Labor Voices: Young educators need our support

Paula Herbart
View Comments

‘I knew that if I became a teacher, I was going to be a good one. I was going to be there for my students, no matter what. I was going to advocate for my students, and not just for my students, but for the staff and colleagues I’m going to be working with.”

That quote describes the passion and dedication shown by many young educators as they head into the classroom. In this case, they’re the words of Kaileigh Schippa, a first year preschool teacher in Wayne-Westland, talking about her chosen profession.

You can hear the passion when new educators describe their students and the effort they put into their work in the classroom. That emotion begins long before they get their first teaching jobs — and it becomes a driving force as they work through the rigorous five-year process of becoming teachers in our colleges of education.

A video the Michigan Education Association recently released features new and soon-to-be teachers, who talk about their journey to the classroom. The early career educators in the video tell why they chose the profession and how they plan to make a difference in the lives of their students. The video can be viewed at www.askmeamembers.com.

But passion alone isn’t enough — determination is a must for new and prospective teachers as well.

Many well-meaning friends and family members attempt to dissuade the best and brightest young college students from going into teaching. Sygnett Swann, a second-year math teacher in Kalamazoo, put it this way: “There’s not a lot of people going into the profession because people are either telling them not to, or because they hear about all the negative legislation attacking the profession.”

But Sygnett’s determination to ignore that advice and follow her passion led her to offer this advice: “If I had a message for any person considering going into education, it’s this: It’s not easy, but don’t give up when someone tells you to.”

Kaileigh and Sygnett are two young educators bucking the trend. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, since 2008, the total number of Michigan college students studying to become a teacher is down more than 50 percent, while the number of new teachers leaving the classroom within the first five years is at a historic high.

As I’ve traveled the state on MEA’s Listening Tour, I have heard the voices of these young teachers struggling to stay in the profession. Stagnant or declining pay, coupled with staggering student loan debt, are putting tremendous financial pressure on these early career educators. Providing adequate compensation so that young teachers are not forced to leave the profession is a primary frustration.

The seemingly endless days and weeks of standardized testing is another. Creativity and the joy of watching students’ eyes light up while learning helps drive educators. But that’s lost when they’re forced to eliminate large chunks of creative curriculum in order to prepare and administer standardized tests.

While these tests mean nothing to the students, they have become an increasingly important component of a teacher’s evaluation, leading many to feel frustrated and devalued as a professional. That disillusionment is another reason why so many great young teachers leave the profession so early in their career.

We’re facing a teacher shortage nationally and in Michigan, so it’s more important than ever that we listen to the voices of young professionals entering the field and address the problems they are identifying. If we are to make good on our promise as a state to make Michigan’s public education system world class, we must give our newest educators the respect, support and admiration they deserve.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.



Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.

View Comments