University of Wyoming Tackles Rural Teacher Shortage With Personalized Professional Development
July 31, 2023

​Schools across the United States are struggling to fill vacancies as teachers quit at higher rates and fewer students aspire to become teachers. The teacher shortage is even more acute in rural areas. The University of Wyoming (UW), an ACE member, has a plan to not only alleviate this problem but convert a dearth of teachers into a surplus.

In a 2022 survey of Wyoming teachers, 13 percent of respondents said they planned to quit the profession by the end of the year, and another 65 percent said they would quit if they could. Common reasons for wanting to quit included feeling unsupported and stress and anxiety.

Jacie Schumacher, a former Wyoming teacher who recently left the field after ten years, told the Casper Star-Tribune that teachers will continue quitting if school leaders fail to make sure they feel they have enough support. “Successful administrators are not in their office. They are talking to their teachers. They are supporting their teachers by being in their classroom,” she said.

UW’s response is called the Master Educator Competency Program (MECP), a flexible professional development curriculum that will be available to teachers throughout Wyoming. MECP’s objective is to proactively address many of the factors causing teachers to leave their jobs. Wyoming is able to fill only about 500 of the 800 teaching positions that open up every year, but if fewer teachers felt compelled to quit, schools could operate at closer to full capacity while students would learn from more experienced educators.

While developing MECP, leaders from UW’s College of Education embarked on a statewide listening tour. Teachers spoke to them about their needs, concerns, gaps in their knowledge, and the kinds of professional learning that would help them the most. The university is now creating learning modules based on subjects and skills teachers raised in listening sessions.

“The road to this solution is paved in partnership with the teachers themselves,” Scott Thomas, former dean of the UW College of Education, told the University of Wyoming.

Overwhelmingly, teachers told UW that they want help fostering school environments that put students and their learning, as opposed to scheduling and political concerns, first. They requested professional development that teaches them how to manage issues that arise during their classes and includes opportunities to receive feedback on their implementation of these lessons. Teachers also sought a professional development curriculum with enough customizability to address topics of particular importance to their communities.

MECP will be fully online, as the distance of many communities from UW’s campus in Laramie makes in-person instruction infeasible for many teachers. Teachers will have access to practical, job-embedded courses tied to specific competencies, and they will be able to focus on the subjects most relevant to their interests and their school districts. Coursework will be asynchronous and self-paced, and teachers who demonstrate prior familiarity with a competency can progress through that module faster. UW expects that teachers will be able to receive credit for mastering competencies that they can apply toward postsecondary credentials.

The university also recently introduced a complementary program, the Wyoming Teacher-Mentor Corps, that connects education majors and first-year teachers with veteran teacher mentors. By providing personalized support to teachers at all stages of their careers, UW intends to minimize the number of teachers who feel overwhelmed and taken for granted.

“If we can cut the attrition rate in half by supporting, by treating our teachers as the professionals that they are and by supporting those teachers accordingly and working with them,” Thomas explained to Wyoming Public Media, “we could actually have a surplus of teachers in the state.”