SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It’s teacher appreciation week, and to celebrate, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is airing a public service announcement campaign.
The campaign is called, “The Future Depends on Teachers” which highlights the need for educators around Missouri.
DESE says rural and urban areas are struggling. One school district in need right now is West Plains.
“Currently we have a high school math position open,” said Lori Wilson the Superintendent at West Plains R-7 School District. “It has been open since January and we have had one applicant.”
Wilson says the district has had 43 teaching positions open,11 in the special education department, and 22 in kindergarten through eighth grade.
DESE’s teacher shortage report in December of 2020 showed most teaching areas seeing a drop in employment.
“It has a tremendous impact on what we’re doing and how we educate our students whether or not you can find qualified teachers,” Wilson said. “This year, we may have to close some programs because we do not have the applicants for teachers to take over those programs.”
COVID-19 has made things especially difficult, 10 West Plains educators retired, and four left the industry.
“It is a worthwhile profession, but it is not an easy job either,” Wilson said.
Wilson says teaching isn’t a popular profession anymore and the pay could be a reason.
In April, DESE said $25,000 was the minimum salary.
“If a student comes out of college and they owe debt, if that is what a teacher makes, they can not raise a family on that,” Wilson said.
“It’s about this is the profession that creates all other professions. It’s the profession that literally changes lives,” Assistant Commissioner of DESE Paul Katnik said.
Katnik says he hopes DESE’s PSA will interest its target audience.
“Reach into our high schools, and try to encourage high school students to think about the profession,” Katnik said. “We’re really trying to target in some of those content areas that are a struggle. Sciences and math and special education have been.
“Sure would like to have more men in the profession, we sure would like to have more diversity. We are just going to be intentional about recruiting towards those goals.”
West Plains is having eight of its para-professionals become teachers.
While it’s a benefit, Wilson says it creates a para-pro shortage.
She says it’s a hard spot to fill too.