By Kim Kankiewicz
Andrea Parker was among the first job seekers to arrive at Michigan State University’s Teacher and Administrator Recruitment Fair on April 12. She entered the Breslin Student Events Center armed with copies of her résumé, a recommendation letter, and a document confirming that she will be certified to teach secondary English and Spanish when she completes MSU’s teacher preparation program this spring.
Before the fair, she had researched participating school districts and had applied online to several. She had honed her interview skills in mock sessions with veteran school administrators. Now, with a map of the recruiters’ locations and a list of her target schools, she was ready to connect with as many districts as possible during the five-hour event.
Scanning the crowd as she waited for the concourse to open, Parker wondered whether all her preparation would help her attract recruiters’ interest. Her peers were chatting nervously, comparing game plans and speculating about differences between their pre-printed nametags.
“The stress was palpable,” Parker says. “There was a lot riding on that day because when else do you have over 200 schools coming to recruit?”
According to Eric Doerr, associate director of employer engagement at MSU’s Career Services, 235 school districts participated in this year’s recruitment fair, up from 174 districts last year.
“The concourse was jam packed with districts table to table,” Parker says, noting that several Michigan schools had lines “ten or fifteen interns deep waiting for interviews.”
Meanwhile, recruiters from other states prowled the concourse in search of candidates or called to prospective employees from their tables. Doerr says out-of-state districts represented 64 percent of this year’s recruiters, a majority that has existed for years.
The situation is similar at other universities that participate in Michigan Teacher Recruitment Days, a weeklong series of education job fairs hosted by a different campus each weekday. At Eastern Michigan University, 56 percent of this year’s teacher recruiters came from states other than Michigan. Out-of-state schools comprised 68 percent of recruiters at the University of Michigan and 70 percent at Western Michigan University.
Scan the local news in any state with a teacher shortage, and it won’t be long before you read about administrators traveling to Michigan to recruit teachers.Scan the local news in any state with a teacher shortage, and it won’t be long before you read about administrators traveling to Michigan to recruit teachers. Over the last decade, Michigan has attracted a growing number of recruiters from school districts across the country, especially from Southwestern states like Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas and Southeastern states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.
“Michigan has always produced great teachers,” says Amy Spruce, Recruitment and Retention Administrator for Adams 12 Five Star Schools north of Denver, where Michigan-trained teachers account for an astonishing 10 percent of new hires.
Elsewhere near Denver, Aurora Public Schools hires more teachers from Michigan than from any state besides Colorado — roughly 4 percent of new hires. Human resources coordinator Katrina Smith says her district has been recruiting in Michigan since at least 2007. Like her counterpart at Adams 12, Smith cites the quality of Michigan’s teacher preparation programs as the reason her district returns to the Great Lakes state year after year.
“Our politicians don’t believe this, but Michigan traditionally has had high standards for teacher preparation,” says Gretchen Dziadosz, executive director of the Michigan Education Association. These standards, Dziadosz says, include skills tests for prospective teachers and extensive teaching experience before graduation. “It’s not just six weeks of student teaching. These programs have their students in the classroom a lot so that they’re experiencing real classroom life.”
Such factors contribute to the high rankings of Michigan’s colleges of education. Michigan State University, which requires a yearlong teaching internship, is consistently U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked program for both elementary and secondary teacher education. The University of Michigan ranks second nationally for secondary teacher education and third for primary teacher education.
Recruiters may be influenced by high rankings, but it’s the success of Michigan-trained teachers in the classroom that keeps districts coming back.
“We find districts across the country now that have clusters of Michigan State graduates,” says Corey Drake, director of teacher preparation at MSU. “It’s a credit to our graduates who have gone out to those states and done well that recruiters come back and see who else is coming out of these programs.”
This is good news for Andrea Parker, who has targeted Colorado, Arizona, and Texas as states where she would like to teach if she leaves her native Michigan. Parker spoke with multiple school districts from those states and received an on-the-spot job offer from one.
“They’ve made it very difficult to consider other options because it really is an impressive district,” Parker says. But she left the recruitment fair confident that several options will be open to her if she’s willing to relocate.
Competing for Michigan’s Teachers
Jourdon Greening and Charles Winter are fourth grade teachers in adjacent classrooms. Greening graduated in 2012 from the University of Michigan, Winter in 2014 from MSU. The colleagues enjoy a friendly rivalry during football and basketball seasons, but they are two thousand miles from Michigan as they cheer for their respective alma maters. Greening and Winter teach in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah. Both were hired in 2015, when the Issaquah School District participated in Michigan Teacher Recruitment Days for the first time.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, so I knew that when I graduated I’d be willing to leave the state,” says Greening. A native of White Lake, Michigan, she taught in Indiana for three years before applying in the Puget Sound region, where her husband has family and abundant job opportunities in his field of environmental science.
