CAPE GIRARDEAU — When Southeast Missouri State University junior Mark Richter told friends and family he wanted to be a teacher, they expressed admiration but said he must be a little nuts, too.
After all, according to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, teachers rank second behind the military in the public's esteem. Yet about 8 percent of public school teachers left the profession in 2008-09 and another 7 percent moved to a different school, according to the latest National Center for Education Statistics research.
But none of the negative things reported about teaching has dampened Richter's determination to graduate in May 2015 and teach high-school social studies, the Southeast Missourian reports.
"I've always liked the subject area. I've always liked history and economics. I was really drawn in by the teachers I had throughout my educational experience," he said.
Richter said teachers instilled "that love of subject in me, and I want to do the same for my students."
He's done some classroom observation — with more extensive observation coming in future semesters — and still must take student teaching and classroom management courses, which he acknowledges will be vital.
Some of his instructors have offered insights into the classroom from their experiences, which he thinks will be helpful.
"They not only give you a snapshot of what it's like, but they can describe some things that have happened in their classrooms and prepare us for what they weren't prepared for. There's always going to be something that comes up in a classroom that you're not prepared for.
"But the more prepared you are, the better off you'll be ...," Richter said.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, the average teacher's salary in the state is $46,213, and the average level of experience is 12.4 years. Close to 60 percent of teachers have a master's degree or higher, the site said.
Jackson School District superintendent Ron Anderson said if someone is going to stay in teaching, it's recommended he earns a master's degree sooner rather than later. However, salary schedules show the move takes a while to pay off financially.
The total number of teachers in Missouri in 2013 is 68,850, up from 67,600 in 2012, according to the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers in Missouri Public Schools report issued this month. The report shows 48.9 percent of the state's teachers have 10 or fewer years of experience. District hiring rates increased to 10.8 percent, up 0.1 percent from 2012, the report said.
The percent of district new hires who are first-year teachers decreased from 65.9 percent in 2012 to 59.9 percent in 2013, the report said. According to the most recent statistics in the report, first-year teachers who left the classroom after one to three years rose from 17.8 percent in 2009 to 29.2 percent in 2010.
Teachers leave for a variety of reasons, Diana Rogers-Adkinson, dean and professor at Southeast's College of Education, said in an email to the Southeast Missourian. She listed a lack of respect shown to them, political issues related to teaching, management and discipline issues in the classroom and low pay for long hours/needing to work a second job.
"Historically," Rogers-Adkinson said, "special education teachers have left most often due to the challenges of the work, but other areas are experiencing similar burnout with pressure to measure teachers by student test performance only."
Some teachers leave to become professors. Others leave to take on museum education roles, work at companies doing corporate education or become textbook representatives, the latter two of which pay better, Rogers-Adkinson wrote.
"This type of evaluation system only works in areas that are measured such as math and English language arts, but music, physical education, arts, etc., are not measured. It is a system that places the weight of school performance on a limited number of teachers," she said.
Work environment also plays a role, Rogers-Adkinson said.
"Leadership is often a major factor as teachers will stay at a challenging school if they have support and mentorship," she wrote. "The overall climate of a school can make (or) break a new teacher."
Robin McKinley, who teaches fifth- and sixth-grade special education at Cape Girardeau Central Middle School, spent seven years with the Cape Girardeau School District and eight in Scott City before that. President of the Community Teachers Association, McKinley said after this year, she will have taught every grade from kindergarten through 12.
"I am a person whose first college degree was not in education. I worked in the outside world. I designed packaging for the music industry, but on the side I also worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the YMCA in Nashville.
"I always gravitated to working with youth. ... I went back to school and got certification to teach at-risk kids," McKinley said.
"There are more and more people every year who, when they graduate from college, have a different degree at first, then go back as adults and get their education certification because you kind of find yourself doing the same things — volunteering for youth programs, working in a day care center," she added.
"I wanted to become a teacher because I thought I could impact someone's life in a positive way, and if I get paid along the way, great," McKinley said.