Survey finds one-third of Michigan teachers plan to leave amid educator shortage

By: - February 14, 2022 2:22 pm

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A strong majority of K-12 educators in Michigan consider the state’s teacher shortage to be one of the top concerns affecting the education system, according to a Michigan Education Association (MEA) survey.

The survey of 2,600 educators statewide, released Monday by the teachers union, found that 91% of educators said they were extremely or very concerned about the educator shortage.

Other top concerns include student behavior and mental health (88% of educators) and teacher and staff pay and benefits (84% of educators).

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“Michigan teachers, support staff and other public school employees are at a breaking point,” said MEA President Paula Herbart during a press conference Monday morning. “The educator shortage is having a daily impact on students and educators alike. This is adding to an already overwhelming pressure caused by meeting student’s academic social and emotional needs, while dealing with COVID-19, unfair evaluations, standardized testing, the threat of school violence and so much more.”

Doug Pratt, MEA director of public affairs, said the state generates about 5,000 new educators a year with a churn rate between 5,000 and 10,000 educators.

“At a minimum, we’re just barely breaking even. Chances are we aren’t quite even doing that,” Pratt said. 

Since the start of the school year, the number of educators who plan to leave the profession has increased. According to the survey, one in five teachers expects to leave education for another career in the next two to three years, an increase of 9% since August. Another 14% plans to retire.

Educators who answered the survey said the teacher shortage has caused a loss of classroom prep time, created a need to have support staff or administrators fill in as substitute teachers and canceled or reduced bus routes.

The solution? Teachers say more financial support and better compensation would keep them in the classroom.

According to the survey, 97% of educators believe increasing salary and benefits would increase retention. Additionally, 92% of educators responded that a significant bonus for signing and completing a contract for another year would keep teachers in the profession. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed these issues in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget proposal she announced last week, which included $1.5 billion in retention bonuses, $150 million for student teacher stipends and $75 million for regional innovation grants. 

The retention bonuses would support all pre-K-12 educators who stay in their school for three years. For the first and second years, educators will receive a  $2,000 bonus, a $3,000 for the third year and a $4,000 bonus for the fourth year.

The innovation grants would give funding to local and regional partnerships that identify a clear community need and offer plans with a focus on recruitment and retention efforts.

The GOP-led Legislature needs to approve the budget plan by Sept. 30 before the new fiscal year starts.

Herbart said Whitmer’s budget proposal has the MEA’s full support and reflects solutions to the teacher shortage that have “broad support from teachers and other educators.”

Michigan Education Association 2022 educator shortage survey

But money won’t solve all the issues surrounding the teacher shortage crisis, Pratt said, including concerns about teacher evaluations, school safety and COVID-19 mitigation efforts. 

Replacing Michigan’s teacher evaluation system with one that is more effective and fair was the third most popular solution to the teacher shortage crisis among surveyed teachers, with 87% of them saying this would help address the issue. 

“Right now, [the evaluation system] is too heavily focused on standardized testing, which educators may or may not have an impact on,” said Herbart. “And what we know is that our educators, who are highly trained professionals, want to have an evaluation system that really supports their growth and professional agency as opposed to a punitive way to punish those teachers who may not have students that perform well on standardized tests.”

According to the survey, 58% of teachers said gun violence and school safety is a current challenge for educators, 57% of teachers said lack of parent involvement and 56% named COVID-19 as a challenge. 

The MEA supports local districts making decisions about mask mandates in school rather than a statewide mandate. Since the start of the school year, this decision has been left up to counties and local school districts. 

But teachers and local school boards have taken the brunt of public backlash around COVID-19 mitigation efforts throughout the pandemic. 

The survey, which was done in January, shortly after the deadly school shooting at Oxford High School in November, also asked questions around gun violence and school safety. 

A majority of respondents supported preventing minor access to firearms, background checks, red flag laws and increasing school counselors to address mental health needs.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.