Teachers: Help Wanted!

If the decline in the number of certified teachers that plagues school districts nationwide were isolated and short-term, perhaps administrators and board members could fix the problem and move on. But educators nationwide recognize that it is not solely about economics, nor social norms, nor communities, nor  lifestyles, nor evaluations.
Brian Brutyn is an associate superintendent in the Midland Public Schools.
It is all those things intertwined, and while many local educators agree that creating better economic and professional conditions need to be part of the answer, they are just part of the complicated equation.

"When students are considering choosing a career field, all conditions of the profession are considered, not just pay and benefits,” says Brian Brutyn, associate superintendent for Midland Public Schools. ”We hear often when talking to candidates that public sentiment of the profession is a major factor. Respect for the field is important to them. Other considerations such as evaluation law, certification requirements and pension portability create complex conditions within the profession. A multi-layered approach to the shortage is necessary to reverse the trends that we are seeing."

A perfect storm of cultural, social and economic changes in recent years, exacerbated by the pandemic, has created shortages in education and in many professions, allowing dissatisfied workers upward and lateral mobility not seen in years, and seldom in education. And it has allowed people to look at professions in their entirety, not just as a paycheck.

Shawn Hale has observed the transformation up close, and echoes Brutyn’s sentiment.
Shawn Hale is the superintendent of the Bullock Creek Schools.
“I truly believe that placing an emphasis and importance on education is the most crucial first step in recruiting and retaining teachers,” says Hale, now superintendent of and a former student and teacher at Bullock Creek School District. “School employees work very hard and school funding has been minimal for many years. It is so important that our school employees feel valued for the work that they do.”

Teacher shortages predate the pandemic, notes a number of studies within the past two decades, but mirror the shortages across the board. For example, the number of people graduating from teacher education programs has fallen short of demand. In 2018, 57,000 fewer students nationwide earned education degrees than in 2011, according to a blog post gleaned from various studies by Chad Aldeman on Teachers and Teaching in  Education Next newsletter, published Sept. 28. Information.

A separate report confirmed those numbers. Graduates from teacher-education programs declined by almost a third between the 2008 and 2018-19 academic years, according to a report in March from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education The information was published by Janelle Retka Oct. 6, 2022 in the Seattle Times article on community colleges offering streamlined degrees.

Brutyn and Hale are saying they are seeing fewer applicants new to the profession, reflecting those numbers and are concerned what that portends. Experienced teachers from other districts are filling the positions. MPS had 50 hires for teacher positions this past fall. Brutyn notes that two-thirds  are teachers seeking to transfer from other districts, Only one-third were new to the profession.

“That is a reversal from the past,” Brutyn says, and winds up costing districts more money in step and longevity raises. In addition, he notes, some positions generally require special licenses, such as STEM positions or special education, which are more scarce.

Hale says that trends resulting from  the COVID disruption are being studied. He notes that since in 1998 when he became a teacher at Bullock Creek with 15 other new  teachers because of retirements. Since then, he has seen other waves. 

“The difference from our experience in the 1990s, is that we have far fewer certified candidates graduating from universities,” he notes. “Placing importance on the teaching profession and encouraging enrollment in teacher programs will help to address this issue. The candidates we have been able to hire have been great, however it appears that we have been hiring more teachers with experience and fewer teachers fresh out of college in the last two to three years.”

Brutyn himself comes from a line of school teachers and he says his family places a high value on learning, “My whole family is in education and there are certain traits that people have at 17 and 18 that lead them” into the field, he believes. Until recently, however, once a teacher begins a career it is difficult to move."

The portability of benefits has changed the nature of teaching. Now, if they feel trapped in one district, or if the need for their services is greater elsewhere, they can take earned benefits with them. “The 401K, the pension, they had to leave that in the past,” Brutyn says.

Michigan this year has begun some programs that have started elsewhere, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hopes to accomplish more this year, enhancing the way education workers are trained and rewarded.

“From my perspective, Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer has made it a priority to fund education at an appropriate level which in turn sends a strong message of the importance of educating our youth,” Hale says, “This I believe will help to draw candidates to the teaching profession.”

Whitmer worked with the Legislature to pass legislation last year to earmark $575 million to state recruiting efforts, including  $175 million of the $575 million appropriated in the FY23 budget for Grow Your Own programs for school support staff to become teachers.
"It is so important that our school employees feel valued for the work that they do.”
Both Hale and Brutyn note that current debt, housing  and pay, as well as evaluations, work rules and certification are playing big roles in who applies and ultimately who gets hired. And both agree that the steps those concerned are taking are is just the beginning, and thinking about the steps goes beyond the school boundaries.

“The vast majority of my conversations have been with SVSU (Saginaw Valley State University)  and a few conversations with CMU (Central Michigan University).  Creatively developing alternative route programs has been the focus, Hale says. ”The universities are looking for ways to expand these certifications and help make their graduates more marketable.”

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Read more articles by Ralph E. Wirtz.

Ralph E. Wirtz is a native Midlander who retired from the Midland Daily News as a managing editor in 2015. He has been freelancing since then in between traveling and volunteering. He has four adult children, all who graduated from Bullock Creek High School as he did. He is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a Central Michigan University grad. He can be reached at ralphewirtz@gmail.com.