Michigan teachers quitting at record rate

LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan teachers say they are worn down and under paid.

Sources say we're facing a talent shortage and teachers are quitting at an alarming rate. Michigan isn't alone. Protests in other states have shut down schools over low pay and poor conditions.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is calling it a crisis. In her State of the State address, Whitmer said educators are not failing us, we are the ones failing them.

"Our teachers are not broken. It's our system that's broken," she said.

There is a teacher shortage in our state, but it's not so much that teachers are quitting at any chance they get.  The state is actually having trouble finding and retaining younger teachers.

"At the end of my career, I was easily putting in 10 hour days physically at school and couldn't get anything done," said Liesje Franken, a former teacher at Waukazoo Elementary in Holland.  "It's like a sponge. After a while, there's nothing left to squeeze."

After 28 years of teaching at Waukazoo, Franken left education to focus on her health. Others, we're told, are leaving the profession for other reasons.

"Part of what's happening here is you had a lot of individuals during the great recession chose not to retire, because they lost half of their retirement due to the recession," said John Helmholdt, the spokesperson for Grand Rapids Public Schools. "People delayed retirement, and now there are individuals who should have retired five to 10 years ago are now retiring, and you have two groups of retirees happening at the same time."

But the vice president of the Michigan Education Association, Chandra Madaferri, says most of the teachers leaving are coming right out of school.

"I think if we look at the teachers that are quitting, it's the early educator," Madaferri said. "It's the one that's coming in. In the first five years, they're very disillusioned. It's not what they thought it would be, and they're looking for other options. Can they support their families? Can they pay off their debt?"

In the first ten months of 2018, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 a month, according to the Wall Street Journal citing the Labor Department.

According to the MEA, one in five Michigan teachers leaves the profession in their first five years. However, we're told veteran teachers aren't happy either, citing small raises, increased class sizes, and public disrespect.

"If you look at school districts that are struggling, the parents struggle to feed kids, [there's] drugs, crime and teachers are not paid well there," Madaferri said. "A lot of substitutes are holding those jobs because people don’t want to work in places like that with lack of support."

And this lack of support Madaferri is talking about is having what some consider detrimental effects. Currently, FOX 17 is told there aren't enough certified teachers to fill positions, creating open positions across the state.

Grand Rapids Public Schools is sitting on about 40 vacancies.

John Helmholdt, GRPS

"It seems like a lot, certainly, but that number is constant throughout the year because you have retirements, individuals on family medical leave, maybe a child on the way, so it's not uncommon," Helmholdt said. However, he mentioned what is also common is the district's struggle to find substitute teachers.  He says that these vacancies force principals to play teacher and for classes to be combined.

"GRPS, along with districts across the state and nation, are feeling the pinch of this teacher shortage that's happening," he said. "It's been this constant attack on the teaching profession."

Madaferri has traveled across Michigan, examining what's going on inside of the classroom. She recalls seeing upwards of 40 students in one middle school class. That large of a class size means less one-on-one attention for kids, and Helmholdt says it's having a direct impact on education outcomes in our state.

"It means combining classes, principals playing teacher for the day, so you can imagine how challenging that is," Helmholdt said.

For a profession that has to be "on" all of the time, teachers are starting to feel "off," overworked and often blamed.

Madaferri says the number one issue is the lack of funding, saying, "20 years ago, we had not only the highest funding in all of the Great Lakes but the highest student performance. Now, sadly, we're at the bottom."

"They start to realize the days get longer and longer and think, gosh, I can’t seem to get reading scores where they're supposed to be. I’m at school 10 hours a day and can't get anything done, and I think that's where it gets disheartening," Franken said.

State Senator Winnie Brinks

State Senator Winnie Brinks says teachers feel under assault. They don't feel supported, morale is low, and pay and benefits have been flat for more than a decade.

"Teachers are talking about how this isn't just about money. It's about valuing educators and about putting kids first, and teachers are feeling this system is letting them down," Brinks said.

Michigan State University released a new report that shows K-12 funding fell 30 percent between 2002 and 2015 after adjusting for inflation. That same report found funding for Michigan Public Schools has fallen more sharply than any other state in the past 25 years.  In the past 25 years, Michigan has seen the lowest growth in the K-12 education spending of any state in the nation, according to Gov. Whitmer.

