Assistant teachers fill gap during shortage without the pay

Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 5:11 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi teachers received the highest pay raise in history last year - but it didn’t keep them in the classroom.

Their work then falls on support staff, and in the Capitol City, the Jackson Association of Educators is appealing to lawmakers to increase pay for those filling the gap.

Education advocates say the teacher shortage impacts the students and those filling the gap when teachers call it quits. Jackson Association of Educators president George Stewart says the organization is grateful legislators increased teacher pay, but the lack of educators in schools puts more responsibility on assistant teachers.

“When those teachers that leave the classroom, they don’t have anybody to fill in for them, we have our education support staff come in and fill that teacher role,” said Stewart. “So, you’re talking about teachers who are basically on minimum wage salaries that are acting as certified teachers in the classroom.”

According to JAE, teacher shortages can result in larger class sizes with more than 30 students in a classroom.

The Director of Recruitment for Jackson Public Schools says there are 11 open elementary teacher positions. The district is also seeing a shortage of substitute teachers.

“Being able to pay teacher assistants what they’re really worth will allow us to be able to recruit high quality employees, fill those vacancies and those need with the hopes of also being able to convert some of those teacher assistants if they meet the qualifications to become actual teachers,” said JPS Director of Recruitment Dr. Tommy Nalls.

JPS assistant teachers with no experience earn $11.27 an hour. They received an additional $1,500 when the legislature approved the teacher pay raise. All teacher assistants in the district are in Pre-K through first grade.

There are currently 43 teacher assistant vacancies. The district offers programs through the state and in conjunction with local universities to help teacher assistants become certified to fill vacancies.

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