Upper Michigan schools continue to address need for teachers

Some administrators believe there are fewer educators because of low pay and lack of respect
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 5:41 PM EDT
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MUNISING, Mich. (WLUC) - Schools nationwide and here in the Upper Peninsula have felt the strain of staffing shortages.

The COVID-19 Pandemic shed light on a shortage of teachers across the country – including in Michigan. In February, a survey by the National Education Association showed that 55% of its members were thinking about leaving the field before retirement.

At Munising’s William C. Mather Elementary School, Principal Nicole Lasak said the pay may be a factor.

“It’s a very rewarding job, but it’s challenging at the same time. I think people are just steering away to jobs that make more money,” said Lasak.

Lasak said teachers could also be feeling burnt out from the stress of adapting to remote learning during the pandemic, while Music Instructor Michelle Gaunt, who has been teaching for at least a decade, suspects reasons go beyond COVID-19.

“I think a lot of what we see, like what happened in Uvalde, is scaring a lot of teachers as well. It’s scaring me in fact,” Gaunt said.

And NICE Community Schools Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said mistreatment may also be playing a role.

“(There is) just a lack of respect in some cases across the nation for teachers. I think that’s hurt a lot,” said DeAugustine. “And then chipping away a lot of things like fringe benefits. The retirement system has changed dramatically.”

But, experts are working to rectify these deterrents to keep the number of new teachers up.

Northern Michigan University is known for its School of Education; despite everything, they say enrollment in their teaching program has crept upward. Associate Dean Joe Lubig said the school is always working to improve the field.

“We spend a lot of time talking to our pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 superintendents. But also, (we’re) talking about what needs they have so that we can modify a program, put forward an experimental program with the Michigan Department of Education, so that we can do everything we can to help them fill those needs with highly qualified people,” Lubig said.

Lubig met with other Michigan professors and administrators Tuesday during a Michigan Association of Colleges for Teacher Education retreat. Madonna University’s Chair of Teacher Education, Kate French, who is also a former K-12 teacher, was in attendance and says educators need proper resources to make a change.

“We keep hearing the narrative that they’re being undervalued, underpaid, and underappreciated. If we can change those big three items, then I think we’ll see teachers more likely to stay in the classroom,” French said.

Overall, administrators and teachers agree that continuing to improve the field could attract more teachers who are not only certified and qualified, but passionate about the role.

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