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Stan Parker, Montana PBS
Stan Parker, Montana PBS
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Montana has faced a staggering teacher shortage for years, especially schools in rural areas and on Native American reservations. The pandemic brought new urgency and new ideas for how to ease the crisis, including a new program that hopes to inspire the next generation of teachers. Stan Parker reports for Montana PBS.
Montana schools have faced a staggering shortage of teachers for years, especially in rural areas and on Native American reservations. The pandemic brought new urgency and new ideas for how to tackle the crisis system. Stan Parker of Montana PBS reports on a new program that hopes to inspire the next generation of teachers.
Mandy Nitz, High School Teacher:
Good morning, Havre High.
In Mandy Nitz's Havre High classroom, these students are learning what a career in education is all about. Like Emerald Tinsley.
Emerald Tinsley, High School Student:
I really enjoy working with kids, and helping kids. And I just want what I do to make an impact.
The program, called Teachers of Promise Pathways is run by Montana State University Northern, it allows high school students to earn college credit, putting them on a quicker path to getting back in the classroom, as teachers.
So here's what I would like you to do for a few minutes.
Today, Emerald in her classmates are looking at all the open jobs for teachers in the state.
There's a lot of openings on that first page, and then you'll see that you can go to page 10 and beyond. And that's just for the State of Montana.
There's like six openings (inaudible).
It's a glimpse into the teacher shortage in Montana and nationwide that those education are calling the crisis.
For one thing, we have empty classrooms in our building. And that's not because we have fewer students. We actually have more students this year than we have in years. But we don't have the staff to fill the classrooms.
The writing's on the wall for years. But during the pandemic, the number of jobs going unfilled has skyrocketed.
And so a lot of teachers I think just said, I just can't keep doing this, because there wasn't a clear end in sight.
The mission now is to both recruit and retain teachers, something schools and rural and reservation Montana have been grappling with for a long time.
Curtis Smeby, he chairs to have our school board and helped put this program together. His goal is to get more school districts involved.
Curtis Smeby, Havre Public School Board and Chair: So when folks asked me where are the teachers of tomorrow, I often say to high school principals and superintendents, they're already in your classrooms, you just got to get them started on it.
It's your job. It's waiting for you.
In 2021, Montana legislators passed a law to fund more programs like this one. The bill also lets students get more college credits for free while still in high school. And once the students are in college, they'll receive up to $10,000 in tuition reimbursement, if they teach for three years in a high need area.
We need the teachers and we need them sooner rather than later. We also know that most teachers will teach within about a 50-mile radius of where they themselves graduated from high school.
Classroom experience is a key part of the student to teacher pipeline. But some students like Emerald have taken that a step further by actually working as unlicensed staff in elementary schools. She works four days a week at a fourth-grade classroom at Sunnyside Intermediate School, giving students personalized attention when they need it.
All right, well, one more time. Who wants to do pop coordinating?
Leading a reading group and even getting a head start saving up for retirement through the state's pension plan.
It gives me something to look forward to every day. I'm always super excited to come here.
Pax Haslem, Sunnyside Intermediate School Principal:
They're either going to realize they want to be a teacher or they're not, right? And so I go off to college and spend four years thinking I want to be a teacher and then realize that we're not.
Pax Haslem is the principal at Sunnyside.
What's it like trying to keep a school fully staffed in Havre Montana?
It's difficult. I think so right now I am short one special education teacher in our district, every buildings short, a special education teacher. So yeah, my day is doing a lot of covering. Right now as a principal, I average just over a day per week or I'm in the classroom.
Pay for teachers still lags more than 30% behind other college educated professionals, a wage gap that's grown steadily over the past 10 years.
You start to think about paying the bills and the price of gas and the price of homes and the price of mortgage and rent. And teacher salaries aren't keeping up with it.
Job related stress for teachers and principals is more than twice that of the average working adult. And surveys since March 2020 show 25% to 50% of teachers and principals are thinking about leaving their jobs within the next year. So what will it take to make sure Montana's students can count on getting good teachers?
You know, there's no magic bullet to this, not only does pay have to be better, the culture of the school, treating people well. So there's not only one it's many, and we've, I think neglected that for many years. So we got ketchup to do.
Until then, job seekers like Emerald will enter a job market far different than the previous generation of teachers.
Miss Nitz told us that when she was applying for her job, it was very, very competitive. And she was competing against about 40 other people for one English job at the middle school. That's a good thing because that means there were lots of people wanting to be teachers. And now we don't have to fight like that.
For "PBS News Weekend" I'm Stan Parker in Havre, Montana.
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