'Perfect storm' of events causing teacher shortage crisis in Michigan

Posted at 5:39 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 18:14:27-04

(WXYZ) — School leaders around Michigan are sending out warnings. They are seeing a shortage of teachers that is worsening.

“We are being asked to do more with less,” said Dwight Pierson, who teaches math at St Johns High School, north of Lansing.


He says teacher workloads with increased testing and legislative requirements. Then COVID-19 hit. He considered retiring.

“At my school, and I think a lot of schools across the state, I am literally doing double the work I used to do. I am teaching online and in-person at the same time,” said Pierson.

Carol Baaki-Diglio, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Oak Park Schools, says districts across the state are seeing an increase in retirements. She says it is part of a trend schools have seen for the past decade, that has been made worse by the pandemic creating more work, stress, and health fears.

“Our staff has also experienced loss. Loss of parents. Loss of colleagues,” said Baaki-Diglio.

She says we are seeing the perfect storm for a crisis.

“The perfect storm being far fewer people are choosing education, so we have fewer coming in, and then we have a mass exodus going out,” she said.

The Michigan Department of Education released a list of subject areas where we are seeing a critical shortage. It includes subjects from art and physical education, to math and science. School leaders say they are struggling at times to fill positions. In some cases, they have to resort to using long-term substitute teachers.

“That is very disruptive not only to the students but to the school culture as a whole because you are putting someone who is not certified in that area and asking them to teach,” said Baaki-Diglio.

“There are colleagues around the state who have had no teachers in positions and I am talking 10, 20, 30 in their district, unfilled because they cannot find teachers to teach,” said Dr. RJ Webber, Assistant Superintendent Academics Novi School District.

Even in destination districts such as Novi Community Schools, which was recognized by U.S. news recently for its success, this means sometimes positions go unfilled for months.

“Two years ago we were looking for a teacher at Novi High School to teach a high-level math course and it took us six months to fill the position,” said Dr. Webber.

So what can be done? School leaders say it is about state policy and economics.

“That is very disruptive not only to the students but to the school culture as a whole because you are putting someone who is not certified in that area and asking them to teach,” said Baaki-Diglio.

“We have 23 to 24-year-old folks starting their teaching position and they are making $38,000 a year and they are $86,000 in debt,” said Dr. Webber.

Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force – Updated October 2018 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

Consider this, a 2018 study by the Consortium on Policy Research in Education found that more than 44% of new teachers in public and private schools leave teaching within five years of entry.

School leaders say if we can provide them with funded support for any state requirements, more would stay.

“That first five years is so critical it is such hard work. And that hard work requires a lot of support,” said Baaki-Diglio.

Educator Workforce Data Report by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

She shared one example. The state requires all new teachers have mentors, but it does not provide stipends for mentors. It can end up being an extra uncompensated duty.

Mr. Pierson decided not to retire, despite frustration with extra uncompensated work. He says there is one thing about teaching that teachers like.

“The reason I decided not to retire is I still love teaching,” he said.

The MEA has launched the Michigan Educator Project, where the community can hear from teachers directly about what's fueling the crisis. Click here for more information.

You can also learn more about teaching jobs in metro Detroit at the following sites: