good start. It’s a very good start, yes,” Bailey said.
This native of Saint-Louis describes these steps as essential to allow her to pursue a profession she has always dreamed of.
“What’s the best part of being a teacher?” Vasan asked.
“I feel like I’m making a difference. They learn. They are engaged and so are their parents,” she said.
The State Board of Education recently formed a commission of educators with a unified goal: to get more people to become and stay teachers. In October, the leaders of this commission will present recommendations to the State.
A spokesperson for St. Louis Public Schools said the district has begun raising salaries to attract more teachers and try to address the issue. The district implemented an 8% wage increase in July across all areas. A spokesperson says they are also offering $10,000 in retention bonuses over the next three years to entice people to stay. You can apply for jobs with St. Louis Public Schools here: www.slps.org/jobs
To address the state’s teacher shortage, the State Board of Education made teacher recruitment and retention one of its legislative priorities and requested and convened a Blue Ribbon Commission on Recruitment and teacher retention to develop specific and measurable strategies to address teacher recruitment and retention. retention challenges in Missouri.
The Commission recently conducted a survey and public hearing to invite educators to provide their input on specific policy and practice changes to improve the educator experience. Based on this feedback, the Blue Ribbon Commission will provide a set of recommendations to the National Board of Education in early October.
In addition, the state has allocated nearly $55 million in funding for recruitment and retention grants for school districts and charter schools and recruitment grants for community colleges and educator preparation programs. The state legislature approved, and the governor enacted, the law, state statutes, and stipends to support base salary subsidies and the teacher career ladder.
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials say the actions provide extra pay for nearly all of our state’s teachers.