Education in Crisis What’s causing teacher shortages in the US?

Education is a vital tool to help ensure a bright future for not only the state of Michigan, but that of the entire U.S.. But without an adequate number of teachers, educating our children in the future is seriously at risk.

According to research at the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) based in Palo Alto, Calif., the U.S. is now amid a critical teacher shortage — such has not been seen since the 1990s. While there are deficits in every state, it’s worse in some states than others. The primary areas of highest concern are special education, math, science, English language and bilingual education.

LPI’s numbers show that from 2011 to 2016, while hiring of public school teachers in the U.S. went up 45 percent, enrollment dropped 35 percent between 2009 and 2014 for students enrolling in teacher preparation programs. Michigan hasn’t escaped this crisis: Enrollment at two of Michigan’s top ranked schools of education, Michigan State University and University of Michigan, have fallen by 35 and 45 percent, respectively.

Reports in recent years show that in Detroit and Flint schools, class sizes have risen to 45 students or higher due to less teachers being available. Statistics show that vacancies in these districts and some rural areas have stayed unfilled for months at a time. This not only includes full-time teaching positions, but it also reflects shortages in substitute teachers as well, with Flint schools facing averages of 20 sub requests going unfilled daily.

So, what is causing these shortages?

According to Mary Lesage, a teacher from the Maple Valley School District in Vermontville, Mich., there are several reasons.

“I have been teaching for 34 years,” said Lesage. “Part of the reason are things such as less people getting into the field and Baby Boomers starting to retire. There are also more demands being placed on teachers, and we are working longer hours with more government regulations.”

She also listed several other factors that many other teachers echo, such as less respect and support, less parental involvement, being forced to teach toward the test (e.g. state testing), more paperwork versus actual teaching time and today’s socioeconomic standards.
“I love being with the kids,” stressed Lesage. “But teachers today are facing a lot more challenges, and that makes it hard to do our job.”

Other reasons cited in some teacher surveys listed issues such as not being allowed to be flexible, inadequate classroom resources and evaluations based on student test scores. In fact, a survey in 2014 by the National Education Association showed about 50 percent of teachers all over the U.S. have thought of quitting because of standardized testing issues.

An online poll done by Education Week also reported that responders said they wouldn’t recommend becoming a teacher by an almost 5-to-1 margin, an indicator of the stress that educators are under. Another reason for that stress in the teaching profession is low pay.

Michigan teachers are listed as receiving above U.S. average pay with average annual salaries of about $62,000 in 2016 — versus the national average of around $56,000 — according to teachingdegree.org and depending on their area of specialty. The average pay is calculated by dividing the total cost of salaries by the number of full-time equivalent teachers.
So, how can this teacher shortage be solved?

Michigan officials have researched the problems with past and pending teacher shortages for several years and according to former State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, who served Michigan from 2005 to 2015, the state has ways to address the shortage. In 2014, he recommended several workable solutions, such as letting retired teachers and certified teachers who are no longer teaching have a way to get back into it, as well as letting people with a bachelor’s degree apply to take alternate routes to becoming a teacher.

One way Flanagan aims to increase the supply of teachers in the state is by encouraging people from outside of the teaching profession to enter the field. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree can apply for alternative programs and apply for a variety of permit options. Interested applicants can see the entire listing of options on the Michigan Department of Education’s website. Other options allowed include the Troops to Teachers Program, which allows former military members to become certified as teachers.

The bottom line is that not having enough qualified educators nationwide is hurting the future of our nation and the current deficit must be addressed and remedied as soon as possible. Our teachers need to have not only the time and tools to do their job, but our respect and trust; if not, we face potential drops in overall literacy, which is something that must be avoided to keep our country strong.

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