Source: MSU study

Madaferri says not only were millions cut from public education around 2011, but there was also a lot of legislation passed that increased the use of standardized tests, and more testing means more pressure for teachers. She explains that's when she felt she was losing her academic freedom, and more pressure for lower pay is becoming less and less appealing for potential teachers of the future.

Helmholdt and Madaferri say they are seeing fewer students enrolling in colleges of education.

"There's been a 50 percent reduction in students choosing to become a teacher because people are saying don't do it," Madaferri said.

Local numbers show it's true. According to data we received from Grand Valley State University, undergrads enrolling at GVSU's School of Education dropped by nearly 400 students in the past five years.

Madaferri says the solution starts with fully funding education.

"We need to have teachers feel respected again. We need to bring class sizes down," she said.

But Sen. Brinks says it's not that easy. "Budgets are difficult because there's more need than there are resources in most cases, so we're going to have to come up with a plan to find a sustainable way to get to where we need to be to support students," Brinks said. "It comes down to priorities in our budget. There are things in our budget that could be cut."

Brinks says Michigan Democrats introduced a package of bills during the last legislative session in an effort to help teachers. Some of the solutions in the bills include:

  • Establishing an Underrepresented Teacher Recruitment Program.
  • Creating an Early Childhood Educators Act to provide scholarships to individuals who have worked for at least a year.
  • Provide stipends for student teachers serving at economically disadvantaged schools.
  • Allow for up to 10 years of student loan debt forgiveness for teachers in their first three years of teaching.
  • Provide a one-time bonus between $3,000-$5,000 for newly hired teachers.
  • Award annual bonus of $1,800 to math, science, and special education teachers.
  • Establish mentor teacher pay.
  • Create a teacher recruitment and retention scholarship fund.
  • Set teacher-student ratio of 1:20.
  • Increase the number of educators recognized as Teacher of the Year.
  • Allow certified teachers to request tuition reimbursement from school districts.

Brinks says the Republican committee chairs refused to hold a hearing on the bills.

FOX 17 reached out to a Michigan Senator Aric Nesbitt, who replied, “Quality teachers prepare our students for a successful future. Education funding is an important priority and continues to reach record levels, and we remain focused on supporting our local schools. We want to make sure the best teachers are paid the most."

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41 comments

    • Jim Katakowski

      Sosad w/o a name so the coward speaks. Manufactured I think not. Also, Common Cents, teachers work for 185 days plus per year. They do not get holidays and summer vacation that is off time. They used to have great benefits. Not now. Since 1994 GOP has cast stones at teachers and taken money away. Gov. Engler ruined education in Michigan since that time privatized for profit education.

    • cal

      I hope the teachers keep quitting until the gop begins to pay the teachers what they deserve- both in Michigan and in all the other gop red states where the gop is cheating teachers out of their deserved pay

    • Ken Plants

      Prove your statements, they are lies. Benes are bad and teachers are paying for most of them. Teachers use the summer to take classes and improve their skills. Many have to work to pay off student loans. When we taught(retired 20 years ago) student loans were half forgiven if you taught 5 years and even better if you taught is a failing school. Not any more.

      • Common cents

        If teachers choose to take classes in the summer they get pay increases. Next, getting a teaching degree is no more expensive than getting a business degree so you have no point there. A person with a business degree in the private sector works a full year meaning they work appropriately 25% more than a teacher and should make 25% more and the benefits are much better as a teacher. How do I know? My spouse is a teacher.

        • Michael D HADLEY

          Perhaps you should take a better look at your spouse’s responsibilities. Last I knew, teachers are required to do Professional Development of about 57 hours per year and must take classes to keep their teaching certificate. There may or may not be a raise involved as it depends on how many credits have been earned. I personally know teachers who have been punched, kicked and bitten by some very troubled children who, perhaps, shouldn’t be in the common school setting but the law places them in the “least restrictive environment” with no thought as to the safety of the other children in the class nor the ability of the local schools to handle children who throw chairs across a full classroom, attack other children and the teacher, destroy school property by kicking holes in walls, and strike the Principal with objects hard enough to leave a welt on the Principal’s back. Thinking these are HS students? Think again. They can be in second or third grade or younger with this behavior and it just gets worse as the child grows. The Parents: if you had just let him do what he wanted to, you wouldn’t have had this problem. Picture that.

  • Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

    So much BS in so short an essay.

    Some of the best benefits ever at taxpayer expense.
    Better than average pay!
    Christmas Break, Easter Break, and Summers OFF!
    Work Summer Classes at full pay for half day!

    Oh, then add the benefit of being able to push their marxist ideals on the next generation while getting paid!

  • BP

    I agree the system is broken. Bigger pensions. $425000 Rockford Superintendent salary. Huge football stadiums. New buildings. Larger budgets. Increased “Mills”
    We just had an increase. Now they are asking for more? Wow. And keeping kids in school what 180+ days? Yet the test scores aren’t there. Who’s to blame?
    Teachers holding fundraising to just get supplies. Yes the system is broken. And I agree with some comments. The teachers do live in a bubble. Healthcare. Summer break. Tough problem to tackle.

  • Walkamileinmyshoes

    Previous comments are from people who have obviously never taught. If teaching is so great, why are so many new teachers leaving the profession? I’ve been both an engineer and a teacher, and teaching is all-consuming mentally and emotionally during the day with students, and also requires much more time outside the school day to plan and prepare for future classes, and to grade and record an increasing amount of required information on student progress. As budgets are reduced, so is the number of teachers which increases class sizes. I retired three years early because the work load was becoming overwhelming, and because administrators who read “scholarly journals” and therefore know it all were forcing me to use inferior materials and teach at a level below what I knew my students could handle. I watched their policies dumb down the regular level (high school math) and then they went after the honors level. I just couldn’t stand to participate in this so I retired early. Best decision ever!

    • Common cents

      Teachers teach 5 to 6 hours per day. They should put in another 3 to 4 hours after school just to work as many hours as most salaried jobs. They get paid for a full year but work only 8 months.

      • Matt Dague

        What school do you teach at? 5-6 hours per day??? I arrive at 7 but I don’t leave at noon (5 hours) nor 1 (6 hours) but rather teach until 3 (that’s hours) plus I average another hour per day at school plus 1-3 hours at home and that’s an average of 10-12 hours per day but according to you I should average 8-9 hours. I guess I need to do less for my students. Sorry I can’t teach that way.

        • Common cents

          Teaching is the time in front of students. The other time you spend is no different than any other salaried person but that salaried person works a full year with only a week or two of vacation normally.

      • P Harper

        😂😂😂 That’s hilarious! If only this were true! As many others have said, if it’s such a great job, why is there a shortage? Better yet, why aren YOU a teacher?

  • JERRY

    THE TEACHERS ARE OVER PD AND UNDER WORKED ITS TIME THEY GET OUT GET A REAL JOB LEARN HOW THE REST OF US WORK ALL YR LONG PAY OUR OWN HEATH CARE

    • JJW

      Then why is there a documented shortage? It’s not the only profession that is experiencing a shortage of good employees but it’s the same story.

    • Future Michigan Teacher

      Jerry,
      I am curious as to what job you are working that requires you to work year round with NO health care benefits. If I had to guess, I would say it’s one that you obtained without investing any time, money, or effort into post-secondary education. Teachers are professionals. If it wasn’t for a teacher who taught you to read and write way back when, you wouldn’t even be capable of articulating such illogical thoughts. In your line of work do you spend hours per day with future doctors, lawyers, and scientists? Do you create lesson plans and develop strategies to help students learn in the most efficient way? Do you use your own money to buy crayons and fruit snacks for kids who come to school unprepared or hungry? Have you ever taught a classroom of staring faces about perseverance, adversity, acceptance, and respect? Do you think you would be prepared in the case of a crisis: allergic reaction, choking, lockdown, seizure?Imagine being equipped to do all of these things for a living. Teaching IS a “real job”.

  • Bud

    Notice how everyone is talking about teachers or the “system”.
    I blame parents. Teachers are no longer allowed to discipline children, and when they do the parents sue the school instead of punishing THEIR child for misbehaving. One disruptive student in a class of 30 can make a teachers day a living Hell. Teachers are expected to not only teach reading, writing, arithmetic, etc., but also the difference between Right/Wrong, Morality, Respect Others – THINGS PARENTS SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR. If we had parents who BACKED THEIR CHILD’S TEACHERS – maybe teachers would feel like they weren’t in it alone.

