If you’re energetic, creative, able to plan ahead, good at managing children and have a thick skin to withstand criticism, Mississippi has plenty of jobs available for you.
The jobs are in public schools, where the state Department of Education has reported that 3,036 certified teacher jobs are vacant across the state. With about 32,000 people currently teaching in public schools, that means 9% of the jobs are vacant.
The Mississippi Today website reported that public education has another 2,500 job openings in administrative and supporting roles. All told, public schools are looking for 5,500 people — everything from full-time teachers to assistant teachers, cafeteria staff and bus drivers.
Part of this employee shortage may be due to fallout from the covid-19 pandemic, where generous government assistance is a likely contributor to the decision by a significant number of adults that they could make just as money by staying home than by working.
But being a teacher is not part of that calculus. Mississippi has had a shortage of certified teachers for several years — well before the coronavirus came along. This report is the state’s belated effort to survey all of its school districts to determine the severity of the problem.
Mississippi Today’s story said all districts in the state provided information for the survey, but the story did not include specific information by city, county or district. (And if the information is on the Department of Education’s website, it is well hidden.)
But it’s not too hard to predict that a lot of the job openings are in the rural communities where the talent pool is much smaller and where it’s harder to convince people to relocate.
The Mississippi Legislature is expected to address teacher pay in 2022. Lawmakers gave teachers a raise last year, and a multi-billion-dollar tax revenue surplus provides a perfect opportunity to make further commitments to the teachers who will play a critical role in improving the state’s academic standing.
If this happens, though, policymakers ought to keep something in mind.
First, the teacher shortage isn’t only about money. It is true that a teacher in Mississippi can get a nice raise simply by moving to another state. Keeping up with pay scales in neighboring states is a goal to which Mississippi can aspire.
But few teachers get into education to become rich and famous. There’s no “show me the money” moment. They do it because they are called to the profession. Part of their “pay” is seeing their students become productive adults who appreciate their education.
A pay raise will help, but that’s far from the only thing keeping people away from education. It’s a demanding, stressful job, which means employee turnover can be high. The challenge is encouraging good teachers to stick with it, and convincing more of them to work in the towns that most need them.
It will take more than money to accomplish that. Mississippi needs all ideas on the table.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal