Students seek ways to attract more people into teaching

11th graders Payton Bidwell (left) and Mirabella Witte share some of their group's brainstorming results about the problem of declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs (photo by Natalie Tomlin)

“How might Grand Valley State University increase the supply of students in the College of Education?”

This was the driving question students were given on the launch of a project at Kent Innovation High School this winter. Other questions included: “How do markets respond to changes to supply or demand? How might the college positively impact supply and demand in the marketplace? What does the data suggest about the supply of teachers?”

Teams of students were challenged to research the causes of the shortage and formulate a possible way for GVSU’s College of Education to address the problem. Their final product, a website, needed to include key data related to the teacher shortage, interpretation of data and a solution, as well as a supply and demand graph. Students also presented their ideas to a panel of GVSU education staff.

Anastasia Motta, 11th grade, presents “Requirement Tailoring”

This project was designed by facilitator Rachel Haddad, who teaches English language arts and facilitator Jeff Bush, who teaches social studies and economics, in collaboration with two student teachers from GVSU.

At first, Mirabella Witte and one of her teammates, Payton Bidwell, thought the problem seemed huge. But as they delved into the six-week project, their perspective changed. “By the end, we began to see our worth. We realized that we are where the problem is,” said Mirabella, a junior at Union High School.

Dedicated to project-based learning and collaboration, students at Innovation High work on real problems, researching and seeking solutions. Often, students present their ideas to authentic audiences, like the panel from GVSU.

As part of the project, several guest speakers visited to share knowledge of the teacher shortage from different perspectives: Dr. Kelly Margo, assistant professor from GVSU; Char Firlik, retired Kent ISD education consultant; and Coni Sullivan, assistant superintendent for HR and legal services at Kent ISD.

According to Paula Lancaster, director of teacher education at GVSU, “Statewide, since 2008, Michigan has seen an approximately 50% decline in the number of individuals enrolling in teacher preparation programs. At GVSU the decline has been nearly 30%. Over the past three years we have seen a stable uptick.”

Silas Hinkle, 11th grade, presents “Advertising: Encouraging Future Educators”

Exploring How Supply & Demand Affects Teacher Job Market

Bush explained that one of the goals was to connect students to the concept of supply and demand as it applies to the job market. Students discovered that in part, fewer people are choosing to become teachers because of stagnant teaching salaries in comparison to STEM fields. But students also found that the shortage had to do with more than just money.

Research showed a number of teachers left the field because “they didn’t feel supported.” In response, teams proposed developing mentorship programs to support incoming teachers, or setting up programs through parks and recreation departments.

After researching and pooling possible solutions, Payton Bidwell’s group focused on students who might have a passion for teaching, but were not being recruited during high school. They decided to propose a new program that could involve Kent Career Tech Center helping connect potential educators to GVSU. She said this idea could help high school students get exposure to the field of education and find those with a passion for it.

John Shinsky, associate dean for community impact at GVSU, was a member of the panel and said he was impressed by the rich conversation that resulted. The panel asked students follow-up questions, such as how they came up with their ideas or about alternative ways of implementing their solutions.

“Students did a tremendous job,” Shinsky said. “They brought a pure point of view to the issue. This is just one more example of the capabilities of our young people today. It was also fantastic to see K-12 and higher education coming together.”

Students also gained a new perspective after they presented to an audience.

“It was surprising how realistic our solution was and how serious the adults took us,” said Payton, a junior at Forest Hills Central High School, adding she appreciated the chance to connect with the teaching field. “I learned that every profession has benefits that you may not have known without looking deeper into the profession itself.”

Bush explained that student projects were judged in three areas: Communication and Collaboration, Research and Information, as well as Creative and Critical Thinking.

“It was exciting to give students the opportunity to connect with a local partner that affects them directly,” Haddad said. “Students did an excellent job being professional when grappling with a real world problem.”

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