Attention Teachers: Funding for K-12 schools will be cut 4%, which translates roughly into $300 per student. Want the bigger picture? Here it is: Close to a billion dollars is expected to be cut from education funding. What does this mean for Michigan school districts? Let’s take a look at Plymouth-Canton school districts for example. A total of 16 teachers, 21 custodians, and 149 bus drivers have been laid off adding to the unemployment rate. Also, Michigan teachers will be required to pay 20% towards their health care. Will these major changes cause some college students to reconsider earning a major in teacher education?
It’s important to take the following factors into consideration. Teachers’ salaries have significantly decreased over the past few years. The average teacher in the United States earns $40,000-$60,000 per year. However, many teachers have seen salary cuts ranging anywhere from 5-8%. For a teacher earning $40,000 per year, a 5% cut means that they’ll have roughly $166 less each month. In today’s economy, every dollar counts. For most people, any type of pay cut makes paying the bills that much harder.
For several years, the notion has been that there will always be a need for teachers. However, the fact that more teachers are being laid off isn’t an encouraging sign. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, close to 60,000 teachers were laid off in 2010. It’s possible that until the economy improves, many school districts won’t be hiring additional teachers simply because they cannot afford to do so.
How is all of this affecting aspiring teachers? Veronica Brownston, 19, is a junior at Eastern Michigan University who is studying secondary education. Despite what seems to be an ongoing downward spiral in school districts across Michigan, Brownston hasn’t had any second thoughts on pursuing teaching as a career. Instead, she chooses to have a positive outlook on the future. “The school cuts have affected my outlook on my career, but only in the sense that I’ll probably have to take a job out-of-state,” she says. “Teaching is what I want to do. It’s my passion, so I wouldn’t dream of giving it up.”
What are the professors’ take on this subject? Dr. Virginia Harder, a professor at Eastern Michigan University, hasn’t heard from students who are rethinking teaching as a career. However, it’s safe to say that there might be a few students who are having second thoughts on teaching for various reasons. “I can’t speak for that student,” she says. “But I would have to ask, ‘What was your motivation to teach?’ ” Regarding school cuts and the fact that teachers will have to pay 20% towards their healthcare, Dr. Harder explains, “They’re not complaining about paying more for healthcare. Teachers are concerned about funding, but from the student’s perspective, not their own personal pocket.”
Dr. Linda Lewis-White, another professor at Eastern Michigan University, also hasn’t heard from students who are changing their major based on the school districts’ current crisis. “I am not aware of any students changing their major because of the current employment environment,” she says. “Are students worried about jobs? Absolutely! But most are determined to be change agents to make life better for children.” Dr. Lewis-White adds, “A similar phenomenon occurred in the 1980s. We saw many of the students who were then counseled out of teaching return to college as post-bac students following their dreams in 2000.”
There’s no doubt that the economy is suffering not only in Michigan, but across the nation as well. In the future, school districts could possibly face more cuts in education funding and teachers could possibly face more pay cuts. Unfortunately, the economy doesn’t seem to be improving anytime soon. Anyone who is having doubts regarding the career path that they’ve chosen should ask themselves, “Would I be willing to do this for free?” After all, the world’s richest, most successful people became rich and successful by doing what they love. When you’re passionate about what it is that you’re doing, people notice.
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Special Thanks To My Interviewees: Dr. Virginia Harder, Dr. Linda Lewis-White, and Veronica Brownston