Nationwide teacher shortage affects Columbia

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COLUMBIA - The U.S. has a major teacher shortage, according to a study published in September by the Learning Policy Institute. Educators say the trend is having an impact on Columbia schools because of problems with recruitment and retention.

Many teachers were laid off during the Great Recession, and now that those positions are being added back, there are not enough teachers to fill all of them.

There are two main reasons why this is happening. First, teachers are leaving their jobs because they are dissatisfied. Second, there are fewer people choosing to go into teaching as a profession.

It is estimated that about 8 percent of teachers leave their jobs annually, and, between 2009 and 2014, teacher education enrollments dropped about 35 percent, according to the study. 

Teresa VanDover, an associate professor of education at Columbia College, said she thinks this is because teaching is a big commitment.

"I think it is just a difficult job," VanDover said. "I think that you can look at going to work every day being in an office and working with a small team of people, or you can look at managing 140 students if you’re a secondary teacher and all the needs, communication needs that go along with that."

Michelle Baumstark, community relations director for Columbia Public Schools, said CPS is taking steps to keep its teachers happy. 

"Last April we asked our community to support a 65 cent increase to our tax levy, primarily for recruitment and retention of high quality teachers, educators, staff members for our school district," Baumstark said. "Our employees hadn’t really seen a raise in about eight years, so this was one of our challenges to recruiting and retaining teachers to stay here and not go elsewhere."

To combat the shortage, during the summer of 2016 CPS also implemented the "Grow Your Own" program, which encourages CPS students to pursue education as a career and then to work at CPS after they graduate. 

"We’re doing it in partnership with several different community organizations to help us recruit participants and to help select those and provide them with guidance throughout that process," Baumstark said. "So we are very excited about what it will look like this next year when we enter into year two."

Baumstark said CPS also faces a unique problem because it is located in a college town.

"It’s being able to retain them once they come to Columbia," Baumstark said. "Either they are a student at Mizzou or one of the other post-secondary institutions here in our community. They come through, we prepare them really well, and then they go on to other communities in order to pursue their career, whether they want to be in a larger city or they want to move closer to home, so that’s the challenge for us."

The need for teachers is the largest in special education, math, science and language.

Baumstark said she thinks this is because of the extra education needed for those roles.

"There are a different set of criteria and educational pathways that an educator pursuing a certain avenue would have to go through," Baumstark said. "I think it’s probably a little bit smaller pool of individuals to select."

Ellie Rice, an MU student in the College of Education, said she thinks students aren't becoming teachers because of the number of requirements. 

"There’s a test your freshman year and a test your junior year and your senior year and just, lots of tests and lots of requirements every year that make the program smaller and smaller as time goes on." Rice said. 

Rice said teaching can be a hard job.

"It’s a big investment, and its also a big time commitment. Teachers are always getting to school early and staying late and taking work home with them."