Last Wednesday was the second-greatest day of my career in public education — which after 31 years, is coming to a close on July 15.
That evening on June 28, the Michigan Legislature passed a landmark package of bills to restore workplace rights stripped from school employees a dozen years ago. When the bills take effect next spring, frontline educators will again have a voice in decisions affecting our local schools. This will allow working educators to advocate for their students and help our kids get the resources they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
When the previous governor and Legislature punitively attacked educators in 2011 by crippling school employees’ rights and slashing $1 billion from the education budget, it sent a message to current and prospective educators that their state government did not value them. Naturally, many teachers and school support staff left the profession, contributing to the educator shortage our schools have faced these last few years.
Our kids deserve the best and brightest educators working in their schools — and to attract and retain high-quality teachers and support staff, we must treat Michigan educators as professionals. By restoring educators’ voices at the workplace, the Legislature’s pro-education majority has shown they are serious about restoring respect for our profession and fixing the educator shortage.
Just hours after passing this legislation, the House and Senate approved a record preK-12 education budget. Next year’s budget will provide increased per-student funding for schools, as well as additional resources for at-risk students, students with special needs, rural transportation and universal free school meals for every student.
Investing in our schools is the most effective thing state leaders can do when it comes to creating a brighter future for Michigan. While plenty of work is left to do, we are on the right path forward after the progress of the past few years.
The new budget also invests in educator recruitment and retention, providing student loan assistance for would-be educators, stipends for student teachers and funding for salary increases. Relieving some of the immense burden placed on new and aspiring educators is critical because those new educators — with their passion and drive to change lives — are the future of our profession.
I vividly recall my first day as a teacher in 1992; that was the No. 1 greatest day of my career.
Leading up to that day, I’d always wanted to be a teacher. My parents were teachers, so from an early age, I recognized teachers’ ability to fundamentally improve the trajectory of children’s lives.
When I began in Fraser Public Schools in 1992, I had incredible mentors and a support system to help me learn the ropes. I felt supported by colleagues, administrators and the community. I was excited to go to work every day and do what I could to make a difference.
No one gets into our profession to become wealthy, but I was able to earn a decent middle-class income, as well as receive good health benefits and a stable retirement plan — all while doing the greatest job in the world.
Despite the blatant political attacks, persistent budget cuts and deep divisions sown in our society, the power of education to change lives persisted. No matter how stressful the job became, I and my colleagues never lost sight of that promise.
As incoming MEA President Chandra Madafferi says, we must restore the universal joy of teaching. My career was full of joy — and I’m confident that anyone who enters this profession will also find immense joy in their work.
Our children will be better for it.
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.