If financial incentives were all it took to lure teachers to school districts where they are in shortest supply in Mississippi, they would be already doing so.

Mississippi has enacted a series of monetary enticements over the years – from scholarships and loan deferments to moving expenses to down payments on a house – to attract teachers to districts with the highest poverty rates, highest minority populations and worst academic ratings. Despite all this assistance, the shortage of certified instructors doesn’t seem to be improving.

The Greenwood School District is trying to add yet another financial incentive of its own – a $3,000 signing bonus. But it seems unlikely that it will actually do much to address the problem over the long term, because money is not the main cause for it.

The reason that Greenwood and the other 47 “critical need” districts in Mississippi can’t find or keep teachers is mainly because the job environment in them is so difficult and discouraging.

The student body is challenging, since many of the students come from households that are impoverished both economically and academically. Too many of their parents are either apathetic or antagonistic. And teachers either feel unsupported by the administration or lack confidence in it.

There has been a significant drop-off in the numbers of potential instructors coming out of Mississippi’s schools of education, even as the existing teaching force ages. There are also states poaching on Mississippi’s teaching pool because of their own shortages.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of districts in Mississippi that have little teacher turnover and waiting lists of instructors trying to get a job with them. These are also the school districts with lower rates of poverty and family instability, fewer discipline problems and, not coincidentally, higher academic ratings. And their starting salaries cannot be much better, if any, than Greenwood’s nearly $36,000 a year.

The only way to eliminate teacher shortages, wherever they exist, is to fix the environment that created them in the first place.

The McComb Enterprise-Journal

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