Education in crisis: Explaining the teacher shortage

More substitute teachers are in front of students, classroom sizes are bigger, and educators are feeling burnt out.
Updated: May. 9, 2023 at 5:30 PM EDT
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MICHIGAN (WNEM) - More substitute teachers are in front of students, classroom sizes are bigger, and educators are feeling burnt out. These are just a few outcomes of what’s happening in districts nationally and locally in mid-Michigan.

Half of all public schools in the country are now understaffed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and mid-Michigan is no stranger.

“When the pandemic hit, it took us all by storm,” said Kye Bright, English teacher at Academy West Alternative School In Flint.

The sentiment is the same for Nadia Rodriguez, a first and third-grade teacher at Flint’s Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School.

“Our job has gotten significantly more difficult since the pandemic,” Rodriguez said.

The pandemic is just one tipping point for the national and local shortage of teachers as it has been a trend for close to a decade.

“2013 and 2014 is when Michigan was seeing a huge decline,” said Tiffany Pruitt, executive director of human resources in labor relations for Saginaw Public Schools.

The reasons why the shortage is happening vary for both Rodriguez, who has been teaching for seven years, and Bright, who has been an educator for nine years. For Rodriguez, lack of support is one reason so many teachers are leaving the profession or deciding against becoming a teacher.

“The lack of support, the more teachers that leave the more that gets put on our shoulders. The shortage just makes it more difficult to do our job every day,” Rodriguez said.

“Something that tends to be the burnout for teachers is we take home what we can’t finish during the day or week, and we are not compensated for that,” Bright said.

So, the question now becomes, what does this mean for your child?

“We are forced to have substitute teachers in front of our students. We have an excellent pool of subs, but our goal is to have certified teachers,” Pruitt said. “There has been a decline in the number of people applying.”

Getting young people to go into teaching has become a struggle.

“That goes back to the number of people that are enrolling in these education programs through the Michigan Department of Education, there’s not a lot of people out there right now,” Pruitt said.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. New solutions are now in place statewide with various programs like Future MI Proud Educator, which offers a $10,000 scholarship to up to 2,500 future educators.

In mid-Michigan, new solutions are being put into place as well.

“We were able to partner with Saginaw Valley to launch the Grow Your Own program for staff members who already have a bachelor’s and train them to be teachers. The program takes about a year or three semesters. They can take the elementary track or secondary track. We have 23 staff members to graduate this May. If they pass the Michigan Teacher Certification Test right away, they are offered the teacher’s salary with sign-on bonuses,” Pruitt said.

Grow Your Own is now in phase one in Saginaw Public Schools and is set to launch phase two later in the year.

“[Phase two of Grow Your Own is] a teacher apprenticeship program where now we are targeting our support staff that have high school diplomas, associate degrees, or college credits. We are partnering with Delta College with a pathway to Saginaw Valley, this program could take one to four years,” Pruitt said.

As for Bright and Rodriguez, the reasons they stay are simple - they both have a deep love for the children they teach.

“Honestly this fills my cup up every day. I have 100 plus kids with a different personality, like it really fills my cup up every day,” Bright said.

“When people say as a teacher you know what you were getting into, being a human shield is not one of those things and we will do it because we love our children,” Rodriguez said. “It’s emotionally exhausting, but I love them like they’re mine and the idea of leaving feels like you’ll be abandoning your own children.”

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