William Carey partners with Gulfport School District to address teacher shortage

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 8:01 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - It was an educational seminar, unlike anything you’ve heard before. William Carey University, along with the Gulfport School District held its inaugural Teacher Shortage Conference to address the decline of teachers.

The positive influence of a good teacher can change a life with just a few words of encouragement.

“I was going through the hardest time in my life with anxiety and depression during that time,” Callee Gracyn Graves of Purvis High School told attendees at the Teacher Shortage Conference. “And those words meant so much to me.”

And now, she wants to be that inspiration herself.

“I want to be a teacher because I would make the biggest impact in this world as I possibly can,” she said. “And I think teaching is the best way to do it.”

But not everybody is as excited about the prospects.

William Carey University vice president Dr. Ben Burnett calls the teacher shortage “a crisis.”

“I spoke to state administrators conference last week and said, ‘Raise your hand if you have openings right now,’ " he said. “And 75 percent of the room raised their hands.”

The hope is to reverse a long-time trend.

“I would love to be able to blame it all on COVID, but that’s definitely not the truth,” said Gulfport school superintendent Glen East. “It’s been a trend that’s been going on for 10 to 15 years.”

The problem is complex and so will be the solution with a lot of voices involved, including those considering teaching as a profession.

“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” Burnett said. “We can’t pass one law or do one thing and say we’ve fixed the problem. It’s going to be a 10- to 20-year solution if we start right now.”

The strategy is to address the pipeline supplying quality teachers and find a way to keep them where they are. Pay is one of the biggest issues.

But it’s not enough to deter Gulfport High School student Lillian Szkolnick from her dream to help other students like herself.

“I have been able to see and experience first-hand the impact an amazing teacher can have on your life,” she said. “It has really turned my entire life around. I think if I had the privilege and opportunity to do that to at least one other person in my life, I think I’d be set. Like, how could I now want to do that.”

The session will produce a public document with practical steps the school districts can take to help solve the teacher shortage.

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