Teacher Shortage

Remedies sought for K-12 teaching vacancies


HOUGHTON — The growing number of K-12 teaching vacancies in Michigan is spurring efforts on several fronts to attract and retain teachers.

Statewide, there were 1,768 vacant positions in Michigan, up from 679 a decade earlier, according to a recent report from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative.

Alan Tulppo, superintendent of Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District, said all of the six local partner districts are having trouble filling vacancies. 

“As they’re looking at staffing needs for the year and what they’re anticipating, we have districts that will have hard-to-fill positions like math,” he said. “Those positions were already hard to fill prior to the shortage that you’re experiencing, and they’re even harder to fill now.”

One reason for the shortage is the lower entry-level pay teachers see compared to other professions. Starting salaries can be from $38,000 to $40,000 for teachers, versus $80,000 to $90,000 for an engineering student.

Meanwhile, “they’re coming out of their preparation programs with the same kind of student debt as someone with an engineering degree or a business degree,” he said.

Smartphones and the availability of social media have also created an expectation that teachers can be reached 24/7, leading to burnout, Tulppo said. 

“Our districts are really taking a better look at that, how can we better support the people working in our schools, from a better work/personal life balance to the demands of the position,” he said.

Being in a more remote part of the state, districts have become more creative in advertising the positions, Tulppo said. They tout the proximity to Lake Superior and the Porcupine Mountains, as well as a nearby regional airport.

“While we know our physical location is a drawback, there are things to attract people here,” he said.

At the Copper Country Intermediate School District, Superintendent James Rautiola said the ISD works closely with local districts to create welcoming and safe environments for educators and students.

The local ISDs support teachers through the expansion of career and technical education programs. The CCISD’s early childhood education program includes work in child care centers, preschools, and public schools with children through the age of eight.

GOISD also offers an educational careers program through its CTE program. Students can earn credit either toward a child development credential, or acquire credits that can be put toward an education degree through a partnership with Gogebic Community College and Northern Michigan University. 

The CCISD and GOISD also partner with Talent Together, an initiative of 48 ISDs in Michigan that includes pay for people going through an apprenticeship program. That’s helped districts recruit professionals who could not have afforded spending two or three years out of their fields to obtain a teaching degree.

“If you have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and you want to be a business education teacher, you can use this program to become a teacher, and in many cases it won’t cost you anything,” Tulppo said. “A lot of us have turned to this consortium to help fill the needs, fill the gaps, where we aren’t able to recruit in traditional ways.”

The program is one component of the state’s “Grow Your Own” program, which helps school staff obtain teaching certificates or more teaching endorsements. The districts also participate in other parts of the program, which has provided $128 million in grants statewide on top of the $66 million in Talent Together funding. 

“Our emphasis is on addressing the practical challenges of teacher recruitment,” Rautiola said. “By expanding CTE programs and collaborating with approved initiatives, we aim to contribute to the growth and sustainability of our local education workforce.”

Another potential source for new teachers is making its way to Michigan after success elsewhere.

Active for the past 30 years in Illinois, the Golden Apple Foundation for Excellence in Teaching recently announced it is accepting applications for a program that will help build a pipeline of highly effective teachers in Michigan. 

The Golden Apple Scholars Program is recruiting students who will commit to earning an education degree and teaching license from a Michigan college or university. They must also agree to teach for five years in a school of need. 

Shortages are particularly pronounced in rural communities, said Alan Mather, president of the Golden Apple Foundation.

“Understanding the community you’re teaching in is just so valuable,” he said. “We know it’s valuable to the students that are in there. If students are going to have opportunities, they need great teachers, because teaching is the profession that makes other professions possible.”

Geared toward high school seniors and students in the first two years of college, the program provides up to $15,000 in financial assistance. Among the other features are job placement assistance and extensive classroom teaching experience, and mentoring for two or three years after graduation.

Mather said the students who are picked will attend scholar institutes every summer until they graduate. That will supplement their college teaching education, which are often more theory-based, he said. 

“We will house them, feed them and pay them to learn from great Michigan educators who will teach them the nuts and bolts of teaching,” he said. 

High school seniors, underclassmen or community college students can apply at goldenapple.org/scholars-michigan. The priority deadline is Feb. 20, with the final deadline coming April 1. 

The first group will include 30 to 50 students. Mather hopes the program will grow in future years. 

“We’re accepting 400 students a year here in Illinois, and we’d love to see it grow that way in Michigan,” he said. 

The foundation’s efforts join a variety of state and federal government initiatives to combat teacher vacancies.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal announced this month includes an additional $175 million for attracting and retaining teachers, including mentorship programs and continuing support of MI Future Educator Program, a tuition-free program for college students to become certified teachers and stipend payments to student teachers.

At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced this month she is introducing legislation that would allow teachers to simultaneously enroll in the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Currently, teachers must wait 15 years to apply for full debt relief. 

In a release, Stabenow said the bill is aimed at keeping young teachers in the profession. Currently, about half of all teachers leave the profession within five years, she said.


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