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 A student in the Mississippi Delta raises his hand during class. More than 40 school districts in the state, including many in the Delta, lack qualified teachers.
A student in the Mississippi Delta raises his hand during class. More than 40 school districts in the state, including many in the Delta, lack qualified teachers. Credit: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

In 2017, Mississippi identified four subjects and teaching specialties and 41 school districts as “shortage areas,” meaning there are not enough qualified teachers for those subjects or positions in elementary and secondary schools. The shortage of teachers has a real impact, especially on some schools in the state’s poorest districts. Roughly 17 percent of teachers in low-income schools in Mississippi lack a credential in their subject area, compared to 6 percent in higher-income schools. Research shows this can have a negative impact on students. When teachers are unqualified or underqualified, student scores on standardized exams are lower, and students are more likely to require remedial education.

These are among the reasons why William Carey University, a private school in Hattiesburg, has launched or is planning to launch several initiatives to tackle teacher shortages across the state. The school has partnered with more than a dozen school districts around Mississippi to offer free or low-cost paths for aspiring teachers, career-changers, and assistant teachers who wish to become lead classroom teachers. Here’s a look at the principal programs William Carey now offers or plans to launch soon:

  • A path for assistant teachers to become certified teachers: Assistant teachers in Mississippi make an average starting salary of $12,500, under state law. Many of these assistant teachers are unable to become certified because they must first finish an undergraduate degree. That can be difficult when working full time, said Ben Burnett, dean of the William Carey University School of Education. To help assistant teachers work toward their certification, the university is launching a program that will discount tuition by up to 60 percent, provide online and teleconference classes, and move required classes to the late afternoon, after assistant teachers are done working. “A lot of these assistant teachers don’t have the responsibility that a classroom teacher does,” Burnett said,” but it’s safe to say they’re working just as hard as the classroom teacher. We want to move them into certified positions to increase their earning potential, but also to solve the teacher shortage in their district.”
  • Free teacher education classes for alternate-route teachers in Meridian: William Carey and the Meridian Public School District launched an initiative this year to form an alternate-route teaching program. The university provides two free teacher education classes and the school district agrees to hire teachers who finish the program. Aspiring teachers must agree to teach in the Meridian Public School District for three years.
  • Delta Emerging Teachers Academy: The university and the Barksdale Reading Institute are partnering with four school districts in the Delta beginning this spring to place 20 aspiring teacher in low-income schools. William Carey provides students two courses required for teacher licensure at no cost; the Barksdale Reading Institute provides training to help aspiring teachers pass the teacher licensure exam. BRI also provides additional reading instruction training for elementary teacher candidates.
  • Community college collaboration: William Carey, the Pearl River Community College, and three school districts launched a program this year to help undergraduate students finish their third and fourth year of college on the campus of Pearl River Community College. The school districts are expected to provide student teaching opportunities and hire graduates of the program if positions are available.
  • Science and math teachers program: The university’s SMART grant program helps non-education graduates to become teachers by providing 20 aspiring math and science teachers the funds needed to complete 12 semester hours, buy textbooks, and take teacher licensure exams.

Burnett, the School of Education dean, said enrollment in teacher education at the university has declined. He hopes the new initiatives, along with recruiting more aspiring teachers for the undergraduate teacher education program, will help. “I’m looking for every opportunity to make connections [with districts],” he said. “We’re doing that in hopes of not just gaining enrollment, but my main focus is to help solve the teacher shortage.”

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