Acute Teacher Shortage Forces MI Schools To Rely On Long-Term Subs
Michigan is starting a new school year with an old problem. The state is in the midst of a chronic teacher shortage. A report released earlier this year by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan finds enrollment in post-secondary teacher preparation programs has fallen by two-thirds – 66 percent – since 2008. The crisis is forcing schools to dig deeper to fill their classrooms.
We found some things that were pretty stunning to us. We knew that there was a teacher shortage, and we've heard people talk about, gosh, we're having more trouble filling substitute teacher positions. We assumed that was what you and I would think of as substitutes; you know, Mrs. Jones is out sick today, and a probably retired teacher comes in and takes over the class for a day.
But what we found is that schools in Michigan are increasingly relying on what’s called “long-term” substitutes, which have the same qualifications as a (short-term) substitute but can be leading a classroom for as long as a year. They do not need to have any background in education. They do not even need to have a college degree. The only requirement is they have 60 college credit hours. We found there's been a tenfold increase in the number of long term substitutes in Michigan schools over the past just five years.
I wanted to know more about who was being placed into these long term substitute teaching positions myself. So, I spoke with Ernest Tisdale, the state director of EduStaff, based in Grand Rapids. It’s the largest substitute teacher placement agency in Michigan, and it’s becoming one of the largest in the country. He told me that the talent pool for substitute teachers 10 or 12 years ago looked very different than it does now.
I would say about 80 percent of those individuals were certified substitute teachers. Now, times have changed, to now 80 percent of our pool are actually permit substitutes. They may not have an education background per se; they will have credit hours for sure that qualifiy (them) based off the state of Michigan’s requirements. But the pool is different.
So, the dynamics have flipped in just a decade.
That's true. Let me tell you about a few examples in our reporting. We found a person who is working now as a long-term substitute who had applied for a job at the road commission in her county, and also to be a bookkeeper at a school. The school called her and said, ‘well, we don't have an opening for a bookkeeper, but would you like to be a teacher?’
We have another case where someone was a wedding planner and was hired to teach fifth grade math.
I'm not saying anything negative about these people at all. They're filling spots, they’re working…but one has to wonder whether in a state where schools are already struggling academically, if it makes sense to fill more classrooms with uncertified teachers.
We often hear that salaries for teachers are abysmal when balanced against the type of work they're expected to do. But, there are other factors as well that are dissuading people from becoming teachers in the first place. Here's Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, who chairs the department of teacher education at the College of Education at Michigan State University:
We have to begin as a state to think critically about, how do we incentivize being a teacher? Salary is one way (but) it's not the only way. We know that teachers who teach in high need schools and communities often lack basic resources like enough textbooks. Furthermore, they may have a high teacher-student ratio and no paraprofessional in the classroom. So, these are material resources that aren't necessarily related to salary but help me as an educator do my job well.
So it sounds like she's saying there are things that are lacking that make the profession less attractive to want to be a part of.
Sure. It's not just salary salaries, though that’s part of it. Teachers are paid less than most professions with the same level of education. This is why there’s a higher rate of teacher dropouts after a few years than there are in some other professions; they move on to other jobs that pay a little more.
But beyond the pay -- especially in Michigan; this is not true in every state, to be honest -- it's not a valued profession. I think a lot of that has to do with education being looked at as a partisan issue. Our legislature is run by Republicans, and teachers tend to donate to Democrats. Sometimes teachers are used as punching bags, and it's tough to go into a classroom and wrangle a classroom of 30 second graders all day for less money than most people who you went to college with are making and then be told that you're a bad person.
Do parents have any role in attempting to change the status quo for teachers?
Parents can do a couple of things. I would encourage them to check out the credentials of their children's teacher and make sure they're certified. If they’re not, ask the principal and superintendent why that is happening; put some pressure on there. But also, every parent is represented by a state representative and a state senator. If they are concerned about the state of education in the state, talk to them about it. Legislators respond to that.