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MO Education Dept. Looks to Reduce Teacher Shortage

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Missouri needs more teachers in the sciences, math and special education, and the need is critical both in rural and deeply urban communities. (JackF/Adobe Stock)
Missouri needs more teachers in the sciences, math and special education, and the need is critical both in rural and deeply urban communities. (JackF/Adobe Stock)
 By Lily Bohlke - Producer, Contact
May 3, 2021

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri is facing a teacher shortage, and for Teacher Appreciation Week, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working to inspire more high school and college students to consider becoming educators.

Halley Russell a government teacher at Jackson High School, said the shortage is nothing new, but is getting more attention with the pandemic.

She pointed out areas like science, math and special education have always had shortages, and it's harder than ever to find substitute teachers. She explained larger class sizes can be limiting.

"If I have 35 versus 20, the face-to-face, the individual interaction, the differentiated instruction, it all changes," Russell observed. "And so, that is a huge thing that they miss out on."

Russell added it's also about social and emotional well-being. Teachers in larger classes may not notice what's going on in students' daily lives, or signs they may need some support.

Dr. Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner for the Office of Educator Quality at the Department, noted the number of people in school to become teachers has declined in the last decade. In the last six years alone, it's down more than 25%.

He said teacher retention also is down, and in addition to shortages in certain content areas, there are geographic factors as well.

"There's parts of the state that schools struggle more to hire teachers than in other parts," Katnik outlined. "If you're deeply rural, it's a bigger challenge; if you're deeply urban, it's a bigger challenge."

Katnik thinks the Board of Education needs to have a serious conversation about teacher pay, as the required starting salary for teachers in Missouri is lower than in neighboring states.

Russell agreed teacher pay is a key reason for the shortage. She sees other factors as well, including the ubiquity of technology in classrooms these days.

"What it looked like 13 years ago and what it looks like today are very different with technology," Russell remarked. "And if a person is starting this as a second career, or they just don't want to have to deal with technology, even though they could be a good teacher, they're not going into it."

Still, she maintained the positives outweigh the difficulties. She describes the feelings of "great pleasure and success" when her students have "Aha!" moments, or find creative ways to solve problems.

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