Michigan kids deserve the best and brightest educators.
That seems like an uncontroversial statement, yet in the face of an educator shortage, some lawmakers have proposed significantly lowering our state’s teacher certification standards and making it easier for unqualified people to lead a classroom of young students.
The last thing our state’s leaders should be doing is permanently weakening Michigan’s teaching requirements. Instead, we should treat education as the highly specialized profession it is by providing the time, support and compensation needed to work as a team for student success.
That’s why the Michigan Education Association is going above and beyond the traditional service model of unions, working to develop and maintain a world-class talent pool of educators through mentoring and professional support.
Educators need access to more and higher-quality professional development opportunities, particularly younger teachers. According to the Learning Policy Institute, early-career educators without access to mentoring and other supports are more than twice as likely to leave the profession as their colleagues who have the proper guidance.
In addition to the numerous professional development programs offered through the MEA Center for Leadership and Learning, our union is working with seven other state education associations on a pilot project called “Educators Leading the Profession,” which provides new teachers with both a virtual instructional coach and a veteran mentor in their own school building.
The instructional coach meets online regularly with the newer teacher to train them on effective teaching methods specifically for their grade or subject, as well as to collaborate on development of an individualized professional learning plan.
The building mentor helps the new teacher get acclimated to their new school, and also works with other staff to create a welcoming environment where new teachers feel connected and less afraid to ask questions.
Because the program is union-led, new teachers can work to develop their skills in a nurturing and formative manner, and they’re able to receive valuable feedback without the stress that comes with formal performance evaluations conducted by supervisors.
The program aims to accomplish three main objectives: increasing the retention rate of newer teachers; accelerating their skill progression; and increasing their overall job satisfaction.
If successful, Educators Leading the Profession can serve as a model for schools across the Michigan and throughout the nation. Similar models work in the building trades and medical professions – and every indication is that it will for education as well.
Combined with increases in compensation and support for new teachers to enter the profession, we can turn the tide on Michigan’s educator shortage.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature recently passed a bipartisan education budget, which includes scholarships for aspiring educators and stipends for student teachers, both of which can help bring new educators to the profession.
Additionally, the budget includes a $450 increase in the per-student funding allowance – an ongoing funding increase that must be used by school districts to increase wages and keep good educators on the job.
The budget agreement also left $3.5 billion in education funding on the table to be allocated later. A portion of this money should be used on retention bonuses for teachers and education support professionals, as has been called for by the governor and many in the business community.
Between these investments and a dedication to professional support for educators, we have a real opportunity — right now — to forge a better path forward and make Michigan a global leader in education. That means providing educators the support they need to develop their craft, as well and the compensation they warrant as professionals.
After all, our kids deserve the best.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.