In the latest offshoot of an effort to improve Wyoming’s ability to attract and retain teachers, education officials are seeking members for a task force. The group will develop recommendations for state policymakers and district-level staff aimed at addressing a statewide teacher shortage. 

The Wyoming Department of Education and Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board are accepting applications through Jan. 20. Candidates can express interest here.  

The task force will be composed of up to three district superintendents, three principals, 10 teachers, one parent, one teacher who has left the profession, one personnel director, one school counselor and one post-secondary representative, according to a WDE press release.

The task force will build on a broader effort that’s taken root over the last year, WDE Communications Director Linda Finnerty said.

Now that a separate teacher apprenticeship pilot project is up and running, she said, “we’re excited to focus attention on the retention and recruitment task force, because it’s a critical issue in Wyoming.”

History 

Teacher burnout has surged nationwide in recent years. Experts point to low pay and high stress, the latter of which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 National Education Association survey identified burnout as “the top issue facing educators right now.” Wyoming teachers concurred, telling WyoFile it’s a major issue here.

A 2022 joint survey conducted by the University of Wyoming’s College of Education and the Wyoming Education Association found that 65% of Wyoming’s teachers would quit if they were able to.

Charles Fournier, a Cheyenne teacher who produces a podcast about the teacher exodus, said Wyoming teachers are discouraged by a few factors: many don’t feel supported and trusted, for example, while others report mental health challenges and overwhelm. 

Students, parents and staff gathered in the playground at Verda James Elementary School in Casper for the first day of school on Sept. 1, 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Wyoming once offered higher teacher salaries than surrounding states, but it’s lost some of that edge. In 2020 the average teacher wage in the state was $60,650, a slight increase from 2012 when the wage was $59,268, according to a monitoring report by Christiana Stoddard, an economics researcher at Montana State University. Utah and Nebraska now offer teacher salaries comparable to Wyoming. 

Teacher retention and recruitment were top interim priorities of the Joint Education Committee. WDE, school districts, University of Wyoming and other education agencies also turned their attention to addressing the issue. 

WDE and the teaching standards board launched a teacher apprenticeship pilot program in 2022. The initiative, which is still in its early stages, aims to offer a regimen of coursework, on-the-job training, mentorship and other resources to help apprentices meet educational and licensure requirements to become teachers. It will first focus on district staff who have an associate’s degree, according to WDE. 

Three school districts — Laramie County School District #1, Teton County School District #1 and Fremont County School District #24 — were selected for its pilot phase, and the U.S. Department of Labor signed the official standards for the initiative in October. That gave the green light for the three districts to begin taking applications for apprentices for spring 2023, according to WDE.  

Ratcheting up efforts

The mission of the task force, meanwhile, will be to develop recommendations for positively impacting the education workforce, according to WDE. 

Fournier was heartened when heard about the task force, he said. 

“I’m very happy that this is an issue that people are trying to solve and address,” he said. “It is a big issue, and there’s a lot of smart people that are doing stuff already. So I hope they’re … involved.”

He was also happy to see so many teacher and education professional spots on the task force. 

“The fact that they’re really valuing teachers is great,” he said. 

Task force members are asked to be available for an in-person meeting Feb. 11 in Casper, as well as subsequent monthly in-person meetings through May. WDE and PTSB will notify applicants of their selection status by Feb. 1.

Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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  1. Garbage in, Garbage out. The garbage in is the Wyoming Legislature, and voters, the garbage out is the state of the education system. I was lucky to attend public grade schools in Cheyenne when they boasted of being one of top in the country. It wouldn’t surprise me now if they were battling Mississippi for the bottom.

  2. Having worked in schools for a mere four years of my adult life, one thing I discovered is that teachers don’t go into the profession for the money. They know they will never earn what they are worth. Though a living wage is indeed important to all workers, these men and women are taking on the future of the individuals they are teaching and the future of the communities they will one day govern and be stewards of. It is my sincere hope that this task force will address the real issue of the need to allow teachers to be creative and return to teaching children how to think instead of teaching to the standardized tests. That practice has done little but numb teachers and childrens brains instead of freeing them to inspire and be inspired to learn. All the documentation of actions to teach to the test is keeping bright, willing and able teachers from doing the job they are being paid to do. Holding teachers back in this way is Disheartening, disturbing and depressing and creates a negative working/learning environment disabling perfectly capable, caring individuals from giving our children real education. Eventually that atmosphere will drive teachers out of the profession and I for one, don’t blame them. Give them respect, the autonomy to do their jobs and proper remuneration. I also still have hope that the social issues that put so many of our children at risk for failure in school will someday be addressed by our governing bodies in real productive ways giving our families security and safety to raise healthy children in healthy environments. But I fear that is a pipe dream. Teachers shouldn’t need guns. Give them the freedom to teach. These are my thoughts and opinions on the matter, having seen the system failing miserably as a result of trying to standardize so rigidly.

