The only profession in Missouri that creates all other professions has been struggling for years to recruit workers. New information indicates the state’s teacher workforce problem is headed down an even rockier path.
A Missouri State University survey says 1 in 10 public school teachers have had enough. They plan to call it quits this year.
About 62% of those likely to step down point to challenges caused by the coronavirus. Dr. Jon Turner, associate professor with MSU’s College of Education, says the completion of the survey coincides with the one-year anniversary of the state’s first COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Missouri State University is the largest producer of educators in the state of Missouri. We just had heard so much feedback from our graduates about how stressful the climate was related to the COVID-19 response,” says Turner. “We just knew that there were some details out there that we needed to dig deeper on. We felt like the teachers around the state need a voice so that people could hear some of the challenges that they’re going through in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The state has about 70,000 teachers educating roughly 900,000 K-12 public school students. The survey was sent to about 60,000 educators. Roughly 8,000 teachers responded.
“We didn’t know what we were going to find. We didn’t know how much feedback that we were going to get,” he says. “Typically, when you send out a survey, you’re happy if you get 800 or 1,000 responses back of a pool this size. We were just stunned that we received over 8,000 surveys from educators. There was a definite desire on the part of teachers around the state to have their voices heard.”
What was the last straw? For many teachers, they cited a lack of empathy from parents – a major shift from last year’s overwhelming support for educators.
“Teachers are definitely feeling like that they are under attack from parents in the community about what they’ve had to do, who are just really carrying out the policies that have been established by state and federal agencies and by local administrators,” says Turner. “Teachers felt so much about being caught in the middle. I hope there is some grace that is offered to them.”
One teacher said, “I feel less supported by the community at large than ever before. A year ago, we were heroes. Now I feel educators are mistreated more than ever before.”
Many educators also say additional workload stress, problems connecting with students who are learning remotely, and the transition to virtual learning are too much.
“Veteran teachers that are looking at their career and they’re thinking, ‘Going forward, are we still going to be doing this online learning type of situation?’ Many of them appear to be that that’s going to be a reason for them to leave because they are not interested in going to an online model. So, as you hear more school districts talk about coming forward we’re going to have more online learning and things like that, that is something that could push some of the veteran teachers out of the profession.”
The survey says urban and suburban teachers have been stressed out more than rural ones.
“That may be because the rural schools were much more likely to be back into in-person instruction sooner. There’s also information that we see that maybe rural teachers were less concerned about the health issues related to COVID-19,” says Turner.
For most of the school year, roughly 80% of Missouri public schools have offered in-person classes at least partially.
Dr. Paul Katnik is an assistant commissioner in the Office of Educator Quality with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He says the past year has been tough all around.
“It’s been a year like no other to be a teacher. It’s also been a year like no other to be a parent, or to be a superintendent or to be a principal. I think people are tired. I think we are all ready for this kind of to be a story we tell instead of a reality we live,” he says.
The survey findings are not a shocker to Katnik.
“We are on this like six-year decline – down about 25% of folks wanting to study to be a teacher. At the same time, we have retention rates. We especially track years three and five,” says Katnik. “We want to know how many teachers finish year three and go onto year four. And basically it is around 64%. So we’ve already lost a full third of the new teachers coming in who don’t finish year three and go onto year four. And then we look at the five-year mark, too. That’s at 48%. So not even half of the brand new teachers are going to finish year five and go to year six. Supply is down. Retention rates are down. You kind of have a recipe for a tough situation.”
Missouri’s average teacher salary is about $42,000 – ranking it about 42nd in the nation. Teachers with a full degree and who are fully certified are starting out making $25,000 a year – ranking Missouri 49th in the country in starting teacher pay.
The survey did not ask whether incentives, such as a pay raise, would make some of the teachers change their minds about leaving.
Educator salaries are decided at the local level. According to Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, the infusion of federal stimulus dollars has many of the association’s member districts attempting to improve teachers’ salaries. However, she says the challenge is that the stimulus money is one-time revenue and districts can only increase to the level that can be sustained after the federal funding runs out in 2024.
Katnik says the departure of all these teachers will be felt in the classroom.
“Every year we can keep them in the profession working, they’re going to get a little bit better at what they do. Upping their retention ups the learning for students,” says Katnik. “There’s all kinds of research that shows the better teachers are, the better kids learn.”
“As a veteran educator, there is no doubt where the rubber hits the road on student learning is with the teacher. Anything that makes it more difficult to recruit and retain people in the teaching field is going to have a definite impact on student learning,” he says. “The COVID-19 response and issues related to how much more stressful it is to be a teacher these days – all of these things could compound into an issue where fewer people are going into education. That’s definitely going to have a negative impact on student learning if we don’t do some things to try to deal with the stresses teachers are feeling at this time.”
To view the survey, click here.
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