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.”
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.
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.