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

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.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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