Michigan had a teacher shortage. COVID has made the situation worse.

LANSING, Michigan – Katie Grass has been teaching first grade at Willow Ridge Elementary for 16 years. She’s survived embarrassing class accidents, tear-apart injuries at recess and, most recently, teaching during a pandemic.

“I think for a lot of older teachers the technology was just very overwhelming,” Grass said. “I mean, it was overwhelming for me, it was very overwhelming. So I think for a lot of people who could retire, they did. It was just too much change, too hard. Then, to have a lot of feedback that we got from the public, it’s hard to keep coming in a few days. “

The stress caused by the pandemic has prompted many teachers to consider leaving the classroom. In a survey by the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization, nearly one in four teachers surveyed in 2021 said he was likely to quit his job.

“We see in the Michigan data an increase in teacher exits and the pandemic,” said Katharine Strunk, director of the Faculty of Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University. “It’s going to have repercussions.”

This exodus of experienced teachers is something Michigan cannot afford. The state’s teacher shortage has been growing for a decade, and the pandemic may have just turned it into a crisis.

“So we’ve been in a shortage situation for a long time, it’s not just the pandemic,” Strunk said. “We have seen the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs decline over the past decade. “

Grass said that 16 years ago, when she applied to become a teacher, there would be “800 applicants for the same position.”

Willow Ridge manager Jim Gee said people told him, “Good luck getting a job in Michigan.

According to data from the United States Department of Education, enrollment in teacher preparation programs began to decline significantly in 2010.

And other changes have made the profession less lucrative for those who already teach. In 2012, a Michigan law required that school workers who paid nothing for their retirement start paying 4% of their salary.

“It was probably five years, probably closer to 10 years ago, that I had a conversation with one of our reps about the changes they were making to the retirement program and the retirement programs. insurance for teachers, ”Grass said. “And I was told that teachers would teach because they love to teach, and it doesn’t matter what you pay them or things like that. And unfortunately I think we see that is not the case. , the teachers in the public schools had very good insurance and very good pensions, and they’ve slowly, slowly, slowly, trimmed and trimmed until now. It’s tough. “

Many young adults trained to teach choose careers that offer more money and less control.

Willow Ridge is fortunate to have a full complement of full-time teachers, but they currently have no substitute teachers and are short of bus drivers.

If a Willow Ridge teacher has to take sick leave, Grass said, “They will take the dean out of the students. The manager, Mr. Gee, replaced. [teachers assistants] can under. They have to fulfill it somehow. “

As a possible consequence, if the staffing trend continues, the class sizes will increase. Studies show that this leads to lower test scores, a higher rate of behavioral problems and teacher burnout.

“I have 17 students here right now, and it’s a dream,” Grass said. “But I’ve had years of having 29 kids, and that makes it very, very difficult on top of everything else. It wears you out. It’s not worth it, unfortunately. scary as a parent with children in public schools. “

Struck said the old strategies won’t solve the problem.

“We’re not going to get away with doing business as usual and hoping people just come back into the teaching profession,” she said.

To attract more teachers, Grand Ledge recently increased its salary scale to give new hires a little boost.

The Lansing School District has partnered with Michigan State University to create residences for students and hire them after graduation.

“We should pay teachers who go into teaching by forgoing their loans, by giving scholarships to students who go to college to become teachers,” Strunk said. “These are all things we can do to lower the cost of entering the profession and to help others stay in the profession.”

However, money alone cannot get Michigan out of this abyss, it also depends on how teachers are treated.

“You know, it’s a positive and well-respected profession,” Gee said. “It’s worth it for a lot of people. But as part of it changed, then again the scrutiny was all the time worrying about the test results. Those negative things, the stories that sometimes happened during that period, well, then the money that it might have been worth five years ago … just isn’t worth some sort of under that microscope or under that fire for some. “

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