If we valued teachers, a shortage would end

In Michigan, the No. 1 reason that teachers leave is frustration. They feel their futures, their salaries, their respect and their security have no relationship to their performance in the classroom

The Detroit Free Press reported Dec. 27 that Michigan faces a growing shortage of substitute teachers. Firms that provide substitutes to school districts are resorting to freeway billboards to recruit new subs. Districts are increasing what they pay substitutes but are still facing days when they can’t get someone to fill in for a teacher who is out sick, scheduled for training or taken away from the classroom for some other reason.

The shortage of substitutes, though, is a little bit like calling a forest fire a shortage of wet weather. Michigan has a teacher shortage and the reasons why are obvious and pathetic. After years of demonizing teachers, demanding the impossible from them and then holding them accountable for others’ failings, who would want to be a teacher?

In Michigan and nationwide, the number of college students studying to be teachers has plummeted over the past decade or so. In Michigan, teacher-prep enrollment was down 38 percent from 2008 to 2013. College students don’t see a future in a career that is constantly vilified and belittled or a future in an industry that Lansing and lobbyists seem intent on demolishing.

But it is not just college students. Michigan also has veteran teachers leaving the profession in record numbers.

A Learning Policy Institute report on teacher supply and demand, released in September, said Michigan could eliminate its teacher shortage — and probably its substitute teacher shortage – by cutting in half the 8 percent rate at which teachers quit our schools before retirement age.

The report examines why they’re leaving. In Michigan, the No. 1 reason is frustration. Teachers overwhelmingly feel that their futures, their salaries, their respect, their security have no relationship to their performance in the classroom.

Michigan teachers are also feeling a bit cornered. While Lansing politicians dismantle their unions, take away their pensions, deny their abilities and denigrate their contributions, those surveyed don’t believe they have the support of their administrators or communities.

That part, at least, we can fix. Tell a teacher you do support and appreciate what our educators do, and remember to vote for candidates who value public education and who will work to strengthen it.

— TIMES HERALD (PORT HURON)