'I don't miss the burnout or lack of respect': Teacher shares her story after leaving the classroom

Michigan is facing a teacher shortage crisis, FOX 17 takes an in-depth look at the issues educators face
Posted at 7:32 AM, May 18, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (FOX17) — Our country, and our state is facing a teacher shortage crisis. As we wrap up the 2022-2023 school year, FOX 17 is taking an in-depth look at the issue.

After being asked to do more with less, some veteran teachers are choosing to retire and some young teachers are finding a new career.

"Teaching has changed. I mean, putting that all together, the content and getting the content knowledge, and the competition to get the test scores where they need to be, combined with the social emotional piece and the trauma pieces. It's daunting," said Hollie Stephenson, Ferris State University, field placement coordinator.

Stephenson, who was a teacher for decades herself, now working to place future teachers in West Michigan classrooms.

Although the state is on the right track providing new incentives for future educators, financial and mental health support is needed to keep the men and women already inside the jobs there.

Grand Rapids Public Schools teacher Lindsey Contreras has been in the classroom for five years. For the last few years, Contreras admits her job has included a lot more than just the basics of reading.

"People have said why are you still doing this then? Like, if it's not good for your mental health, if it's not good for how you are able to then perform at home? Why are you still doing it? And my answer is, I cannot think of anything else that would fill my heart the way that this job does," said Contreras, 2nd grade, East Leonard Elementary.

Lindsey Contreras works guided reading with her East Leonard Elementary 2nd graders
Lindsey Contreras works guided reading with her East Leonard Elementary 2nd graders

Despite burnout, Contreras says she will continue her work molding young minds at East Leonard Elementary. The same sentiment cannot be said about some other young Michigan teachers.

"We love what we do. There's a stamina that teachers have and an energy that isn't matched everywhere," said Brianne Minaudo, Columbia Instructional Design, and Teachers Supporting Teachers.

Minaudo was passionate about exploring story plots and writing styles inside her middle school language arts class on the east side of Michigan.

Minaudo interacts with her middle school students
Brianne Minaudo interacts with middle school students

In 2022, after eight years inside the classroom, Minaudo hit her breaking point.

"It was like we were, you know, in the medical field, we were in the janitorial field, then it was okay, now I'm in the like law enforcement field or protective enforcement field in case of an intruder. Then, with the social emotional stuff, it's like now I'm also acting as therapist. When am I actually just teaching? When do I just get to be a language arts teacher?" said Minaudo.

Not only was she exhausted, but Minaudo felt underpaid. Minaudo added, "teachers always say, you know, don't go in it for the money. Because it's fulfilling, it's rewarding. And that's so true. But, I've always hated that statement, because I am fulfilled, but I also went into teaching because I did need a job and you need money."

Some attribute part of the teacher shortage crisis to salary.The Teacher Salary Projectis working nationwide to advocate for better pay for educators. The project estimates teachers are paid 84% of what similarly educated workers, folks who have a bachelor's degree, earn.

The National Education Association looks at real-time salary data across the nation and in Michigan. Ten years ago, the average starting salary in Michigan was $35,901. The NEA estimates if that salary kept up with national inflation, teachers should have been paid $36,891.

In 2022, teachers started at $38,983, but, if that salary kept up with inflation, teachers should have made $46,813 to begin.

It is important to note on that salary table in 2022, starting teacher salary jumped 2.8%, the highest jump in 10 years.

Teacher Salary Table
NEA estimates for average starting teacher salary as compared to inflation

After the Oxford High School shooting, and others, Minaudo felt scared for her safety.

"We were instructed to run trainings that we told students, if this happens grab whatever is near you stapler, book, whatever, something heavy that you can find, and take it and hide under the counter. Because if they come in, you're going to practice throwing it at them. And so, we're the ones teachers are telling the students this."

Brianne Minaudo at Columbia University
Brianne Minaudo in her new role, instructional design and teacher support at Columbia University

Now, Minaudo works for Columbia University in Manhattan. She designs programs to support teachers still inside the classroom.

Her new role allows her more than just financial security, "you miss it, you can't replicate what's in the classroom. But I don't miss the extra. I don't miss the extra stress, I don't miss the extra guilt, or burnout or lack of respect," said Minaudo.