The Missouri State Board of Education listens Aug. 15 to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's blue ribbon commission's latest set of recommendations. (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent)
Statewide teacher development programs could curb educator burnout, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s blue ribbon commission concluded in its latest set of recommendations.
The commission, which is studying teacher recruitment and retention, presented its recommendations to the State Board of Education for review last week after speaking to teachers, administrators and community leaders.
“The teachers who we spoke with during our meeting in May, told us they feel undervalued and overworked and lacked adequate staffing and resources to alleviate the pressures they face,” commission chairman Mark Walker told the board. “They also expressed a desire for comprehensive support and development systems that can contribute to their job satisfaction, their professional growth and overall well being.”
Many of the group’s recommendations require legislative action. Its initial proposal, which sought long-term funding for teacher pay increases among other improvements, did not make it through the legislative session even with bipartisan support in the House.
Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, turned the blue ribbon commission’s first report into a large part of his legislative package during the 2023 legislative session.
Lewis’s bills addressing teacher recruitment and retention were merged into one at the committee level and passed the House 145-5. The omnibus bill was poised to come up for a Senate vote in the last few weeks of the legislative session, but filibusters and GOP infighting brought the Senate to a stop.
Walker said the commission believed its first round of suggestions were essential, but the group knew teachers’ work environment must also be addressed.
“The first report which we presented last fall focused on immediate short-term and long-term actions DESE and the State Board of legislature could take largely related to teacher compensation,” he said. “However, we also heard during our work last year that while compensation is crucial, teachers also need support for the day to day.”
In a survey of Missouri educators conducted by the commission and the Hunt Institute, 77.3% of teachers reported that “increased flexibility during school hours, including time to develop lessons, collaborate with other teachers, to receive feedback and coaching and to engage in professional learning” would help their career.
The blue ribbon commission suggests DESE study teaching models that place seasoned educators with novices and create leadership opportunities, likely including a two-teachers-per-classroom setup.
Board member Mary Schrag of West Plains said teachers are mentoring others in their free time already, but she believes adding a financial incentive could expand this practice.
The commission suggests collaborating with the legislature to secure grant funding for districts who begin this costly instructional model.
The career ladder program might provide a higher salary for teachers who take on a leadership role. The program typically pays teachers for taking on additional responsibilities, like coaching roles or sponsoring a club, so the commission suggests checking statute to see if this program would apply.
Continuing with a theme of teacher advancement, the blue ribbon commission recommends the creation of a master teaching certificate that provides opportunities in schools and increased pay. Walker said the group thinks this piece is “really, really important.”
Schrag sees a master teaching certificate as a way for teachers to financially advance while staying in their roles.
“We have a lot of educators who really love teaching. But in order to be able to financially progress through the system, a lot of times they are being forced to go into different areas of education,” she said.
The commission also included recommendations for actions administrators could take. It calls on DESE to work with the Missouri School Boards Association and the Missouri Association of School Administrators to develop training for district leaders to promote a positive school culture.
The commission also wants to leverage the Missouri Leadership Development System, a training program for school administrators, to educate all the state’s principals and assistant principals.
Board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge said she would like to see more of a focus on student behavior and mental health.
Lucy Berrier Matheson, the Hunt Institute’s deputy director of K-12 initiatives, said behavior is a problem “across the country” returning to the classroom from virtual learning. “I think that is something that everyone is struggling with,” she said.
If schools can add more teachers to the classroom and reduce the ratio of students to teachers, that will help with classroom management, she continued.
“One of these recommendations standing alone probably doesn’t have near the effect or impact on classroom management as a multiplier of these recommendations,” Walker said. “But when you add them all together, it creates a tremendously improved environment.”
Schrag said there is an upcoming meeting to discuss what legislators may be willing to sponsor.
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