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Listen Tuesdays at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on 90.5 WKAR-FMAccording to the Kids Count report of April 2018, 56% of third graders in Michigan are not proficient in English Language Arts. At the same time, some new public school teachers in Michigan are leaving the classroom because they do not earn enough money for a decent living. Virtual and charter schools are on the rise in Michigan. And in some communities there are breakthroughs in raising better readers.Covering education in Michigan is complex, but WKAR is committed to reporting on the problems, searching for solutions, and holding leaders accountable.Listen for Making The Grade in Michigan with WKAR education reporter Kevin Lavery every Tuesday at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on 90.5 WKAR-FM's Morning Edition.

MI Struggles To Incentivize Teachers Amidst Staffing Crisis

school classroom
File Photo
Michigan teachers say they face many obstacles to success in their profession.

Many Michigan teachers are returning from the Labor Day weekend with some labor issues of their own. 


One week into the start of a new school year, superintendents are still waiting for state lawmakers to pass the K-12 education budget.  The uncertainty over how much money districts will have to operate with is preventing them from negotiating more than 100 unsettled union contracts. 

That’s just one example of what many teachers count as a litany of obstacles that hamper their profession.  WKAR's Kevin Lavery spoke with Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, the chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University.



When you think about the American educational system as a whole, it is a system with lots of moving parts, and teachers often are on the receiving end. So, over time we've seen really a prohibiting of teacher agency; not just in the classroom, but by way of decision making and policy making and curriculum design. When that happens, the system can't function as it should.


A report by the Michigan Education Association found that nationwide, the teacher shortage issue is getting worse and teacher salaries continue to decline. What do you make of that?


Yeah, we've even seen our numbers decline in the teacher preparation program here. So, 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. How can we get high school students to see this career as attractive?  How can they grow?  That means growing professionally, ensuring that my salary increases from year to year, and that there are other ways in which I'm incentivized.


The 2019-20 school year will be the year in which a teacher's annual evaluation is going to be weighted (differently).  Forty percent of their evaluation will be based on their students’ standardized test performance. For many years. It was 25 percent.  I’m hearing from teachers that there are so many other factors that are just out of their control, and they’re saying this is just not fair.


Absolutely. It totally erases the kind of environmental conditions that kids face that are completely out of a teacher's capacity to intervene. Teachers are often solely responsible for the things that happen during the school day and try to attend to things that students encounter outside the school walls. But that is not in their contract.  So, to increase the percentage of student achievement data that's connected to teacher evaluation, I think,   really sends the message to teachers that we don't value you in a humanizing, holistic way. We just want to ensure that you're getting kids to perform. It's all on you. And, you know, hey, these external factors, we expect you to handle those too.


When you and your colleagues launch a fresh crop of new teachers from Michigan State University, what encourages you about how they’ve been equipped as they launch into their profession?


We know – or we believe – that we are preparing teachers who have a good level of social justice orientation toward the classroom, who feel confident about their ability to relate to culturally diverse students, whether they’re teaching in the suburbs, urban communities, rural communities, it doesn't matter. They have gotten the proper methods instruction. We feel confident that they're able to hold their own and seek out the necessary professional development that will help them be successful long term in their career. Could we do a better job in tracking that? Yes, we could. But on average, we hear from many school districts around the country that a Spartan teacher is a surely good teacher in their building.







Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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