Between the years of 2008 and 2016, enrollment in teacher preparation programs within the state of Michigan decreased by 66 percent. National enrollment trends reflect a similarly grim decline, with states throughout the U.S preparing fewer college students to become teachers than the rate observed before the trough of the Great Recession.
Understanding the Issues
The issue of declining enrollment lies at the heart of conversations surrounding the future education workforce, yet teacher retention can also be perceived as a current and pressing issue. Over a 10-year period from 2006 to 2016, the number of educators in the workforce throughout Michigan shrunk by 11.8 percent. The state’s overall turnover rate of 20 percent also stands relatively high, especially in comparison to the national average of 16 percent. There are several reasons educators may have for transferring occupations or leaving the workforce entirely. The Learning Institute suggests that the most frequently cited reasons for turnover include heightened accountability expectations, lack of administrative support, and working conditions.
In 2019 Launch Michigan published a study surveying 16,878 PreK-12 public school educators to gauge their level of satisfaction with their occupation, and to further understand the potential sources of the teacher retention issue. The results showed that 25 percent of educators statewide would recommend education as a career, while also indicating that the biggest impact on career satisfaction included lack of support from policy makers and politicians (72%), lack of respect for the profession (66%), and excessive workloads (64%). Both findings serve to illustrate the importance of advocacy to increase support for teacher recruitment and retention efforts, as well as strengthening and enlarging the next generation of possible educators.
Best Practices in West Michigan
Talent 2025 recognizes the positive effects that consistent and passionate administrative and teaching staff can have on the long-term success of students, and even school districts. Although numerous innovative efforts to identify best practices in teacher recruitment and retention are occurring within K-12 schools across West Michigan, even local efforts found in Grand Rapids, Holland, and Muskegon can look starkly different.
Muskegon Heights has felt the impact of the teacher shortage throughout their district. To support their teacher recruitment and retention efforts, the district established partnerships with GVSU and the Michigan Department of Education to develop and implement their Supporting Emerging Educator Development (SEED) program. For two years, SEED teachers serve as the primary instructors in their classrooms while also taking classes online and in the evenings through Grand Valley State University. Teachers agree to remain in Muskegon Heights for three additional years after obtaining state certification. Individuals selected to participate in the program typically have roots in the community or within the school district or have established connections with students in the school.
In Kent County, Grand Rapids Public Schools identified a significant shortage of bilingual teachers and a subsequent lack of local candidates sufficient in the language skills they desired. Through research and conversations with other local school districts, GRPS officials learned of an opportunity to hire bilingual teachers from Puerto Rico. With support from the community, designees from GRPS headed to Puerto Rico to identify candidates with the potential to thrive at Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Zeeland Public Schools, located in Ottawa County, has placed an emphasis on improving teacher retention in their efforts to combat the effects of the educator shortage. There is an understanding throughout the district of the impending shortage they may endure over the coming years, but current conversations are focused on how the school can keep its staff mentally healthy in order to mitigate issues of turnover and retention long-term. The whole district has placed a priority on self-care, adhering to the idea that if educators feel supported and respected by administration, they will feel connected to their work while also remaining cognizant of the toll their work takes on them both physically and mentally.
Although these local efforts tie in best practices utilized around the nation, they are being adapted to operate within the unique contexts of their respective school systems to ensure that all students emerge from K-12 with the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for future success. We know quality teaching is correlated with the success of a student in K-12 and beyond. Yet, if we continue to turn a blind eye to the absence of a teacher pipeline, students in Michigan will continue to trail behind the nation in all areas of schooling -- with potentially devastating consequences for future jobseekers, employers, and the state’s economy as a whole.