Mississippi has been hit with a statewide teacher shortage, with Mississippi Department of Education reporting that in 2007 it received 7,000 applications for teacher certification, and in 2017, they received approximately 700.
From district to district, the effects are slightly different.
According to Madison County School District Superintendent Kimber Halliburton, the district employs 1,100 certified teachers, and a handful of those positions were still open before the school year began.
Tommy Nalls, a teacher recruiter for Jackson Public Schools, said the district has 2,300 certified teaching positions and 220 open positions currently. He added that there are currently a number of applications on file, and applicants are being screened to cut the number of open positions.
However, Nalls said the number of open positions has dropped significantly compared to last year. He said the district had double the number of open positions at this point in 2017.
“It’s an improvement,” he said. “This time last year, we had 400. We have cut that in half. It’s something that we are taking seriously and working to improve.”
Nalls said the district struggles most with positions in core subjects, such as math and science, because of the required certification.
“It’s definitely more difficult to locate individuals who are certified in math, science and special education,” he said.
Both districts see the need to attract new teachers, but also to retain the teachers they already have.
“Our mentoring program helps a lot, I think, for new teachers to the district with the retention piece,” Halliburton said. “We also have an orientation piece, for new teachers, not just new to the profession, but new to Madison County, so that we can teach them the Madison way, so to speak.”
New teachers within Madison County School District and Jackson Public Schools are assigned a mentor. That way, new teachers are paired with a seasoned professional to help answer any questions they may have to help smooth the transition in a more personal way.
“I think that really helps with retention,” Halliburton said. “Along with the excellent quality professional development that was in place long before I got here. But I think that that’s something that we could even make stronger.”
Nalls said he is working closely with the JPS professional development team to target those within the district who could become certified.
“That way, we grow teachers from the inside, as well as bring in teachers from the outside,” Nalls said. “We work closely with them to retain them.”
The district has also begun a new teacher education program.
“We meet with them periodically throughout the school year to talk with them about lesson planning and classroom management,” Nalls said of teachers with zero to three years of teaching experience.
This gives new teachers the chance to sit down with a veteran teacher to have all of their questions answered, get advice on a variety of subjects and become acclimated to the district.
“Research has shown that if you can retain a teacher for three years, your chance is better at keeping them,” Nalls said. “We’ve been getting some positive feedback with that. It’s a very valuable tool. Working in such a large school district can be overwhelming and having a mentor can be comforting.”
Halliburton said that the mentoring program has aided retention within Madison County schools.
“Certainly, we have a highly motivated teaching force, or otherwise we wouldn’t have the strong results that we have,” Halliburton said. “I think the way to keep them engaged is always giving them quality feedback. Your strongest teachers want that, so the mentoring program speaks to that.”
Halliburton said in addition to the professional development opportunities and mentorship within the district, they also offer a competitive compensation package and health benefits that help attract new teachers.
“We have one hand full of vacancies right now, and we have enough applicants to make sure that those are filled by the time that school starts,” she said. “So, it’s not really impacting us in a serious way.”
Halliburton said that Madison County schools also work with their human resource department in outreach. Outreach includes hosting career fairs to help fill vacancies.
“We have an excellent response to that,” she said. “We host it after hours because the typical college student who is trying to secure their certification or degree are typically in class during the day. And teachers who are looking for a change, they’re teaching during the day. We make it convenient for teacher candidates.”
The Madison County School District human resources department also sends staff to surrounding universities’ career fairs.
“They do a great job drawing in those who are working toward an education degree,” she said. “I really believe this is becoming problematic for districts across the country. You do make sure that what your district offers is an opportunity for them to have leadership opportunities and the ability to grow in their career and skillsets and their classroom teaching. I think that’s the key to continue to retain teachers.”
Nalls said one of the main ways Jackson Public Schools is working to combat the teacher shortage issue is by creating his current position as a teacher recruiter.
“I schedule and attend recruitment fairs and job fairs,” he said. “I also meet with certified individuals and tell them about Jackson Public Schools and attempt to bring them in.”
He is also working to set up meeting opportunities with local universities to discuss requirements and licensure needed to join the teacher workforce.
“I tell them some things a student who is considering a career in education would want to consider doing while in college, so that they will be eligible to receive a teacher certification,” he said.