‘Disappearing Educator’ article explores growing problem of attracting and retaining teachers, support staff
EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Education Association yesterday released the February edition of the MEA Voice magazine, featuring an article that explores Michigan’s growing school employee shortage crisis. The article, “The Disappearing Educator,” investigates why experienced teachers are leaving early and why young people aren’t pursuing the education profession.
“In an era of ever-rising job demands, teacher scapegoating, loss of autonomy, budget cuts, and over-testing, teachers are leaving early—and young people are turning away from the profession,” according to one excerpt from the article.
The article includes in-depth interviews with public school administrators, teachers and support staff who tell their stories and share their thoughts about the growing shortage. Adverse conditions, lack of support from Lansing policymakers and chronically inadequate state funding for schools are causing applicants for education positions to decline. In addition, enrollment in teacher prep programs at colleges and universities dropped 40 percent between 2008 and 2013.
Kathren O’Brien is a special education teacher in Walled Lake who says she will retire several years earlier than planned – contributing to a brain drain of veteran educators from a critical shortage area. She said, “I knew since I was in second grade I wanted to be a teacher—I remember my dad saying, ‘You need to have a passion for whatever job you have’—and I have absolutely loved this job. I love working with kids, and other teachers, and parents. But I don’t feel I can continue.
“What’s hard is I’m a glass-half-full type of person, but morale in the buildings is so bad,” she said. “It’s not a fun place to be. The lack of respect from the state, and the control of education by people who are not even educators, is just so extremely frustrating.”
According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, average teacher pay in Michigan has steadily declined the past four years.
“Michigan school employees face pay cuts, freezes and other attacks from Lansing year after year, causing early retirement and disinterest in education professions,” said MEA President Steven Cook. “Policymakers in Lansing should listen to public school employees to understand the challenges they face and make sure our children receive a high quality education that prepares them for the future.”
Last spring, the MEA and American Federation of Teachers Michigan surveyed 11,000 of their members via an anonymous online survey. The results from the survey echo problems revealed in “The Disappearing Educator” article. For instance, 80 percent of school employees said they are under-compensated for the job they do. In fact, many said they take home several thousand dollars less per year compared to five years ago, often due to pay freezes and skyrocketing health care premiums and deductibles.
Low morale is also causing public school employees to leave their jobs. According to a 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute, retirements account for less than one-third of teachers who leave the classroom each year. Among those who leave the profession, job dissatisfaction is most often cited as a very important or extremely important reason for leaving.
“The teachers currently teaching in our public schools—if they can find a job outside of education where they’re appreciated and where they can have a career without being constantly attacked by outside sources, then they’re going to make that move and go to other professions,” said Michael Shibler in the article, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools.
Contact: Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, (517) 337-5508