COVID-19 has exacerbated the teacher shortage crisis in Michigan
Educators have been in high demand in Michigan for years, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the teacher shortage crisis.
What was already an issue before the pandemic is now what Michigan Education Association spokesperson David Crim called a “dire crisis.”
“One fear I have is that once this pandemic is over, and we've fully returned to in person learning, superintendents around the state are going to find that they're having a very difficult experience getting enough teachers to fill their staff,” Crim said. “I fear there will be classrooms without teachers because of this shortage.”
Crim’s fears are reflected in a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll that found one in five teachers say they are unlikely to go back to school if their classrooms reopen.
More standardized tests, cuts in wages and dropping college enrollment were among the reasons Michigan had seen fewer teachers before the pandemic. However, the burdens of remote learning have driven even more teachers to retire early or leave the profession.
Sarena Shivers is the director of professional learning and member services for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. She said that although the shortage isn’t a new problem, it requires creative and innovative strategies moving forward.
“We can’t do the work we do as leaders without teachers,” Shivers said. “This is a very important topic, and we need to keep a laser-tight focus on what is happening with the teacher shortage across the state of Michigan and find ways to continually attract, recruit and retain high quality teachers. Our kids deserve it.”
In 2017, MASA created the Educator Shortage Workgroup to develop strategies that would support school districts. MASA’s approach to the shortage has focused on professional learning for superintendents and assessing policy.
According to Crim, the shortage hinges on better wages and increasing starting salaries.
“(The MEA’s) role in the shortage is going to the bargaining table and bargaining for better compensation for teachers and support staff, so that we can stop the hemorrhaging from school employees leaving the profession and attract new teachers,” he said.
Although Michigan’s average teacher salary is higher than the national average, the starting salary for teachers still ranks 41st in the nation, according to the National Education Association.
Crim said low starting salaries coupled with the costs of higher education are discouraging students from entering teaching.
“What we found in those 1 in 5 teachers that are leaving the profession in the first five years: if they couldn't afford the basic necessities of life - rent, car payment, utilities, cell phones, on top of the student loan debt they've incurred - they could not afford to stay in the profession,” Crim said.
Crim said he believes bargaining for better wages is becoming easier now that administrators are struggling to find substitute teachers and long-term teachers.
Shivers said education could always use more public funding, but MASA does not “weigh in” on teacher wages.
The MEA is now partnering with the Michigan Department of Education to launch the “Welcome Back Proud Michigan Educators” campaign, which will make it easier for people with teaching certificates to re-enter the workforce.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a 40-page report with her plans for public schools. To address the teacher shortage, the report proposes service scholarships and loan forgiveness for teachers who commit to staying in their school district for a certain number of years. These recommendations would need to be approved by the legislature to take effect.
This story was produced as part of the Michigan News Group Internship. A collaboration between WCMU and eight community newspapers. Teresa Homsi works at Huron Daily Tribune.