Opinion | No mystery why Michigan professionals don’t go into education

Ken Winter is former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. He teaches political science and journalism at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, Ferris State and Michigan State University.

I just received notification from the Michigan Department of Education that my provisional teaching license, first issued in 2006, will soon expire.  This, after spending thousands of dollars and hours, having never stepped foot in a middle or high school except to substitute for $75 a day.

How could that happen and why am I letting my teaching license lapse? Easy. While I have the passion, try applying for a teaching job 12 years ago as a 56-year-old male with white hair despite a newly minted Master of Education in curriculum and instruction with a secondary certification with high distinction, after an award-winning 34-year journalism career.

I am one of the Baby Boomers between 54 and 74-years-old (76 million in the United States) who wanted to try a second career, beyond just volunteering. While many friends headed south and west to enjoy the winter sun, walking the beaches, boating and playing golf, I stayed planted in Pure Michigan. I like the change of seasons, except for the unseasonably long winters.

Some 12 years ago, I also decided to start a career in education after 36 years working at the Petoskey News-Review and earlier the Lansing State Journal.  I’ve wanted to teach since the early 1970s but could never afford the low wages. I now teach college, part-time, for mostly minimum wage (once one adds the hours required to prepare and teach), but also fulfilling my goal of giving back to my community and state.

Heidi Marshall,  formerly of Grosse Pointe and now living in Petoskey, says, “I taught at a community college for ten years as an adjunct professor. This was after a very successful career in advertising as a creative director for several major international ad agencies.

“I was in good company— another adjunct was a former writer for HBO. There was a former BP vice president, a popular published author, and the list goes on. They were all first-rate teachers. You can always tell who they are—-students follow them down the hall like puppies.”

She reports that all those talented adjuncts have left the college as even they needed a living wage and returned to another profession.

“In addition to abysmal pay, the leadership (college president) did not know most of the adjuncts by name,” Marshall says. “They were invisible.”

And here’s the kicker—-adjuncts made and still make up about 80 percent of the faculty. The fact is, they are the bread and butter of most community colleges.

Related: College funding cuts in Michigan have led to fewer students, greater debt
Related: Michigan income growth hindered by lack of college graduates

“The plight of adjuncts is a dirty little secret outside of the academic world. I call them the new working poor,” Marshall says.  “In addition to extremely low wages, their classes are limited to avoid the need to pay benefits.”

My own 12-year journey goes far deeper than the space here allows for me to write about. Just know that with a broken Michigan Department of Education, U.S. Department of Higher Education and meddling Michigan Legislature, I doubt most will choose this career path. The journey to become a Michigan educator is very complex, political and subject to a constantly changing landscape that makes it nearly impossible for older workers, and too expensive for younger ones to even consider.

Few have the money that it now requires to become a college teacher. My investments were well over $60,000, not including the hours in the classroom, study, lodging and eating Subway sandwiches while on the road to classes at Central Michigan University for four years from Petoskey after work.

Know that I am grateful for—and cherish—these opportunities. The emotional reward from working with students is high, but the expense—and the politics—can be brutal.

Teaching a 3-credit course at a community college level course commands $2,289; $5,800 at a four-year university.  There’s no hope of becoming full-time faculty without a PhD. The decision to pursue a PhD after getting your master’s degree is a difficult one. A PhD is a huge undertaking emotionally, mentally and financially. It takes 3-4 years to complete during which time you are on a pretty basic stipend.

Do the math and you have a quick answer to why public education isn’t the career of choice.  You also understand why professionals don’t go into education.

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Wed, 06/20/2018 - 8:19am

Confusing article can't tell what point is. So the position of subs or adjuncts is bad? A full prof's and teacher's (with some seniority) life is very nice!! Higher ed affordability is a big problem what does your implied suggestion do for this? Articles that just seem to complain about situations without linking them to the bigger world and skipping any solutions are a waste of time. Bridge does too many of them.

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 10:10am

Have to agree - this is a jumbled mess of an article (and from a former editor no less?)
Beyond that - he is answering a question no one is asking "why professionals don't go into education"

Ken Winter
Wed, 06/20/2018 - 11:28am

Hi Matt:
Thanks for your response. I think the column is clear. People will rarely leave their current professions (law, engineering, science, etc) and go into public education because of low wages and the bureaucratic hoops one has to jump to become a public educator. The column was not complaining, just sharing my plight of the pathway of establishing a full-time career in public education. Many professionals are encouraged to consider switching to education and there's a reason why they don't, although they could bring great value to the classroom sharing their real life experiences.
Thank you again for your observations.

