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Pandemic teacher exodus poses concern for new school year

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 5:31 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Teacher shortages have been a concern for at least a decade, but now educators worry the pandemic has made what was already a problem worse.

Shana Barnum, Principal at Alaiedon Elementary School Principal in Mason, says teachers have endured a lot over the past school year.

“All I can describe is that the feeling is overwhelming. We’re all trying to keep our heads above the water,” said Barnum.

Barnum, like many school leaders, are watching as the pandemic pushes many educators out of the career- including two of her first-grade teachers.

“We really need to have the support and the resources that we need to do our job at a high level, but often that really comes with the realization that some things need to be taken off the plate, and, and some incentives, need to be offered. Because this is a lot on everyone’s shoulders. And to continue to move back and forth between all of these teaching models, and all of the additional work that has been required this year during the global pandemic,” said Barnum.

Statewide data shows that since last August, there’s been a 44% increase in public school teacher retirements compared to the same period in 2019-2020. Before the end of this school year, at least 749 educators left. That’s not including the new teacher who doesn’t qualify as retirees.

“I continue to see staffing challenges to be a challenge districts are going to have to face, whether people are retiring because of a pandemic or for other reason. These are important issues, and with people leaving the profession without new people coming in to fill those roles, it will continue to be a growing challenge,” said Royce Humm, Executive Director of Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel.

Barnum says a staff shortage come fall is something the Mason School District is already discussing and working to avoid.

“We are very concerned about that. In fact, we’re already meeting across our district regarding openings and open positions. We’re very concerned that it will be difficult to find highly qualified and certified staff members to fill the openings that we will have, and competing with other districts in the area just increases the stress,” said Barnum.

While Charlotte Public Schools hasn’t seen an increase in retirees, Superintendent Mandy Steward says they’re also concerned about staffing this fall.

“I think that we have already seen a decline in our availability of substitute teachers and paraprofessionals. That is significant because we need those positions to function as an open public school,” said Stewart. ”I think that we’ve seen significant declines in the amount of administration applications. If you look at superintendency postings at one point this month, there were 30 positions open. That is significant when we don’t have leaders to run our school districts.”

The Michigan Education Association says this is not a new problem and staff shortages have been a concern for nearly a decade, but the pandemic has made matters worse. They’re working with lawmakers on potential solutions.

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