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If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher
Linda Mah
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If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher

Teachers Make a Huge Impact

By Dr. Michael Rice

I have been very fortunate in my life. I had many great teachers when I was in school and have had many strong role models, mentors, and teachers who have coached, taught, and shaped me since I graduated from high school.

Felton, Hazlett, Dodridge, Tope, Miller, Dedrick, Robinson, Randolph, Kent, Giovanazzo, and Butz. I remember every teacher that taught me language arts, math, social studies, or science K-8…..and yes, that was a few years ago. I remember Mrs. Hazlett’s reading contest for her first graders, Mrs. Dodridge’s kindness in letting me explore books above grade level in second grade, Mrs. Tope’s patience in her third/fourth-grade split, Mrs. Miller’s impatience at my fourth-grade silliness and our surprise party for her at the end of the year, and Ms. Dedrick’s ability to calm her fifth-grade class with a glance

I remember Mrs. Robinson’s kindness and grace under fire, Mr. R a n d o l p h ’ s flair, Ms. Kent’s matter of factness, Mr. Giovanazzo’s teaching us to outline our social studies materials, and Ms. Butz’s very old school, fairly brutal way of teaching us to diagram sentences.

In high school, I remember Mrs. Cummings teaching me to write in her social studies class; Ms. Robin teaching me to read, write, speak, and understand French; Mrs. Young teaching me to type; Mrs. Krahling teaching me Latin and public speaking; Mr. Wilson teaching me to debate; and Ms. Ferraro teaching me that teaching (and learning) math and quirkiness weren’t mutually exclusive. When I taught high school French several years later in the Washington, D.C., Public Schools, it was with Robin as a role model. When I teach or coach or role model or mentor today, it is with my teachers and coaches and role models and mentors in mind. Every day.

I feel very strongly about teaching and learning, about teachers in our district and across the state and country, about mentors and mentoring and helping our young people coming up. That’s why I started multi-student mentoring three years ago. Last year, more than 400 staff and community mentors joined me, Deputy Superintendent for Business, Communications, and Operations Gary Start; Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Services Cindy Green; Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Sheila Dorsey Smith; Director of Special Education Reuquiyah Saunders; and Director of Student Services Nkenge Bergan to mentor 1,168 students in 9,572 weekly mentoring sessions.

I also feel very strongly about this great profession of teaching and learning, this great institution of public schools, this great tradition of raising up the next generation. And so it has been both saddening and alarming to watch the decline in numbers of teacher candidates in our teacher training programs in Michigan’s universities over the last decade.

According to an Aug. 9, 2018, Education Week article, there was “a 23 percent decline [nationally] in the number of people completing teacher-preparation programs” between 2007-08 and 2015-16. A May 21, 2018, MLive article noted that in 2015-16, “there were 3,696 [teaching] certificates issued to new teachers in Michigan, a 33 percent decline from four years earlier, according to the Michigan Department of Education.” The article further indicated that in 2015-16, “there were 7,868 students enrolled in Michigan’s teacher preparation programs, down 30 percent from two years earlier.”

In the last several years, the critical teacher shortage area list, maintained by the Michigan Department of Education, has expanded.

What is causing this decline in teacher candidates in our universities? In certain areas, like math and science, a strong economy has adversely affected our pool of candidates, as prospective secondary school math and science teachers instead consider more lucrative careers in the private sector.

But a strong economy is not the only factor hurting the teacher candidate pipeline. Over the last several years, the denigration of the profession, school district layoffs, and a decline in inflation-adjusted salaries and benefits for many teachers have all had an adverse impact on teacher candidate pools in Michigan.

So what are we doing in the district and in the state to address this alarming trend?

Clearly, there is a limit to what any given district can do to affect a market for teachers, even if that district is fairly large, as is KPS. We send our postings to teacher education programs across the Midwest. We participate in career fairs across Michigan and in some cases across state lines. We have relationships with universities and their teacher preparation programs and often present about our district as a way of increasing teacher candidate interest in KPS.

Several times in the last 12 years, we have had an aspiring administrator academy to help address the lack of quality administrative candidates in the marketplace. We have been pleased with our progress in nurturing and developing some of our “home-grown” talent in administration.

This year, we are working to extend this “home-grown” effort by rethinking our teacher cadet program at Loy Norrix High School in the second half of the school year. We are fortunate to have a number of our graduates, often Promise recipients, return to teach our children. We also have a partnership with Western Michigan University that provides scholarships for KPS graduates who want to go into teaching. In addition, we are working to develop Young Educators Society (YES) clubs at our high schools and middle schools, effective next year.

Moreover, we have won a state grant to partner with the National Teacher Center (NTC) to provide significant professional development to help some of our strong veteran teachers provide additional support for our new teachers. Across the country, the turnover rate of new teachers is significant. While this rate is lower in KPS than in many urban districts nationally, we can still improve our teacher retention with stronger professional development, and our work with NTC will help in this regard.

At the state level, the state board of education and state department of education have permitted more retired teachers to rejoin the teaching ranks in subject areas where there are critical shortages. This year, they have done vital committee work on teacher education requirements in the state

The state legislature has reduced the number of college credit hours required for substitute teaching in K-12 schools from 90 to 60. Finally, the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators (MASA) has done critical committee work on the teacher shortage issue. That said, we need to do so much more as a state. We need to compensate teachers better to attract both the ongoing quality and quantity that we require to teach the state’s 1.5 million public school children. We need to stop denigrating the profession and to start raising it up. It is, after all, the profession that we charge with the responsibility of teaching the next generation.

I stand on my teachers’ shoulders, as we all stand on the shoulders of those who helped and taught us along the way. My teaching and mentoring are a tribute to my teachers’ contributions to the lives of so many young people over so many years.

Most of my school teachers are dead now. This summer, I sent a letter to one of my teachers, long retired, to thank her for what she had taught me and what she meant to me. I will keep her return letter forever.

If you care to share an act of kindness, write a teacher or teachers — former or current — and thank them for helping make you who you are today. We all stand on others’ shoulders. Let your teachers know that you know the impact they have had on your life … and that you appreciate them.

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