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Retaining teachers is the best gift we can give Missouri kids this year


Retaining teachers is the best gift we can give Missouri kids this year

Dec 08, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Elizabeth Bleier Julie Gronquist-Blodgett
Retaining teachers is the best gift we can give Missouri kids this year
Missouri kids living in poverty and enrolled in Title I schools have the most to gain from improved teacher quality and retention (Jon Cherry/Getty Images).

School leaders are feeling the toll of the teacher shortage, and it’s evident with every school site visit and conversation with a teacher that students are feeling that stress, too.

Compared to the previous five years, Missouri teacher retention was at its lowest in the 2021-22 school year. with the greatest rates of teachers leaving Missouri’s highest-needs schools, according to research from The PRiME Center.

Adding complexity to the problem, last month the Missouri State Board of Education’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission reported that for teachers in schools with the highest rates of students qualifying for free and reduced-cost lunch – often Title I schools – less than half (47.3%) remain in the classroom after 3 years of teaching.

The data is staggering but the potential negative impact this can have on kids is devastating.

We know that teachers are the highest impact in-school factor influencing student achievement, and research shows that high rates of teacher turnover harms student outcomes. With over 3,500 current vacant teaching positions across Missouri, we must do what is necessary to develop and retain our teachers so that students can succeed both inside and outside the classroom. This moment calls on us to do better for our teachers — not only for their professional and emotional wellbeing, but for the sake and success of our kids.

Only about a third of Missouri teachers stay for more than five years. This compounded with never-seen-before staffing challenges requires an immediate and continued response so that Missouri kids can have the educational experiences they need to be successful in school and in life.

A recent survey by the Blue Ribbon Commission and the Hunt Institute revealed a resounding sentiment — more than 75% of teachers expressed a desire for more instructional feedback and coaching. They long for ongoing professional growth and success.

While there are many factors contributing to the teacher shortage in Missouri, Teach For America is investing in meeting these needs of early career teachers in St. Louis and Kansas City by providing professional development, fellowship opportunities and ongoing coaching and support. We’re offering a suite of services that will allow our classroom teachers and school leaders to grow and thrive in the profession, resulting in high-quality, happy teachers who choose to stay in the classroom.

In St. Louis, we provide targeted support for early career educators to develop their teaching skills and build their instructional confidence, leading to stronger student outcomes and increased teacher tenure, through the Instructional Excellence Fellowship (IEF).

Started in 2021, IEF has impacted 39 teachers and more than 4,000 students.

Program participants find the opportunity meaningful and necessary for their professional development, and a past participant reflects on the impact on their career: “This program has impacted my intention to remain in the classroom by giving me effective tools and skills I can utilize to help me leverage my experience in teaching.” With 100% of teachers in the Instructional Excellence Fellowship remaining in the field for the following school year, (Teach for America’s) retention impact in St. Louis far exceeds the statewide average.

In Kansas City, we provide structured development and support to beginning teachers and their mentors through Accelerate.

Accounting for 203 teachers across 19 individual school sites and early childhood centers in Kansas City, more than 5,000 students are impacted by this program in 2023-24. Accelerate was conceived in 2018, entering into its sixth cohort this school year. Critically, 81% of the teachers in the first cohort, who are in their sixth year of teaching or more, remain in education today. Compared to the five-year retention rate of 38% statewide, our results reflect our commitment to keeping great teachers in the classroom.

Missouri kids living in poverty and enrolled in Title I schools have the most to gain from improved teacher quality and retention. One of the best gifts we can give kids this year is a teacher who feels respected, supported, and motivated to continue making a difference, ensuring they have the learning experiences they need to lead and thrive in Missouri.

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