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 4:10pm


As a former editor of a paper, you know better than anyone, if readers tell you they are confused, they are confused. Your perception does not influence theirs. But I understand your point. But, as I mentioned, who is encouraging professionals to go into teaching? I have been a professional for 25 years and never once, did someone try to recruit me into teaching.

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 8:08pm

There are some in the Michigan Legislature who think we need to get more professionals into the teaching ranks. Their method to achieve this is to lower the barriers to entry rather than making the job an enticing one. I'm not sure why anybody would go into education in today's climate. The numbers seem to bear this out as the numbers of teaching certificates earned has dropped over 50% in the last decade.

Peggy Kahn
Thu, 06/21/2018 - 8:51am

The problem of under-compensated adjunct faculty, referred to as Lecturers in the University of Michigan system, is real; at UM unionization has improved worker voice, job security, pay and benefits. On the other hand, the category "public educator" collapses some important distinctions in teaching among high school courses, community college journalism programs, university liberal arts courses and university-level journalism programs. Each type of teaching demands different mixes of faculty/teacher education, pedagogy, and course content. "Bringing real life experiences" might enrich the classroom but certainly not the whole basis for teaching at any of these levels. Are there other ways in which experienced practitioners can make use of their practical skills, knowledge, work histories?

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 6:10am

Ok so colleges raided the K 12 funding and continue to raise tuition. Where is the money going. Community colleges are so vital right now to teach technical skills yet can’t find teachers just like k-12. Lack of support for education is so apparent right now. Who wants to sign up for that.

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 10:54pm

Maybe people [educators and those wanting to contribute to student learning] may need to take a different approach to the classroom. Maybe we should begin looking at it from the students perspective and try to frame learning with real life application of the subjects being taught. Maybe we should start looking at the presentation of subjects as team effort where the teacher is the team leader drawing on a pool of knowledgeable/experienced [long careered] specialists to supplement that standardized materials.

If you want to get students interested in STEM subjects, what better way than to hear from those who have spent a career as a chemist, physicist, engineer? Use them not as career teachers, but as resources teachers can draw on? Why not use their experiences applying the subject matter to their everyday work? Why not use their experiences to show students how their learning can offer them greater control of their lives?

Dennis Neylon
Fri, 06/22/2018 - 6:39am

The author talks about the difficulties and challenges of education as a second career. But, to use an old journalism term, he buries the lead. Doing quick mental math we are paying the majority of community college instructors somewhere around $10 an hour and university level instructors around $20 an hour. As he points out, the majority of college courses at both the community college and university level are taught by these poorly paid instructors who get no benefits and whose contracts are renewed at will. So, the people who are teaching the classes college students are paying thousands of dollars a semester to take are making $10-20 an hour. Where is that tuition going? To pay deputy assistant diversity coordinators who never set foot in a classroom. And, if you are paying people to teach less than what the average worker makes and giving them no benefits, what quality of education are you getting? I am sure many are very dedicated. But I would bet just as many are going through the motions, upsetting or challenging no one so as to ensure they get rehired. Higher education is a fiscal fraud perpetrated on students, parents and taxpayers. Very few jobs truly require 8,500 hours of classroom time of training (at 15 hours a week, 16 weeks a semester for 8 semesters). But by requiring the diploma, employers can screen the labor pool by a legally method. This comes at great financial and time cost. Let’s not forget that these education sweatshops are where we get school teachers from. Our system of education in this country is as broken a model as our health care system. Both chew up vast quantities of tax dollars for very poor returns, both have vast bureaucies that add little or no value but chew up equally vast amounts of resources. And both are micromanaged by bureaucrats and politicians. How do we fix them when the people doing the fixing are part of the problem? Good question. And since both have to be repaired while they are operating (we can’t shut down education or health care for a few months for repairs), the challenge is even greater. My bet is that change will happen at the micro level and the big shots at the top will do everything to squash it to keep from upsetting their apple cart.

Deb Baskin
Sun, 06/24/2018 - 11:31am

Teaching is a very noble profession. The best teachers do it for the intrinsic value.

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 12:08pm

You can't feed a family intrinsic value, nor cash it in for hospital bills and mortgage payments.

Jeannine Somberg
Sun, 06/24/2018 - 2:00pm

I so agree with your article. The system is broken. The MDE is useless and ineffective, especially when it come to the MDE-OSE (Office of Special Education). If you want to make money in education, you need to be an Administrator, Asst Superintendent, Superintendent, etc. Once you get in the "club", you control the funds and can take care of yourself while teachers and students are nothing but "incidental beneficiaries" of the whatever public funds are left.