In a January 2018 article in the Billings Gazette, reporter Matt Hoffman investigated the critical shortage of qualified teachers in rural schools across the state of Montana. Hoffman writes about informational sessions hosted by Montana State University Bozeman (MSU). For the past two years, MSU has welcomed rural teachers to campus to talk to college students. The purpose of the gatherings are not to interview potential teachers; rather, they are informational sessions. Rural educators and administrators have time to meet with student-teachers to discuss what rural teaching entails.
In Montana, there has been growing concern over attracting and retaining qualified teachers for rural schools. There was a lawsuit in 2002 that claimed Montana was not giving rural schools enough funding to attract educators as rural teaching brings its own unique challenges such as remoteness and isolation. Typically, rural schools are much smaller than urban schools across the state. Rural educators report they enjoy the small class sizes and the ability to get to know students and their families. But there is a high turn over rate for teachers in rural schools. Many new educators do not plan to teach in rural schools for more than five years.
Another obstacle in teacher recruitment is the low pay. Hoffman reports that “Pay for beginning teachers in Montana is the lowest in the nation, and small schools typically pay less than larger districts.” Montana also has a rigorous process for teaching certification for out of state teachers.
In the latest report issued by the Office of Public Instruction, there are 638 full-time vacancies. Because of this critical shortage across the state, Montana has authorized teachers to work outside of their subject area(s), and there has been a rise in provisional licenses issued to teachers who are working toward certification requirements.