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Union survey shows many Michigan teachers unhappy at work

a man stands in front of a classroom at a white board
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio
Teachers say they're struggling with growing classroom sizes

A survey of educators in Michigan shows many teachers are feeling demoralized by state mandates and a lack of funding.  

Eleven-thousand teachers across the state responded to the anonymous survey by Michigan’s two major teachers unions, the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

MEA President Steve Cook says the survey puts down on paper the same frustrations he’s been hearing for years.

“This is not just 11,000 cranky teachers that responded. We’ve been hearing this for a long time.” Cook said. “And now we’ve got a little more substance behind it.”     

The survey was emailed to union members, and responses were collected for a week. It’s the first time the unions have worked together to survey teachers across the entire state.

The responses were similar from teachers in districts across the state.

Funding and stagnant teacher pay is at the core of many burdens teachers say they face.

Todd Slater teaches science in Gratiot County. He says he hasn’t had a raise in eight years, but he spends more out-of-pocket money on his students now, because his district can’t afford to provide school supplies.

“I go out every year and buy cases of notebooks, three-ring binders, pencils and all kinds of things,” Slater said. “My students come to school without supplies, and I can’t give them an education without supplies.”

Cook says in addition to funding problems, pressure to meet standardized testing benchmarks and teacher evaluations are sowing a lot of discontent.

“There’s a near universal feeling that public school employees are not respected or considered when (education) policies are being crafted,” Cook said.

Some teachers are leaving the state to find jobs elsewhere – out of dissatisfaction with the education system in Michigan.

Rod Satterthwaite taught English and journalism in Michigan for 23 years, most recently at Grosse Pointe South High School. Rod’s wife Julia also teaches English and journalism, formerly in the Rochester school district.

Together they decided to leave the state after last school year, and both now teach full-time in California.

“A lot of it came down to the expectations, in terms of the amount of time we were spending justifying our positions,” Satterthwaite said. “And having to put together paperwork and data showing that we were good teachers.”

Satterthwaite says it took away from time that could have been spent with students in the classroom or planning lessons.

“Instead we were nickel-and-dime-ing, ‘Look, this student moved up this many percent based on this many points on this standardized test,'” Satterthwaite said. “All of which seemed kind of useless to us.”

Both Cook and AFT Michigan president David Hecker view the November election as a chance to elect more teacher support to Lansing.

“We would like more legislators to care what educators think,” Cook said. “That’s been our theme.”

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