top of page

Short on Teachers, Michigan Schools Grow Their Own

By Tracie Mauriello, Chalkbeat Detroit

Educators Rising’s course for high school juniors and seniors has them observe and analyze teaching and imagine themselves in a teaching career. It’s a way to get more local teachers and more students of color into teaching.

Logan Welch, 18, sat in the back of a high school English class typing on his laptop, but he wasn’t taking notes on the poem like everyone else.

Instead, he recorded observations of the teacher, noting the way she quieted a disruptive boy, used sarcasm to relate to students, and engaged students by asking them to rank poems.

And he gained new perspective on what it might be like for him to be at the front of that classroom someday — as a teacher, with his own group of high school English students.

“When you’re in school it seems like teachers just give a lesson, but there’s so much that goes into it, so much thinking they have to do about different learning styles,” said Welch, a senior at East Kentwood High School in the suburbs of Grand Rapids.

Welch is one of 20 students in Educators Rising, a national program offered as an elective for high school juniors and seniors considering careers as teachers. The hope is that some of them go on to study education in college, then return to teach in East Kentwood.

A teacher shortage crisis is brewing in school districts across Michigan. Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan are exploring the issue in a series of stories. This is the third story in the series.

State Superintendent Michael Rice sees such grow-your-own recruitment programs as an important part of his multi-pronged strategy to expand the teaching pool in Michigan. The state faces a teacher shortage at a most inopportune time: when students need more educational resources to catch up academically after two years of pandemic-related disruptions.

Although Michigan’s teaching force is larger than it was a decade ago, and the student population is smaller, administrators struggle to get fully certified teachers in classrooms where they’re most needed, especially in disciplines such as special education and world languages.

The grow-your-own strategy can help with that, too, Rice said in an interview Tuesday.

“Our student body is more diverse than our teaching staff, so not only does this help in terms of recruitment, it provides the opportunity to diversify the workforce as well,” he said.

Helping students see themselves as teachers

Jasmine Ramahi has been teaching East Kentwood’s Educators Rising course for two years. She believes more people would enter the education field if they could picture themselves as teachers. Sometimes, she said, someone else has to see them that way first.

What makes a good teacher is not just about academic achievement, she said. “Teaching is about: Do you understand empathy? Do you like to be around people? Do you like to empower people?”

For senior Shawn White, the answers were yes, yes and yes.

Ramahi, who had been White’s Spanish teacher, saw promise in him. She encouraged him to sign up for the Educators Rising course.

“When she told me this class revolved around teaching, I didn’t really see myself in that field,” he said, adding: “I didn’t think I would have the nerve” to teach.

That was a year ago.

Two weeks ago, he was teaching a lesson about common grammar mistakes to a high school class of English language learners. It was the culmination of a year of observing other teachers and studying learning styles during Ramahi’s course.

Now White can envision himself leading class discussions, crafting lesson plans, and building relationships with students.

“This class opened another door, another opportunity,” White said. “Teaching is something I could see myself going into.”

As graduation approaches, White has been thinking a lot about the teachers he’s had over the years. Only one looked like him: male and Black.

That thought makes the idea of going into teaching — particularly at a diverse school like East Kentwood — feel even more impactful.

“Being able to see someone like me, the students might get a deeper connection,” White said. “If they have that trust, if they have that relationship, it motivates them to learn more and really enjoy the class.”

Equity, diversity, and representation are topics that come up often in Ramahi’s class.

“We talk very openly about the need for our teaching staff to look like our hallways,” Ramahi said. “We talk about the power it has to have students who look like you.”

Statewide, 17.7% of students are Black, but only 6.6% of teachers.

Rice, the state superintendent, wants to do better.

Programs like Educators Rising could help. Nationally, 52% of students in Educators Rising courses are people of color.

The growth of Educators Rising

The grow-your-own concept isn’t new, but programs have proliferated over the last few years as a response to the teacher shortage.

Eighty-five years ago, Future Teachers of America chapters began cropping up in high schools to help inspire promising students to become teachers. The group morphed into the Future Educators Association in 1994 when the professional organization Phi Delta Kappa International took it over from the National Education Association.

Seven years ago, Phi Delta Kappa relaunched the program under the name Educators Rising. Seventeen schools used the curriculum that first year. Now, 11,180 high schools across the country use it. Thirty-one of them, including East Kentwood, are in Michigan.

Participating districts pay $6,500 for each classroom using the curriculum.

In addition to the classroom observations, the curriculum includes lessons on professionalism, bias and equity, small group instruction, classroom management, lesson sequencing, culturally responsive teaching, and assessing learning.

About half of Educators Rising’s students have always had teaching on their minds — the kinds of kid s who used to line up their stuffed animals and play school, said Joshua Starr, executive director of Phi Delta Kappa and former superintendent in Maryland and Connecticut. The other half are teenagers who didn’t consider the profession until they learned their school was offering a course on it.

So far, 103,000 students have completed Educators Rising courses. It’s unclear how many of them enrolled in college education programs or have become certified teachers. Starr said it has been difficult to track students once they’ve graduated high school, but Phi Delta Kappa is hoping to work with states to collect data.

Sixty percent of teachers already end up working within 20 miles of where they went to high school, according to Educators Rising.

Starr urges districts to reaffirm the grow-your-own philosophy by guaranteeing jobs to their Educators Rising students who become certified teachers. “We’d like to have signing days with graduates signing letters of intent to come back,” he said.

His organization also is working to connect graduates of the program once they arrive on college campuses. About three dozen chapters of Educators Rising Collegiate have cropped up in the last year as student organizations, Starr said.

“We offer some programming and support, but it’s really student-driven,” he said. “It started because our kids actually asked us after they graduated. They said, ‘Hey, we’re in college now, and we’d love to network.’”

Other grow-your-own programs take root in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Education last year awarded $10,000 grants to help 44 schools develop opportunities for students to explore careers in education.