Winter, who lived in Grosse Pointe before college, applied in Issaquah after speaking with district recruiters at MSU’s job fair. His girlfriend, also from Michigan, landed a teaching job in the same district, clinching his decision to relocate.
The Issaquah School District hired five Michigan teachers in 2015 and guaranteed jobs to eighteen candidates during this year’s Teacher Recruitment Days. According to Lisa Hechtman, the district’s executive director of human resources, Issaquah turned to Michigan to staff its classrooms because of the reputation of the state’s teacher preparation programs and the knowledge that Michigan historically has produced more teachers than it can hire. In 2013, for example, Education Week reported that Michigan’s elementary teaching graduates outnumbered available positions in the state by a ratio of more than two to one.
The number of out-of-state districts competing for Michigan teachers has skyrocketed over the last half-decade. David Santellanes, recruiter for the Cartwright School District in Phoenix, recalls that when he started his job sixteen years ago, Cartwright was the sole Arizona district recruiting in Michigan. This year, twenty-five Arizona districts attended Central Michigan University’s fair alone.
Arizona has a highly publicized teacher shortage, with hundreds of unfilled teaching positions in schools across the state. But it’s only one of several states that have intensified recruiting efforts to address critical shortages.
“Not everybody is in the same crunch, but I can tell you which states are because I know the recruiters,” says Santellanes. “You’re always going to see North Carolina out there. You’re going to see Florida, Georgia, Texas. You’re going to see California, and you’re going to see Colorado.”
Demand from some regions is so high that Eastern Michigan University had a waiting list of fifty-two school districts wanting to send recruiters to its job fair. Barbara Jones, Senior Corporate Relations Manager at Eastern, capped the waiting list at that point, knowing that only a handful of spots would open up before the event.
“Schools continued to call me day after day,” Jones says. “I had a whole bunch of schools from all over the country calling, quite upset that they could not get in the door.”
“Teachers right now are kind of in the driver’s seat. That hasn’t happened in a while.”With increased competition, recruiters are broadening their searches to other Midwestern states. Aurora Public Schools, for example, added Chicago and Minnesota to its recruitment roster this year. Ohio State University career advisor Katie Moore reports that TeachOhio, the teacher recruitment fair at OSU, has seen a recent influx of out-of-state recruiters.
Whatever fair they attend, out-of-state recruiters use various incentives to woo teachers to their states. Andrea Parker encountered a Texas district offering $51,000 to first-year teachers, compared to an average starting salary of about $36,000 in Michigan. Other districts offer signing bonuses or student loan forgiveness.
“We can’t compete with things like that,” says Lisa Hechtman of the Issaquah School District. Instead, Issaquah recruiters tout their community’s support for education, the advantages of their geographic location, and the fact that the state of Washington doesn’t link teacher evaluations to student test scores.
“Teachers right now are kind of in the driver’s seat,” Hechtman says. “That hasn’t happened in a while. And it’s been a very fast transformation from being the buyer, okay I’ll take whatever job I can get, to really being the seller.”
Competing for Michigan Teaching JobsLiz Krause, a secondary education major at Michigan State University, has yet to experience that transformation. Unlike Andrea Parker, Krause has confined her job search to Michigan. A native of Plymouth, Michigan, Krause owns a home in Lansing, and her husband is a doctoral candidate at MSU. She braved the long lines to speak with several Lansing-area schools at MSU’s recruitment fair, but she’s not counting on those conversations to land her a job.
“I’ve heard it’s difficult to find a job within the state, especially if you have a narrow search radius,” she says.
Based on self-reported alumni data, about 40 percent of Michigan State University’s teaching graduates leave the state to find employment. Current data was unavailable from other Michigan universities, but the Michigan Education Association reported as recently as 2011 that a full two-thirds of the state’s newly minted teachers were leaving Michigan to find work.
Both Jourdon Greening and Charles Winter searched for jobs in Michigan before relocating to Washington.
“Even though I had experience and the interviews went well, there were no openings for elementary teachers,” says Greening.
The demand is higher for secondary teachers, which helped Liz Krause land an in-person interview at a nearby school after the job fair. Endorsements in areas like special education or world language instruction can open doors as well. Still, for graduates who want to teach in Michigan, finding a job can mean playing the long game.
“It’s not uncommon to hear of someone who went and worked in Texas for two or three years and now is coming back,” says Gretchen Dziadosz. “Because of course they have a bit of an advantage over someone just graduating.”
