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Michigan educators like their own schools — but urge young people to stay away from their profession

Anthony Lanzilote

Many Michigan educators are content with the climate in their own school buildings. But some feel overburdened. Many say political leaders don’t support or respect them — and they wouldn’t recommend young people go into their profession.

Those are some of the takeaways of the results of a February survey of nearly 17,000 Michigan educators — what officials say is the largest effort to poll educators in the state.

The results provide what is likely the first big glimpse into how educators feel about reform efforts, career satisfaction and the quality of schools.

The survey was the first significant effort from Launch Michigan, a group of several dozen unlikely allies that formed last summer with a goal to improve education in Michigan. The group includes education, labor, business, philanthropy and community organizations. The results were released Wednesday.

This is how Emma White, of the Emma White Research company that conducted the survey, summed up how teachers responded in the survey:

“They like teaching, but they have frustrations with the current state of public education,” White said.

Launch Michigan plans to use the results to help develop a set of policy recommendations the group will be proposing for state lawmakers later this spring.

“The survey results validate our focus on educator recruitment and retention in this state,” Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, said in a statement in response to the findings. “We look forward to working with our partners to find solutions that will support Michigan educators and ensure that students succeed.”

Some data to go along with those takeaways:

  • 77 percent of the teachers in the survey said they were generally satisfied with being a teacher at their school
  • 64 percent of educators say they feel appreciated for the job they’re doing
  • 72 percent said lack of support from policy-makers and politicians has a large impact on their career satisfaction
  • 25 percent said they would recommend education as a career for young people
  • 12 percent say they plan to leave education for a different career over the next two to three years; 10 percent plan to retire
  • 47 percent said the teacher evaluation process is fair and 35 percent said it has improved teaching
  • 72 percent said lack of support from policy-makers and politicians has a large impact on their career satisfaction
  • 44 percent of educators said the quality of schools in Michigan is good or excellent and 59 percent said the quality of their own local schools is good or excellent
  • 22 percent of K-5 educators say their schools are prepared to offer substantial support to third-graders retained under the state’s literacy law.
  • 20 percent believe the benefit of standardized exams is worth the time and effort

The fact that a large percentage of educators is satisfied in their current role, but wouldn’t recommend the profession may seem conflicting. But White said it reflects the theme that emerged from the survey results that while many love what they’re doing, they feel the “career has gotten harder and harder over time,” and the increased demands, workload and criticism has taken a toll.

The results include comments from teachers about why they’re considering leaving the profession.

“Teaching is a calling and a noble profession. The constant criticism from media and politicians is difficult. Not appreciated, valued, or respected,” said one.

“I can’t emphasize enough the reason I will probably leave the field of education (the only thing I ever wanted to do) is more paperwork, less pay, less support,” said a different teacher. “I’ve never before dreaded each day!”

And from another: “I’m tired of working so hard, spending thousands of dollars on continuing ed credits, and not being financially compensated. There’s a true lack of respect for the field by some politicians who call us ‘loser socialists.’ ”

The survey results come at a crucial time in Michigan. Students in the state have struggled academically — both on a rigorous national exam and on the state’s standardized exam. Next school year, Michigan law will require third-graders who are reading a year or more below grade level to be held back. Meanwhile, school funding has received a lot of attention, with many — including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer —calling for a restructuring of the way the state funds schools to provide additional money for students who are more costly to educate.

In the survey, educators were more likely to support these approaches to improving Michigan’s education system: lowering class sizes, expanding access to preschool programs, distributing school funding based on need, and adding more literacy coaches.

The educators who participated in the study included teachers, school and district administrators, ancillary staff such as counselors and social workers, paraprofessionals, and support staff.

In some categories, the results were compared to results of a 2018 survey conducted of 40,000 Tennessee educators. Why Tennessee? Because it’s a state that “has served as a model for education reform efforts,” according to a summary of the findings.

Want to read the full report? Scroll down for more.

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