Opinion | Some fixes for teacher shortage require more than money
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing more money for Michigan schools in her 2022-23 budget proposal. Although money alone will not completely solve the teacher shortage issue, further action is unable to proceed without it. For example, I have yet to see a multi-year average for per-pupil funding, which would make school districts budgets more predictable and then more actionable.
Often less consideration is given to how funds are spent then answering the simpler question of how much. There are still further considerations that may not relate to funding at all.
Teaching is about igniting passion. To get people passionate about student success is to raise the standard of the profession to systemic respect. My certification legally grants me a heavy privilege to teach children. The issue is that teachers are commonly not respected to the same level as the responsibilities of that certification.
The conversation needs to continue with the teacher evaluation process. Even though some reforms have come, the process still bogs down many administrators and doesn’t really support teachers. Measuring student success should lead to larger schoolwide and departmental conversations. Partaking in activities outside of the classroom to foster school culture should be clearly rewarded. The rating system should instill confidence for successful teachers and motivate new and improving teachers.
Further, school reform should begin with ideas and input from classrooms. Often the ideas swirl from outside the school and then ask teachers how they feel about it. If the reform system could collect ideas, observations, and data from teachers, then reform could take on new meaning and empower teachers to enact change. Teaching is one of the few professions often made to listen to those not in the profession for how to do their job. This needs to change. The collective knowledge and experience from tens of thousands of teachers should count for more than those who think about education part time.
Both points could also be developed through better connections between collegiate education departments and K-12 school districts. It should be an ongoing dialogue. Teacher mentor programs and student teaching are concepts not far apart from one another. Mentoring should not just be a K-12 activity but should include many of the same aspects as student teaching. Merging these systems would better address the direct shortage now for long term success. Without proper practical preparation, many will flounder no matter how many exceptions are made to the certification rules just to put adults in front of kids.
It is one thing to have a good first day, but after the decades-long battering of public education there needs to be a reckoning. Teachers working in the most high-risk areas should have the loudest voices. Michigan needs to get back to the principle that every child deserves a high-quality education.
This means a highly respected teacher in every classroom. This does not mean filling holes and checking boxes. It means getting down to the work at hand. It means respecting teachers for the professionals they are required to be.
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