About half of Missouri’s teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Since the pandemic, the state’s K-12 public school teachers are leaving the field in record numbers. Missouri has reached a point in which it has had enough.

Missouri teacher recruitment and retention commission

Earlier this year, the Missouri Board of Education voted in favor of forming a new statewide commission to explore ways to boost the state’s educator workforce. Members of the commission put their heads together Friday to work to address the critical teacher shortage. The commission is made up of civic and business leaders, lawmakers, teachers, Missouri Board of Education members and others.

State Board of Education President Charlie Shields said the state is close to having a crisis on its hands with its teacher shortage. Last fall, Missouri had at least 3,000 positions left unfilled or filled by people not appropriately certified.

“We’ve got to create a resolution for this that’ll last for generations to come because we could be at the point where we have a lot of students without a qualified teacher in front of them. And that would be a disaster for our state long term,” he said. “We need to have great teachers teaching great students that will support our state and be great leaders in our state in the future. And it starts right now, if we can get this work done.”

Commission Chairman Mark Walker, of southwest Missouri’s Springfield, said solving the teacher shortage is long overdue.

“In Missouri, we are we are woefully underfunded for teacher salary. In today’s marketplace, we all know every store that we go into has a ‘For Hire’ sign. Every manufacturer is looking for people. And it’s not any different in the teacher realm,” he said. “We need more folks who want to go into teaching careers. So we’re going to talk about what makes teaching exciting. How can we attract more students into the field of teaching and then once we get them in, how do we retain them. Salary is part of that – it’s absolutely not the only part of the equation. There are so many more elements that go into what makes for a great experience for a teacher. So, we’re going to put those on the table as well. What are the cultural issues within the different schools, school sites, school districts within the state and what kind of image do we have of teachers? Do we build it up as a profession of esteem to where we want our children to become teachers? Or do we think of it as something less and what do we want our children to experience when they go into a classroom? Well, we want them to have a great experience. So let’s hire some great teachers and let’s compensate them and reward them in a fashion that they deserve,” said Walker.

The commission has a lot to tackle.

“Eating an elephant is overwhelming,” he said. “How do you do it? One bite at a time. How are we going to work on this issue with teacher retention and recruitment? One piece at a time. And let’s find some root cause issues that will help us. Let’s look at what the data tells us or what other states around us are doing. Where do we need to be in terms of entry level salary? What types of rewards should we be paying as teachers move up the career ladder? You know, I think they’re common sense answers. So, one piece at a time we’ll climb that ladder to success.”

Shields said there were difficult conversations during Friday’s meeting.

“Things that have always been difficult in education where are you talking about pay for performance, that doesn’t exist in education right now,” said Shields. “What they call differential pay, teachers in different content areas, they get paid differently based on demand for that content area. Tenure, we haven’t addressed tenure for forever in our state. Is that still something that’s important? Could you do a statewide salary schedule? We don’t have that in Missouri. Say that not just the minimum salary of teachers has to be this, but salary for a teacher with 10 years experience, 15 years experience, different levels of education, can that be implemented? And then even things that would be very challenging to do, but there’s discussion, can you make adjustments to the school foundation formula to address some of these issues around teacher salary? So, those are ideas that are somewhat outside the box, and they’re challenging, but I think if you present that to the legislature and say, ‘This is what thought leaders from across the state said was important and they think needs to happen,’ I think that’ll be very powerful.”

What does Shields want to see from the commission?

“I would assume some of those would be short term in nature and say, ‘Okay, next legislative session do this.’ Some of them will probably take longer, maybe up to five years. But very actionable items that we can tell people, ‘If we’re going to solve this issue, and it needs to be solved, this is what these business leaders and civic leaders from across the state think needs to happen.’ And I think given the type of individuals we have on the commission, I think it’d be hard pressed for people not to look at this group and say, ‘These aren’t great thought leaders, and they’re coming up with stuff that they say needs to happen.’”

The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for July 20. It is expected to give its recommendations to the board in October.

To listen to the Show Me Today interviews with Charlie Shields and Mark Walker, click below.

(Charlie Shields 7:00)

(Mark Walker 8:23)

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