Unable to leave Michigan, Krause has talked with every teacher she knows regarding potential openings in their schools. She monitors school district websites for job listings and plans to visit school administrators in person as soon as she receives her certification. Her primary strategy is to get her foot in the door by registering as a substitute teacher “anywhere and everywhere” within commuting distance.
Dwindling Supply of Michigan Teachers
Michigan is not exempt from teacher shortages in some categories, and substitute teaching is among those categories. The Associated Press reported recently that approximately 1,500 Michigan classrooms have unmet subbing needs on any given day. So while Liz Krause searches for a full-time teaching position, she is likely to receive as many subbing requests as she is able to fill.
Substitute teaching is among the “critical shortage disciplines” identified by the Michigan Department of Education for 2016-2017. Other critical shortage needs include career and technical educators, reading specialists, world language teachers, early childhood educators, and communication arts teachers.
While currently there is no overall shortage of qualified teachers in the state, enrollment in Michigan’s teacher preparation programs has plummeted. The rate of decline varies by institution; Michigan State University reported an 18 percent drop in teacher preparation enrollment over the last decade, while Central Michigan University saw a 32 percent decline in just two years, according to CMU’s Director of Teacher Education Marcia Fetters. Based on statewide data reported to the federal government under Title II of the Higher Education Act, total enrollment in Michigan’s teacher preparation programs decreased by 52 percent over the five most recent years available, from 23,372 students in 2008-2009 to 11,287 students in 2013-2014.
Nationwide over the same period, enrollment in teacher preparation programs decreased by 35 percent, with several Rust Belt states reporting the steepest declines. Between 2008-2009 and 2013-2014, Indiana’s teacher prep enrollment dropped by 60 percent, Illinois’s by 57 percent, Pennsylvania’s by 53 percent, and Ohio’s by 39 percent. While these declines have to some extent adjusted for a previous oversupply of trained teachers within the region, the trend is alarming to recruiters who rely on teachers from Michigan and across the Midwest to fill their schools.
“For people who are in this part of the industry of trying to attract teachers, that is the topic of conversation,” Issaquah’s Lisa Hechtman says about declining enrollments. “It was so visible at the job fairs — at every one that we’ve attended.”
David Santellanes of Cartwright School District agrees. Santellanes recruits nationwide from the fall through the spring.
“In every place that I’ve gone, the career center people are seeing the same thing: fewer students going into education and more recruiters.”“It’s a tough time out there right now,” he says. “In every place that I’ve gone, the career center people are seeing the same thing: fewer students going into education and more recruiters.”
Santellanes, who has worked in education for 48 years, attributes the waning interest in teaching to unprecedented demands on teachers without increased pay, and the availability of other jobs in a more robust economy.
Gretchen Dziadosz says there’s one more factor that explains students’ growing reluctance to enter the teaching profession.
“The teacher-bashing that has been going on politically in this country has just demoralized young people,” Dziadosz says. “I know a lot of teacher leaders who have told me that they won’t let their own children go into education because they’re so tired of teachers being the punching bag for all of society’s ills.”
Carol Baaki Diglio is assistant superintendent of human resources at Novi Community School District northwest of Detroit. Though Novi has no shortage of qualified applicants to lead its classrooms, Diglio is worried about the long-term effect of declining teacher prep enrollments.
“You never want districts settling for teachers because of a decline in numbers,” Diglio says. “It’s important to have good, sound teachers who are caring and nurturing and know their content and how to reach and engage kids. If we’re settling for less than that, we’re not preparing our kids for the future.”
Furthermore, Diglio points out, school administrators and other educational leaders generally begin their careers as teachers. With fewer young people entering the profession today, she questions who will be leading the schools of tomorrow.
Recruiters from Novi, an in-state school where many new graduates would like to teach, saw a 25 percent drop in the number of future teachers visiting their booths during Michigan’s teacher recruitment fairs. In the booth next to Novi’s at the University of Michigan, an out-of-state recruiter spoke with a mere seven candidates all day. Dismayed by the dearth of candidates at this year’s fairs, Diglio tweeted several photos of nearly empty walkways beneath captions like “Where are all of our future educators?”
“It’s devastating,” Diglio says. “It’s devastating, and it’s a crisis.”
Kim Kankiewicz is a Midwest native living near Seattle. She writes about education, books, and culture for publications including Pacific Standard, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Salon. Find her online at kimkankiewicz.com and tweeting as @kimprobable. Additional Belt pieces by Kim Kankiewicz can be found here.
Banner photo by US Department of Education