Cynthia Carver is the chair of Oakland University’s Department of Teacher Development and Educational Studies. Carver said that teacher preparation programs around the country “have seen falling enrollments — enrollments that fall off the cliff.”

Cynthia Carver is the chair of Oakland University’s Department of Teacher Development and Educational Studies. Carver said that teacher preparation programs around the country “have seen falling enrollments — enrollments that fall off the cliff.”

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Declining enrollment reported for teaching programs across the state

‘Lack of support from the community and from the public … is the one I see as the biggest impediment toward young people choosing teaching’

By: Mark Vest | Metro | Published July 14, 2021

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METRO DETOIT — From the time they were in elementary school, many people over the years have aspired to land a job as a teacher.

It is a position that has likely reached “dream job” status for thousands of people over the course of many decades.

However, in recent years, that perspective has changed for some.

Cynthia Carver, the chair of Oakland University’s Department of Teacher Development and Educational Studies, has noticed a change.

“The teacher prep programs around the country for the last eight, 10 years have seen falling enrollments — enrollments that fall off the cliff — 40% to 60% declines,” Carver said. “This has been true nationally and across the state. … There are 32 teacher preparation programs in Michigan. We have one of the best, in terms of maintaining our enrollment, yet we still have a decline.”

According to mischooldata.org, which is Michigan’s official education data source, in the 2007-08 school term, the number of full-time equivalency teachers was over 107,000, as compared to less than 97,000 in 2020-21.

Carver shared her opinion as to why there has been a decline in enrollment for teaching programs.

“So many people have tried to explain this, and one has to be the challenges of the job,” she said. “There’s not a lot of autonomy anymore in teaching. There is standardization that teachers have needed to meet, whether it be from standardized tests to standardized curriculum, that school districts have done because of legislative changes, requirements and mandates.”

There is something else that may also be steering potential candidates away from the teaching profession.

“Lack of support from the community and from the public, I think, is the one I see as the biggest impediment toward young people choosing teaching,” Carver said.

Madison Heights resident Judy Pichowski said she taught for 52 years. After retiring from the teaching profession on a full-time basis in 2014, she went on to be a substitute, before stepping away from that role in March of this year.

She said she has also noticed a lack of support for teachers.

“I think from about five years back, teachers were bashed, bashed horribly, in terms of, ‘Oh, they get the summer off; they get paid too much,’” Pichowski said. “A lot (of) people weren’t going to school to become a teacher because of the bad morale that was around. And then with the pandemic, a lot of elderly teachers that were a few years away from retirement retired, and some young teachers quit. So I think it was a combination of both.”

From Pichowski’s perspective, other teachers share her sentiment.

“I’m hearing that the morale is really bad, that teachers don’t feel safe, (and) they’re tired of being bashed all the time,” she said. “That’s what’s steering a lot of the decisions they’re making.”

Carver said she has been in the teacher preparation field for nearly 20 years.

She used to ask students, “How many of you have been discouraged from teaching by someone you care about?”

“About a third of hands would go up,” Carver said. “That was alarming to me then. Probably five, eight years later, I continued to ask the question, and I noticed that now, I had half to two-thirds of students raise their hand.”

Carver said she has observed the trend get even more discouraging in recent years.

“In the last three or four years, I’ve been asking students that question; in particular, asking our graduates as they’re finishing their student-teaching, and every single hand goes up,” she said. “Someone they care about, someone they respect, has discouraged them from teaching as a career.”

Carver said a lot of teachers aren’t recommending the profession to others, and from her perspective, it goes back to a lack of autonomy.

“For a professional career to have a lack of autonomy is hard,” she said. “I think that’s why a lot (of) teachers discourage young people from going into the profession, because they’re told what they need to teach every single day. They’re told how to test what students know and are able to do, as opposed to taking their insight and expertise as a teacher and determining what’s the best thing for that particular child in the moment.”

Pichowski said she recently got a thank-you letter from the parents of a former student.

She said, “I cried, because it really touched me.”

Despite moments like that, and teaching being a “great profession,” Pichowski said, “I wouldn’t tell anybody to go into teaching today.”

She said she will hold that viewpoint “until the morale changes; until people start saying positive things about teachers. There have been positive comments about teachers during the pandemic, but prior to that, it was the opposite. … They weren’t compensated, as far as I’m concerned, properly, and class sizes were starting to get big again.”

Pichowski said it was getting to be “too much.”

Walled Lake Consolidated School District Superintendent Kenneth Gutman has also taken notice of a diminished interest in the teaching profession.

“Walled Lake Schools has been fortunate that we have been able to attract highly qualified teachers and staff to serve our students and families,” he stated via email. “While we realize the number of students studying to become teachers continues to diminish, we have not yet experienced a shortage; additionally, we plan to implement a program at the high school level to encourage students to consider the teaching profession. We do know, from the longevity of staff over the years, that those who pursue education as a career receive much satisfaction in working with children.”

According to information released by the Michigan Department of Education, the MDE, “in collaboration with stakeholders, has been working to revise Michigan’s teacher certification structure and improve the preparation of the educator workforce,” with one goal being “deeper preparation of teachers to meet the unique learning needs of children at each grade level, particularly in early literacy.”

The Revised Certification Structure includes “focused grade bands” that extend from birth through grade 12.

“The Revised Certification Structure is going well,” MDE’s Director of Educator Excellence Leah Breen said via email. “Candidates are enrolling in and progressing through programs now. … While we anticipate teachers trained in this manner to begin entering the field as soon as the spring of 2022, typically, under 10% of the overall workforce annually are new teachers. This should positively impact the teacher shortage problem by increasing retention of teachers who are better prepared for their roles.”

Breen expects results to be “slow in coming.”

Carver is familiar with the Revised Certification Structure, as she said, “We’re leading the state in that work.”

“One of the hidden benefits of it is it’s forcing every teacher preparation program in the state to revisit how we prepare teachers at our institutions,” she said. “At OU, we have been in the redesign process for the last four years. We anticipated many of these changes, and our new elementary program has been approved to start in the fall.”

Despite the current trend, Carver said it’s a “great time” to get into the teaching profession.

“There are so many jobs out there,” she said. “We get calls almost on a daily basis from school districts sharing with us new openings they have, asking if we have any students that could fill these openings. There’s a tremendous shortage in our area schools. There are definitely jobs out there.”

Carver advocated for the profession of teaching.

“We are the profession that makes all others possible,” she said. “It’s the most amazing career one could choose if what they (want to) do is make a difference through their work, and through their relationships with young people.”

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