A new survey says more than 70% of Missouri teachers responding have seriously thought about leaving the profession.

Todd Fuller, spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), said the organization surveyed the state’s K-12 public school teachers, with about 2,300 responding.

The latest survey is slightly better than 2021’s results and worse than in 2019. In 2021, about 79% of teachers said they seriously thought of calling it quits. In the 2019 MSTA survey, about 63% of respondents answered that they had seriously considered leaving the profession.

Fuller said the top reasons for teachers wanting to leave are due to stress, student behavior, and lack of pay.

“I think everybody would assume well, ‘It’s because they don’t get paid enough.’ And while that is a reason that is high, the two highest reasons why individuals have thought about leaving the profession are tied to 63% which are stress and student behavior. And honestly, the student behavior, that one was new. That was surprising,” he told Missourinet.

What is leading to teacher stress?

“What I see happening more often than not is that you may have a teacher that has one, or two, or three, or sometimes maybe even five or six students, that have an Individual Education Plan, IEP. And so, the teacher is trying to help those individual students and at the same time, help the other 20 plus students that they may have in the classroom, doing all of that without any help at all,” said Fuller.

In 2023, a statewide teacher recruitment and retention commission took a deep dive into the pain points that have led to Missouri’s educator shortage. State budget efforts have helped to increase teacher pay over the past two years, but permanently boosting minimum teacher salaries is not on the books yet. Missouri’s starting teacher pay of $25,000 is the lowest – or one of the lowest – in the country.

As for attempts to improve the classroom culture and climate, the state’s work on that is ongoing.

According to the MSTA survey, about 77% say they are as stressed or more stressed than they were last year.

“The individuals that are leaving the profession are those that are in their five years or 10 years of experience,” said Fuller. “And those are the individuals we desperately need to keep in our classrooms because they can help the new teachers coming in, the transition from the number of teachers that will be retiring.”

Now what?

Fuller said the organization is working with the Missouri Legislature to try and form a working group to find ways to address classroom management problems. He said another solution would be to hire additional paraprofessionals to help teachers to manage the classroom. But paraprofessionals are hard to come by as well.

What are the positive takeaways from the survey?

“I think some of the things that we see is how much teachers enjoy teaching,” Fuller said. “Their passion is for helping students, and that hasn’t waned. We saw time and again with quotations about teachers wanting to be in the classroom, wanting to spend time with students, looking for ways to make that happen. But the challenge for them is that financially, sometimes they’re unable to do it anymore, or they just mentally they can’t do it anymore.”

The survey also says that lack of support from families and school administrators have made them think about walking out the school doors for good.

“If we can continue to keep passionate teachers in the classroom doing what they what they want to do, and we can find ways to help to help them financially, then they can spend their time doing what they’re best at. Then everyone around them can help support them so that they can be the best teacher that they can possibly be for the students. We don’t have that system set up the way it should be in every school district in the state right now. If we did, I think we’d have more people staying in classroom teaching,” he said.

To view the survey, click here.

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