  3. I am a retired educator, and while I do not live in, nor did I teach in Wyoming, about 20-25% of the students I taught were Wyoming residents who lived near here (Flaming Gorge). Teacher retention is a nationwide problem. The root causes are lack of mobility, low salaries compared to other professions, low esteem/respect from parents, and hordes of people who all seem to think that they know far more about curriculum, content, pedagogy, discipline and all other aspects of education than do those who spent at least four years preparing to teach, and most teachers go on to earn masters degrees or the equivalent.

    One of my earliest experiences was sitting in a parent-teacher conference with a parent whose employment required him to work, daily, with pesticides and herbicides. He said, in the presence of his 15-yr old child, “I ain’t never had any use for the science classes I took in this high school.” So in one sentence, he proved his ignorance (about the toxic substances he regularly handled), demeaned my knowledge, and told his kid that the class was worthless. FWIW, this parent is a good person, and we are still casual friends, 30+ years later.

  4. While many factors go into a teacher being satisfied with their occupation, at the root is compensation. If that is lacking then all the other stuff doesn’t really matter. Look at the price of homes in Wyoming. Look at the cost of food. Teachers are falling behind. While it can be said that others are falling behind as well, if you take a profession that is already borderline on pay, then decline it even further, college kids will look elsewhere when planning a career path. Teachers will put up with a lot if they are being compensated fairly. If not, then it doesn’t matter how many task forces you organize, it won’t make a difference in teacher retention and recruitment.

  5. Ageism is a real problem in the teaching profession. Older teachers fresh out of college still have to get past their younger cohorts, although they typically bring more experience and stability to their local schools.

  6. Teachers are abandoning their profession due to public educations requirement to socially engineer their unruly students. Family units no longer educate their underlings because of the inflated costs to live set by the irresponsible local and federal governments requiring a 2 parent work environment leaving the children to be raised by an unrelated minimum wage paycheck pseudo parent. Teachers want to teach and baby sitting is for the parents. The will to learn starts at home and public education needs a “start over – now!” Like the founder of Home Depot recently said “today’s young workers are fat, dumb and lazy.” Enough said…………………….

  7. Thanks. How does this fit in with the Gov’s RIDE taskforce. It’s report, which was puzzling at best, recommends that each child be treated individually and that the State transition away from historical progression by grade. Are we trying to recruit teachers who are going to embrace this pathway?

  8. A step in the right direction. Teacher burn-out is not surprising. It is tough work and has become harder with so many social changes. Interesting to me that no mention is made of the toxic political arena engulfing many districts. Wonder why that is?

  9. Teachers are leaving inner city school systems in droves, whether in CA, NY or elsewhere. With $60 K salaries and good mentoring programs as described herein, why is WY not developing a messaging program that reaches all these talented but disaffected teachers out there?

  10. Many years back, Wyoming attracted an influx of teachers because Wyoming was one of the top states in pay scale. Many were excellent teachers who remained in Wyoming to become good citizens and community members. Pay scale is a huge factor. Somehow, our communities must find ways to support these dedicated individuals financially and philosophically.

  11. This is a great idea. Hopefully the outcomes will be appreciated and accepted and implemented by district trustees across the entire state. I suggest that the constant interference by the political hacks that are determined to rewrite teaching standards and reporting are a significant part of this problem also. Adding charter schools to the mix with no requirements for teaching standards and the dictated use of “religious ” and limited truthful curriculum from Hillsdale College also presents a real challenge to why teachers are willing and wanting to leave.

  12. Well, teachers are not that supported by this current legislature regardless of what is said. Also, salaries are becoming a problem and of course as prospective teachers look at Wyoming and its retirement program and see that in the past 15 years, or so, that retirees have received no COLA makes this a important negative. I retired after 38 years in education and my last 25 in Wyoming!