By Bryan K. Alfaro | THE EASTERN ECHO
Added September 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm
The lack of jobs and subsequent loss of workers in Michigan is causing a circular dilemma with far-reaching consequences throughout the state.
With the loss of jobs, unemployment rises; with the loss of tax dollars, budget cuts are made; with the loss of families, less students are enrolled in schools; and with less students enrolled, there’s less need for teachers and schools.
The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reported Michigan had an average unemployment rate of 10.9 percent over the past year. The U.S. Census Bureau reported Michigan was the only state in the nation to decrease — 0.6 percent — in population over the past decade.
EMU’s Teacher Education Department Head Donald Bennion said, “The numbers have declined obviously, because people aren’t hiring, they’re laying people off and things like that, but the last I knew [EMU was] still placing people in the state at about two-and-a-half times the average rate of other institutions.”
Bennion went on to say about 25 percent of the teachers produced in Michigan are EMU graduates.
“Our people pass the [teacher] subject matter exams at a rate of over 90 percent,” he said.
EMU’s website reports there were 2,330 undergraduate students enrolled in the College of Education for the fall of 2010 alone.
Bennion said Michigan used to be one of the best states for teachers and believes the quality and attitude of legislators is mainly responsible for the current condition of Michigan’s education system.
“If [legislators] continue, it’s not going to be good for the state,” he said. “People, I think, are looking at how can we save money right this minute, not what can we do to improve the future of this state. You’ve got to spend on those things that can have the most impact on the future, and education is one of those. The problem is you’ve got people that are talking about what to do with education that have no background in education.”
William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International and co-director of the 2011 PDK/Gallup poll said in a recent press release, “This year’s PDK/Gallup poll shows that Americans believe the key to good schools is high-quality teachers. Interestingly, they have mixed opinions whether state governors or education leaders are the ones who can better ensure that our schools provide the quality they expect.”
In February 2010, The National Education Association reported teachers’ salaries in Michigan declined by 6.8 percent between 1989 and 2009 relative to inflation.
Lyndsey Lentz, 24, an EMU senior with a major in language literature and minor in history, said she would go wherever the jobs are.
“No teacher goes into education for the money,” Lentz said. “You eat, breath, sleep teaching. And that’s what it should be about. There are things we’re doing right for sure at Eastern, and I commend them, and I recommend it as an education school. Because I really feel like it benefited me and it prepared me for what is to come.”
Lentz has begun student teaching in the rural area of Hartland, Mich. and she is concerned about the quality of her students’ education.
“We don’t even have enough books for these students. So what do we do then? That’s your issue right there,” she said. “You have a problem of money per student versus your cutbacks and your layoffs. So when push comes to shove, which one is going to give?”
Lentz said at this point she feels like it’s the government versus the American people.
“You can’t corporatize everything. You can’t privatize everything. This is supposed to be a public education system,” she said. “I think changes need to be made and people need to start listening. And not only do people need to start listening, but people need to start acting. ‘When are you going to become an active citizen in your democratic society?’ That’s my question for Michigan.”
Lentz said in the future she might seek another state certification of an additional minor in Spanish, science or math to make herself more marketable.
More than ever, school administrators are looking for teachers who are certified in more than one subject to try and keep as many programs open as possible; budget cuts and lower enrollment rates have forced many schools to drop programs entirely.
Bennion said Michigan students have more flexibility than students from most other states when looking for a job.
“Michigan is one of the few states where the people actually … get certified in both their major and their minor,” he said. “So they really do get two certifications, whereas in most states you can only get one.”
Koran Boze, a junior at EMU, said he’s not worried about his chances of getting hired after graduating.
“They’re looking for two types of people — non-Caucasians and men,” Boze said. “And I fit those two. It’s a woman dominated field with 85 percent of teachers being white females. I just want to graduate in a decent amount of time before those ethnic conditions change.”
Boze is about to enter the secondary education program, but he needs to finish his Spanish major requirements first.
“I don’t think people should put all their eggs in one basket,” Boze said. “But at the same time, they shouldn’t have too many things going on where you can’t focus on the class.”
From raising his autistic daughter, he feels equipped to possibly earn a minor in special education, too.
“[Special education certification] puts you at a higher ranking than other teachers usually,” Boze said. “But really, any additional certification will only be to your advantage.”
Junior Cora Heppler agreed various certifications—for any student—is a beneficial investment.
“I think it’s smart to get certified in more than one area,” Heppler said. “You can’t get a job nowadays without being well-rounded, confident and capable.”
The literature major, art minor is even pondering the thought of earning an additional minor.
“It’s not that much work to get an extra minor anyways,” Heppler said. “Take a few summer classes or take night classes. It may seem inconvenient at first but it’s really worth it.”
Bennion added that of about 30 institutions in Michigan that educate teachers, EMU is one of seven in the state that are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education; only about 14 percent of U.S. institutions are accredited at that level.
Eastern Echo article archive: EMU Teachers Likely to be Placed