Petal School District efforts to combat statewide teacher shortage underway

By NIKKI SMITH,

Across the nation, school districts are experiencing a shortage of teachers as college students are shying away from pursuing a career in education and veteran educators are throwing up their hands and trying their luck elsewhere.

School districts are struggling to fill positions in a number of areas. The U.S. Education Department compiled a list of these teacher shortage areas, which include math, science, foreign language, special education, reading and English language arts, history, art, music, elementary education, middle school education, career and technical education, health and computer science.

The Department of Education defines a teacher shortage area as “an area of specific grade, subject matter or discipline classification, or a geographic area in which the Secretary determines that there is an inadequate supply of elementary or secondary school teachers.”

Mississippi has seen a drop in teachers entering the workforce over the past 10 years, according to Petal School District Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon.

“In 2007, Mississippi was producing just under 7,000 new teachers,” he said. “Now, 10 years later, the state produced just under 700.”

From 2003-04 to 2017-18, statewide academic disciplines or subject matter that Mississippi has worked to fill positions in include: foreign language, including French, German and Spanish; mathematics; science, including biology, chemistry and physics; and special education.

However, the Mississippi Superintendents’ Collaborative, which is composed of representatives from nine school districts across the state, is working to combat the shortage of teachers in Mississippi in a variety of ways.

Dillon, who represents Petal School District in the collaborative, said the idea was tossed around to created a series of videos to encourage high school students or college students who have not yet declared a major to consider pursuing a career in education in Mississippi.

“The focus is ‘Consider this: Becoming a Mississippi Teacher,’” Dillon said.

The commercials will be released monthly across the districts’ social media platforms and websites in order to reach their target audience.

Tony Lymon, XXX at Petal High School, produced the video series, which aired on the Petal Schools website.

“We are looking to reach high school students or college students who are still figuring out their path,” Dillon said. “It can be a rewarding job where you impact the lives of students.”

He said that the shortage will eventually lead to difficulty filling positions with high quality teachers. Petal School District prides itself on its tradition of excellence and faculty quality.

“Each year at the opening convocation, I always ask teachers who are graduates of Petal to stand,” Dillon said. “Usually about half of the auditorium is standing.”

He said Petal graduates return to the district because they are accustomed to the culture.

“They understand the community buy in and the expectations of the Petal School District,” Dillon said.

One of the district’s goals is to retain the teachers that it has. An example of the efforts being made to encourage teachers to continue with Petal is the new teacher conference that the Mississippi Superintendents’ Collaborative unveiled this year as a way to show first year teachers their value and provide them with necessary tools to be successful.

Some ways that Petal School District is working to recruit new teachers and fight the shortage is by offering a Teacher Academy course at Petal High School. Students in the Teacher Academy get hands-on experience and an idea of what their college coursework would look like if they pursued teaching.

“These students are getting a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher,” Dillon said. “And we’re going to give them a seat at the table to interview for positions as they come available,” he added about students who complete the program and earn a degree in education.

He said that these students would have a smaller learning curve coming into the district as they are already familiar with the expectations.

The district will also offer job and career fairs so that prospective employees may visit and speak with administrators in a relaxed setting and learn more about open positions.

Dillon said there are also many benefits to becoming an educator.

“I think the pay for the number of days that you work is competitive,” he said. “There are also step increases that you get per year.”

“You get to impact students in a great way,” he added. “It’s one of the greatest professions to me. You’re producing future leaders. You’re producing the future. You get to help mold and shape young people. You’re making a difference each school year.”

Dillon said he always knew he wanted to pursue a servant-oriented field, so he considered many degree options. He choose education because of the impact of a fourth-grade teacher whose influence reached beyond academics.

“She cared about me,” he said. “I felt like I was the only student in the room. I would look up from my games and see her sitting in the bleachers and realize that she showed up just for me. She went above and beyond.”

These fond memories are what has spurred Dillon to continue in his career, because of the impact of that one teacher who showed him that growing relationships and putting children first was his calling. He said he hopes that the efforts of the district will open another’s eyes to this opportunity and fight the teacher shortage not only in Petal, but Mississippi as a whole.