  • steve

    If teachers were allowed to teach without worrying about political correctness, frivolous lawsuits, and trying to makeup for what often happens or doesn’t happen in the home, they might not be leaving like they are.

  • Vic

    What criteria is used to define the “very best ” teachers? And no, teachers do NOT have cushy jobs that include summers off, “paid” vacations, and short days.One time a new hire custodian stood up in a staff meeting and apologized to us. He said that he always made fun of what teachers do(nothing) He said that his eyes were opened when he saw”the hardest working people he had ever seen” He was in awe of what we accomplished daily. Thanks Gary!

  • Diane Bruder

    As a newly retired teacher I can tell you that the Republican way of paying the “BEST” teachers more, does not work. For one it pits one teacher against another. No one shares or helps each other for the benefit of the kids.Competition may work for industry to put out a better product, but we cannot equate kids, with products. when you work in industry you are given the same raw product to start.Every once in a while you may get a defective material and you can send it back. Not so with teaching. Kids are not products. They are people. Some come from middle income, some upper income, but some are broken. What do you do with the poor kids who are skipping school because their family is homeless? How do you get better scores when they are not there because their basic needs are not met? (Bloom’s Taxonomy…Look it up) Educating the poor is a different job. Until we address the poverty in our state, the Flint lead drinking water, teachers are going to have a hard time. Ever wonder what happens to a young infant or toddler brain exposed to lead? Snyder is to blame for that fiasco. Michiganders voted to overturn and oust Emergency Financial Matters and he usurped the will of the people and kept them anyway. Had he not kept EFM but listened to voters we NEVER would have had the Flint Water Crisis, a crisis that will affect families and the education community for years to come.

  • Deb Lawson

    NPR.org on March 16, 2018, published an article comparing teacher salaries throughout the nation. When adjusted for cost of living, Michigan teachers ranked number one in pay. This is based on the average teacher salary for 2016.

  • b

    “After 28 years of teaching at Waukazoo, Franken left education” Fails to mention got early buyout and retired with full benefits. My brother was a teach. What a joke. He was home every day before 3.

  • Richard

    10 hour days, youre really complaining about 10 hour days. How i wish i could complain about that short of a day… Teachers have longer breaks for lunch than most of the work force will ever have, and shorter days. Keep complaining and maybe you’ll have the same staffing ratios, lunch breaks, hours, and sick days.

    • Tom

      25 minutes. 25. I got a 30 minute break when I worked at Steelcase on the floor. I have friends who are engineers who get 90 minutes a day. Thanks for continuing to perpetuate the lies and myths.

  • George

    Privatize School and watch the quality increase. I’m sorry you have liberal teacher that spew their bull shit, it’s just short of TARDS teaching college.

  • Corey

    I’m a teacher in the midwest. I have a Master’s degree and have been teaching 16 yrs. I make $66k a yr. with a fully paid health insurance policy, along with a pension when I retire. I certainly ain’t complaining! Some folks believe that we’re paid for several months we’re not working…no, we’re paid for a contracted amount of time (approx. 9.5 months per yr.)., but paid over the course of 12 months.

  • Jim Beasley

    So you pay your babysitter $3.00 an hour. 25 kids times $3.00 per hour is $75.00/hr.
    Six hour day $75×6=$450 a day. 180 days of instruction $81,000.
    Pay up.
    Wait you want me to do this in the summer too. No problem. Just add 86 more days in that tab.
    So when your really ready for a job get your degree and get paid $40,000 less than a baby sitter.
    Teaching is not a job, it’s the future. YOUR children are worth it.

  • Bruce Bentley

    I taught school in Florida in the 90’s. You don’t go in the field to get rich, if that your goal you wasted your education.

  • John Bethell

    Every time you privatize you destroy a public system. We cut taxes on the wealthy and the business and you lose quality. When you think about it the businesses should pay for education that where their future workers are going to come from.

  • A bunch of money babies

    If Michigan teachers think they have it so bad. Tell them to come teach in Florida and the pay is Sooo much less. In it for the job and not the money. Otherwise they shouldn’t be teaching

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