MID-MISSOURI - The last year has been a whirlwind for Missouri educators. Virtual learning, fear of infection from COVID-19 and transitioning to a new normal put a lot on the plate of a vital profession.

May 4 is Teacher Appreciation Day, and there is no better time to give thanks. 

May 4 is Teacher Appreciation Day, and there is no better time to give thanks.

“It’s been a challenging year,” Paul Katnik, the assistant commissioner of educator quality at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said.

“Trying to recalibrate how to deliver education to students when they’re not coming in to the school building,” Katnik said. “I give our teachers a lot of credit.”

The pandemic shutdown struck in the middle of the 2019-2020 school year, and the difficulties extended into the next year as well. 

“Filling our classrooms with teachers has been a challenge,” Katnik said. 

Katnik said there was already a shortage of teachers before the pandemic hit. 

“We were always looking for more special ed[ucation] teachers, science teachers, math teachers,” he said.

A recent survey found that one in 10 teachers in Missouri had considered quitting over the last year. 

Katnik said his department is working to turn around the 25% decrease of declining enrollment in education programs. 

“We actually need to do better than that 25% decrease,” he said. “We need more people in the pipeline and we need to do a better job of supporting our teachers, our principles.”

Erica Lembke is the interim Dean of the College of Education at the University of Missouri. She says stressing the connection is key to bringing in more teachers.

"One of the things that everybody has in common is that at some point, they've had a teacher in their lives," she said. 

Amber Blumberg, a band instructor for Columbia Public Schools, says this was her most difficult year as a teacher.

“I like a challenge,” she said. “I am definitely driven by the kids, and I want to give them the experience.”

As more vaccinations roll out to teachers and the public at large, Katnik believes there’s reason for optimism moving forward.

“Educators are the profession that creates all other professions.”

Express your thanks on Teacher Appreciation Day in KOMU 8's Facebook post.

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