SUTTONS BAY – Suttons Bay Superintendent Casey Petz doesn’t think people understand how dire a predicament educators and school administrators face when it comes to finding jobs in schools.
âPeople are really taxed right now. It doesn’t take much to tip us over, âsaid Petz. âWhen you have a hard time finding subs, drivers and catering workers and you have high quality trained teachers, it works too close to the edge. “
Pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many people away from education jobs, but the shortage of people willing to work in education and apply for teaching positions has been on educators’ radars ever since. years. Petz said he has noticed a “mass exodus” of people from education in recent years.
Petz said Suttons Bay “struggles with it like everyone else.”
âFor example: if you post a job in math or science, you’re lucky to have one or two applicants, and that’s not typical,â Petz said.
Kalkaska Public Schools Superintendent Rick Heitmeyer said over 20 years ago that each education position would have 60 to 100 applicants. In the past year, he hasn’t seen more than five people apply for jobs with Kalkaska public schools.
âIt’s hard to find someone,â Heitmeyer said. “I guess you’re hoping the right person reads your job posting at the right time and applies.”
Julie Brown, superintendent of Elk Rapids, said her school district faced barriers in hiring replacement and paraprofessionals, but they “had had leaner years than this year.”
âYou hear school districts that have 10, 20 teaching positions open and it’s scary,â Brown said. âSo we’re in good shape for that. “
The shortage of candidates for education positions is not just a headache for administrators; it can be a threat to everyday learning. Some Michigan schools have had to cancel classes this year because they were unable to put enough teachers in front of the students.
Newaygo public schools canceled classes between November 9 and 15, citing staff shortages in the district. The district had too many staff absent due to COVID-19, seasonal illness and personal reasons.
Some educators fear that the lack of people working or applying for positions in education today could also have longer-term effects; Heitmeyer said current staff shortages could complicate the future of leadership in some school districts.
âIf we don’t have the teachers, will we have the administrators? Heitmeyer asked.
The long-term impacts could even weigh on the quality of students’ studies.
“If we don’t find ways to attract candidates to the teaching profession, then I think the writing on the wall is really clear: we are not going to have certified teachers in our classrooms,” he said. Brown said.
Brown said another plausible result of this shortage would be the increase in class sizes, which can often be more difficult environments for students to learn.
At a Michigan Board of Education meeting on Nov. 3, State Superintendent Michael Rice said an investment of $ 300 million to $ 500 million over the next five years could help address the shortage of teachers. Part of this investment includes reimbursement of tuition fees for students in education programs, cancellation of student loans and scholarships for high school students entering teacher training programs.
Until the issue can be properly addressed, Petz said he believes schools will continue to close for consecutive days due to understaffing.
âI don’t think that’s a problem at Suttons Bayâ¦ but due to a long-standing societal issue we can’t continue to operate on this frequency,â said Petz.
While in some ways the shortages may seem bleak, many northern Michigan schools have been creative in finding solutions.
In Suttons Bay, Petz said to get people “out the door” they would hire uncertified people and then help them get the certifications they need for their jobs. Kalkaska does similar things.
âWe’re actually paying for someone’s masters in special education,â Heitmeyer said.
However, for many educators the longer term solutions lie in higher salaries and increased respect for the teaching profession.
âTeachers’ salaries are going to have to increase,â Heitmeyer said. “The state is going to have to help with a mechanism to do it.”
Michele Shane, headmistress of the Maison des enfants Montessori school, said her school has had no difficulty hiring recently, mainly due to the few staff it has. But she’s seen how struggling other Michigan schools are, and she thinks one of the best solutions is to increase teacher salaries.
âEvery educator is underpaid,â Shane said. “And this is a systemic problem, not a Traverse City problem.”
Teaching is hard work, said Petz, and it has been “very difficult” to keep people in education, in part because of a “devaluation” of the teaching profession that has lasted for years.
âIt’s just, in some ways, this slow erosion of the work we do,â he said.
For Petz, the solution is not just higher salaries, but a slow rebuilding of respect for teachers through greater connections made in communities between teachers and families.
Heitmeyer said he has also noticed a change where “teachers aren’t as valued” as they used to be. He agreed that should change.
âTeaching is a great profession and it is an opportunity every day to touch the future,â said Heitmeyer. âYou work with children and you help them grow and develop and become the leaders of tomorrow and there aren’t many jobs where you can see that you have this opportunity and this honor every day. “