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Young aspiring educators provide hope for Michigan’s future

By Chandra Madafferi

A photo of MEA President Chandra Madafferi
MEA President Chandra Madafferi addresses young aspiring educators at the inaugural Educators Rising conference at Wayne State University

Ever since I could stand, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

My dad bought a few desks and an old chalkboard and put them in our basement. I even have funny memories of creating “lesson plans” for my sister, and yes, she will tell you I gave her homework. I was fortunate to have supportive parents and family who helped me achieve my dream.

The Michigan Education Association is committed to helping other aspiring educators achieve their dreams, too. That’s why we recently co-hosted Michigan’s inaugural Educators Rising conference at Wayne State University. About 400 middle and high schoolers interested in becoming teachers attended the event, where they networked, participated in competitions and met with veteran educators to pick their brains.

I was heartened to see so many sharp young minds dedicated to building a brighter future for their communities — urban, suburban and rural alike. We as a state need these kids to keep progressing and one day become educators, and we must provide them with whatever support they need, including any support they may lack at home.

It’s no secret that schools across Michigan are struggling to fill positions, from classroom teachers to school social workers to bus drivers and everything in between. Our schools need trained, qualified professionals to fill every single one of these positions so students can receive a great education that prepares them for college and the workplace.

One of the best solutions for addressing the teacher shortage — in addition to retaining great educators already in our schools by increasing their salaries and treating them with respect — is to encourage more young people, like those who attended the Educators Rising conference, to enter the education profession.

Thankfully, we’re making progress. After years of declining enrollments in teacher preparation programs, Michigan universities are finally beginning to experience a sustained increase in the number of students studying to become teachers. In addition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature have enacted programs providing significant financial relief for those studying to become educators, including $10,000 a year in tuition relief and stipends for student teachers.

This isn’t just about filling vacancies — it’s about investing in the very future of our state. It’s up to educators to prepare our students for the in-demand jobs of today and build students’ knowledge and skills so they can compete for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.

Many people are rightfully concerned about artificial intelligence taking away jobs. Still, even with rapid technological advances, we will need plenty of good educators to teach students how to build the robot, work alongside the robot and fix the robot. We will also need great teachers to help develop students’ soft skills, like communication and collaboration — things that AI will never replace.

Far too often, the narrative around teaching is that it’s nothing but sacrifice — but that’s true of any job with so many responsibilities. Meanwhile, few occupations are as fulfilling as being an educator. After all, educators don’t just impart knowledge; they also help encourage intellectual curiosity, nurture talent and help children tap into their own potential so they can grow into the best version of themselves.

For those who want to make a difference in their communities, I’d argue there’s no other profession where one can positively impact so many lives.

The next generation of educators is enthusiastic and ready to make a difference. By coming together to rebuild a culture of respect and support for the education profession, we can help the educators of tomorrow achieve their dreams and empower them to shape our future for generations to come.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.

(Posted as submitted to Detroit News)

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