Baldwin superintendent discusses teacher shortage
BALDWIN — For the past 15 years, educators knew a teacher shortage would happen eventually, and now, the issue is being brought to the table to schools nationwide. Eight staff members turned over this summer at Baldwin Community Schools.
Superintendent Richard Heitmeyer, in an interview with the Star, discussed the conditions which led to the teacher shortage in the academic world, as well as the impact at the school and how the administration is dealing with the situation.
The teacher shortage hit the school as Heitmeyer was beginning his first term as superintendent at the school. Having been superintendent at Vanderbilt prior to Baldwin, he knew a teacher shortage was on the horizon.
“A teacher shortage was forecasted several years ago, because it was known the baby-boomer generation would be retiring,” he said. “Many held off retiring for a while because retirement savings were hit hard in the early 2000s. At the same time, college students stopped going into education. I would say versus seven years ago, kids going into education have significantly fallen.”
In a study by the Center for Michigan, in 2010/2011, 751 students at Grand Valley State University were enrolled in education courses compared to only 248 students in 2014/2015, a 67-percent difference, a trend hitting many universities and colleges.
“Ten years ago there were 25 to 40 applicants for teacher openings in the state, and now we are happy to get two to four applicants — hoping one of them will be hireable,” Heitmeyer said.
Baldwin Community Schools had to get creative to deal with the staff shortage.
“Our elementary positions have now been filled,” Heitmeyer said, “We have had to ask a teacher who has been retired for two years to come back. This is just a short-term fix. We don’t have a pool to choose from. In the secondary school, we have not filled all the positions. We are going to shift things around to compensate. Beginning in January, we will go from a seven-period academic day to a six-period academic day.
“We also are working on hiring teachers who left the state to come back to the state to teach. We hired a teacher from South Dakota and South Carolina who left Michigan when there was a glut of teachers. Now we have the opposite effect, not enough teachers.”
Heitmeyer said with the shortage, different dynamics come into play.
“The issue is a lot deeper than a shortage of teachers. This creates competitions between schools. There has always been movement of teachers between districts, but now the movement is magnified — a totally different arena, and we have to learn how to play within it. Schools having to pull from neighboring schools for teachers, because there are not as many graduates to choose from. There is now more poaching than I have ever seen before.
“In one way, pulling teachers from other schools brings more experience to the table at a higher pay, because a grad would get paid at step 1, and an experienced teacher would start off with pay at step 5 or step 7, whichever would apply.”
Heitmeyer remains positive.
“We knew the shortage was coming, but I didn’t think it would hit like it did, and I didn’t know it would cause the whole pool to dry up,” Heitmeyer added. “Here in Baldwin, we have faced the shortage. We truly remain to a philosophy: Hire great people — don’t fill a position. We want to put great people in these positions. If we don’t pay close attention to who fills these teaching jobs, we run into problems quickly.
“I think the whole teacher shortage issue will have good unintended consequences, such as teachers will start getting paid more — the market demands that — which will help more people go into education. Hopefully, teaching will become a respected position again, something college students will desire to go into.”
Heitmeyer said in certain instances, teachers who left were hired closer to their home, thus having a shorter commute.
“Here at Baldwin, we had a unique number of staff leave this summer. I first experienced this last year at Vanderbilt. We hired a candidate for a science position, but they were accepted elsewhere and jumped ship. This happened here twice this summer. In my day, when we accepted a job, we didn’t keep interviewing. In instances of a shorter commute and being closer to family, it becomes clear there are things more important than money. And extra time not on the road is like a raise.”
Heitmeyer said other factors come into play, such as the balanced calendar at Baldwin Community Schools, where there is less of a break in the summer. Some teachers desired being on a traditional calendar to match their children’s schedule.
“With the new environment, we may see teacher shortages every year, but I hope not. This being my first year here, others have told me the turnover has never been like this before. Hopefully, college kids will get back into education. Teachers are important. Hopefully this will be come to be recognized as a good profession again,” he added.