GV students, leaders seek improvement as MI teacher shortage worsens


GVL / Aida Dennis

Michaela Triemstra, Staff Writer

A teacher shortage has swept across Michigan in recent years.

December 2021 data from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative shows a steady increase in vacant education positions and a drop in new teachers entering the profession.

This shortage has only increased as teachers have left the profession or retired early, some citing COVID-19 protocols. Multiple factors have also influenced the number of people wanting to go into teaching, including attempts to lower professional standards for teaching and narratives aimed at politicizing public education.

At Grand Valley State University, the campus is home to hundreds of students each year who aim to become educators.

GVSU’s Associate Dean of the College of Education and Community Innovation, Amy Schelling, stressed the importance of solving the growing shortage and separating public education from political narratives.

“Policymakers must understand that teaching is ethical and intellectual work,” Schelling said. “While someone may have an affinity for teaching, it is a skillful act that requires a complex set of knowledge, skills, practice-based approaches and dispositions that must be learned, extensively practiced and reflected upon continuously.”

Changes to teaching certification tests may have also impacted the shortage. Testing centers were shut down in early 2020 and reopened with fewer hours, making them inaccessible to some people.

Another aspect of the teacher shortage stems from schools thrusting often-underprepared educators into the classroom due to the need to fill positions.

“It is critical that all (pre-K through grade 12) children have access to well-prepared teachers who know how to create an equitable learning environment for all students,” Schelling said. “There is a need to elevate the profession which is something that teacher preparation programs work on continuously.”

Schelling said there were 337 GVSU “program completers,” following a consistent trend of more than 300 students graduating each year. These numbers make GVSU one of the largest teacher-preparation institutions in the state.

Some students majoring in elementary and secondary education at GVSU have concerns about the teacher shortage and the factors causing the shortage.

“It discourages me because I understand why it is happening: teacher mistreatment, low wages and it’s a thankless job,” said GVSU sophomore and secondary education major, Ethan Thomas. “It definitely worries me in terms of the future of education because classrooms could become more packed, and it could become more stressful than it already is.”

In spite of the discouraging aspects, Thomas is optimistic about the future of teaching.

“It does provide an open job market and could result in increased wages, as well as more respect for the profession as people realize how vital teachers are,” Thomas said.

Another GVSU student, Erin Marshall, an elementary education major, took the teacher shortage as an opportunity for motivation.

“The teacher shortage does not discourage me,” Marshall said. “It actually encourages me to be a teacher because I’ll be making a difference. I’ll be entering a career that is in need. It can be discouraging, but I have heard teachers saying they’re optimistic about the new generation and I would like to be a part of that.”

Officials at GVSU are providing several incentives to encourage students who are passionate about making a difference in a child’s education.

For instance, GVSU offers students an accelerated Graduate Teacher Certification program, allowing those who wish to switch to a career in teaching and earn their bachelor’s degree to be certified within a year. The university is also partnering with high school and intermediate school district teacher academies, allowing students to get a head start on their degree through dual enrollment.

Students can also apply for a variety of education-specific scholarships. The state of Michigan recently implemented two initiatives, including the Future Proud MI Educator Fellowship and the Future Proud MI Educator Student Teacher Stipend. The fellowship provides scholarships for students pursuing teacher certification and are enrolled in a teacher preparation program. A stipend may also be provided to students who are completing their full-time student teaching experience. Both are being facilitated by the Michigan Department of Treasury.

The goal of these incentives and initiatives is to motivate students to graduate from a teacher preparation program and be well prepared to educate young students.

“GVSU’s teacher preparation program is well respected, and graduates of our teacher preparation program are highly sought after by school employers,” Schelling said. “Our teacher candidates are well-prepared to provide an equitable learning environment for all students.”

Despite the current state of education shortages, students like Marshall say they are optimistic that, with programs and training like that at GVSU, they will be able to work toward a more positive future.

“There are a lot of changes that need to be made which discourages people,” Marshall said. “But I think with the right people and the right mindset, those changes can be made.”