(WXYZ) — A teacher shortage in Michigan is getting worse as more educators are retiring mid-year and fewer people are entering the profession, says the Michigan Education Association.
“We’ve been seeing over the several years the enrollment in teacher prep programs drop [and] people leaving the classroom early, especially in the first five years of the profession," said Doug Pratt with the Michigan Education Association, a union representing thousands of teachers and public education workers in the state.
“We’re seeing more retirements, especially during the school year," Pratt said.
Using state retirement data from the Michigan Office of Retirement Services for participants in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, MEA found mid-year retirements have consistently gone up over the past four years, with an increase of more than 53 percent from 2019 to 2020, when mid-year retirements between September and December went from 1,094 to 1,679.
“I work in one of the more wealthy districts in the state, and I have $100 stipend a year to buy every supply that I need," said Diane Aretz, who teaches Spanish in Ann Arbor Public Schools. Aretz believes under-funding is driving many educators out, but that's not all, she said.
“To me, saying that we have a teacher shortage is akin to saying that there’s a plumbing shortage where I live, because I can’t get a plumber to come to my house and work for two dollars an hour while I am berating them and telling them how to do their job," Aretz said.
Aretz, who is teaching virtually, feels lawmakers in Lansing need to address this at the policy level.
The shortage is evident for Mark Blaszkowski, superintendent of Roseville Schools. “In the year 18 to 19, we had seven total resignations and retirements," Blaszkowski said. "In the next year, which was last year after March, we had 35. And this year, we’re at 33 already."
Another way, at least in the short term, is making it easier to become a teacher. Last month, the State Department of Education approved a new program through Detroit Public Schools Community District that targets para-educators and support staff already within the district who are looking to expand their training. On The Rise Academy provides an alternative route to teacher certification according to the district.
"As an approved educator preparation program, On the Rise Academy is a new opportunity for aspiring teachers, including current DPSCD staff, to engage in rigorous coursework and practice-based training to become certified and able to teach in DPSCD classrooms," a release on the program reads. "The program also provides opportunities for currently certified teachers to add endorsements in hard-to-staff content areas like mathematics and science. By opening up a local, District-based option for teacher preparation, DPSCD will ensure we have a strong and diverse pipeline of teachers matched to our future staffing needs."
DPSCD will begin accepting applications in March for candidates seeking certification and April for continuing teachers looking to add an endorsement to their current certification.
“This is a job that most of us are called to," Aretz said. "It’s absolutely fraught for the folks I know who leave the profession.”