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School districts ramping up recruiting efforts amid critical educator shortage

Remote learning, COVID, school violence and overreliance on standardized testing have contributed to the shortage, says the Michigan Education Association.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With the school year starting in just a few weeks, districts across West Michigan are in full force hiring teachers, bus drivers and everything in between.

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) says there's a critical shortage of educators right now.

Dr. Sheridan Steelman recently retired from Northview High School after 50 years as an English teacher.

The pandemic played no part in her decision to retire, however for many other teachers, it was.

"I think too because there were so many young people in education and then they would get out and they couldn't find a job. That was so disappointing," said Steelman. "Then, of course, you have school loans so I think it just all came to a point where suddenly people weren't going into teaching anymore." 

Thomas Morgan, a spokesperson with MEA says educators are at a breaking point.

"They've had to deal with everything from remote learning, COVID, school violence, an overreliance on standardized testing," said Morgan. "A shortage of people around to help so that puts more on them."

Grand Rapids Public Schools has up to 110 teacher vacancies out of around 1,200 which is typical for them this time of year. The district's chief of staff, Larry Johnson, affirmed they will be ready for this upcoming school year.

They've ramped up and expanded their recruiting efforts.

"We're going to work our sub-providers by increasing sub-pay to get substitutes in the classrooms to at least get us started," said Johnson. "Our human resources department is working overtime. We're conducting interviews on Saturdays so we're making it very convenient for folks interested in coming here." 

A recent MEA statewide survey shows increased salary benefits, a significant retention bonus, replacing the state's current educator evaluation system and hiring more staff to reduce workloads were measures that would increase retention.

Dr. Steelman says even though times are tough, she does think the tide will turn. 

"I think there's probably going to have some financial assistance just to help out," she said. "And giving young people a chance to come in, do some aiding and observing and see what teaching is like now." 

The MEA says Governor Whitmer's recent budget proposals are a major first step to helping recruit and retain educators but districts must use the funding wisely such as raising pay.

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