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Half of Missouri teachers say they often consider leaving the profession

Student’s locker on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, at Hoech Middle School in Breckenridge Hills.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
This school year, multiple districts have taken days off for mental health, including the Ritenour School District, whose Hoech Middle School is above. A new survey of teachers reinforces reports of high stress levels.

A new survey reinforces a common complaint among Missouri teachers — they’re stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed.

About half of 2,800 teachers surveyed by the Missouri State Teachers Association said they consider leaving the profession often or very often.

The association asked certified teachers questions about wellness and job satisfaction in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. The respondents included both new and veteran teachers in grades K-12. Almost two-thirds said this year has been even more stressful than last year.

“We had been hearing anecdotally from members around the state how challenging this year has been and so being able to confirm that with nearly 3,000 teachers giving us responses, we have a better understanding of what they're facing and what they're dealing with this particular year,” said association spokesman Todd Fuller.

Fuller was expecting to see COVID-19 protocols as a top source of stress for Missouri teachers, but was surprised that teachers said student behavior is their most common source of stress.

“Students aren't used to being around other students,” Fuller said. “Classroom management has been a struggle throughout the year.”

The survey also found the substitute teacher shortage is a major source of stress for teachers. About 60% of substitute teachers in the St. Louis region did not return when in-person learning resumed, said Christian Taske, director of public relations for Kelly Services, which provides substitute teachers to districts in St. Louis and nationwide.

“The St. Louis market saw one of the largest COVID impacts on the substitute talent pool statewide,” Taske said.

This year, multiple districts gave staff and students days off in response to high levels of stress, but Fuller said the teachers the association represents don’t think these mental health days are a long-term solution.

“I think that they are short-term fixes,” Fuller said. “When we talk about substitute teachers, for instance, that is a problem that Missouri has dealt with for a number of years.”

Fuller added that teacher pay is an important factor.

“Every year we talk about salaries, and I feel like a broken record,” Fuller said. “In the survey, 74% of our members said that their work is quite or extremely meaningful, so they believe in what they're doing, but if you can't afford to take care of yourself or take care of your family with what you're doing, you're going to look for something else.”

Missouri’s average public school teacher pay regularly ranks near the bottom of states, according to annual data from the National Education Association. In the most recent available data, from the 2019-20 school year, it was about $50,800.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.