By Haley Jones, MASA Marketing & Digital Media Specialist

Assistant Superintendent Donna Roark was looking for ways to fill the teaching gaps in her district when she heard about the Welcome Back Proud Michigan Educator (PME) program in an email from MDE. 

Roark, assistant superintendent of curriculum and personnel at Niles Community Schools, had three educators in mind to hire – an instructional assistant and a substitute teacher in her district, and a former educator she knew was looking to return to campus. The Welcome Back PME campaign helped her get them in the classroom quicker and easier than traditional methods. 

“There are teachers out there who tapped out but are willing to come back to the profession to do what is best for kids,” Roark said. “I appreciate that MDE recognized that.” 

Through the program, Roark hired a kindergarten teacher and a high school biology teacher. The third candidate joined the district as a culinary teacher, but not through the Welcome Back PME campaign. 

The teacher shortage in Michigan is real, and administrators across the state are struggling to fill gaps in their staff. In response, MDE created the Welcome Back Proud Michigan Educator campaign to reduce or eliminate barriers to recertification and to facilitate re-entry into the profession. For example, rather than enforcing the 150 additional hours of professional development to recertify, districts can waive some or all of these hours depending on when a candidate’s certificate expired and their years of experience. 

Since its creation in April 2021, the state has communicated with approximately 36,500 formerly certified educators to encourage their enrollment in the campaign. By May 2021, 127 districts had submitted waiver applications for 167 eligible educators. Of those, 53 have since been re-certified and 57 permits have been issued. 

“We are glad to see steps being taken to re-engage former educators and help bring them back to school districts,” said MASA Executive Director Dr. Tina Kerr. “This is an accessible program for educators in every corner of the state to help fill the gaps needed to ensure that every Michigan student receives a high-quality education.” 

Betsy Hickok is one of the teachers hired by Niles Community Schools through the Welcome Back PME campaign. The kindergarten teacher spent seven years in the classroom before deciding to take a break for personal reasons. For six years she homeschooled her children, took on a part-time job, and taught at a local daycare center.  

Hickock said she had spent three years hoping for a chance to return to the classroom when she received an email about the campaign. She read and re-read the mail with a “leary eye,” filled out a three-question survey, and with a nudge from her husband, she got in touch with district leadership about next steps. In less than two weeks, Hickok had a rigorous interview and joined the kindergarten team at Niles for the 2021-22 school year. 

“I am a teacher at heart,” Hickok said. “I knew since the time I was five years old I wanted to be a teacher. Teaching others, no matter the age, and anticipating the ‘Aha! I got it!’ moment is part of who I am. The last three years before this past spring, in my heart, I was silently praying that I would be able to return to the public teaching environment and specifically teach in a kindergarten classroom. Kindergartners have a special place in my heart and it’s not because they come into the classroom perfect, but they come in innocent and, for the most part, excited to learn.”

For both the district and the candidate, the best part of all – there are no hoops to jump through. 

Participating LEAs receive an email each week with an updated list of those who are interested in working in a district. The spreadsheet shows their name, years of experience, when their certificate expired, contact information, their region, PIC number, and endorsements.  

A teacher’s years of experience and the number of years since their certification expired determine the level of flexibility and support required, but the program takes care of that for districts, too. Once an administrator finds a candidate they are interested in hiring, MDE sends candidate-specific directions for next steps directly to the superintendent. Based on their years of experience and when their certificate expired, the program lays out exactly what is needed to hire each individual teacher and/or get them re-certified. 

In an email to member districts on September 8, the spreadsheet listed 914 names of interested and eligible educators. 

In Niles, Roark took that list of names and narrowed it down to those in her region who had the certifications needed for her district – foreign language, special education, elementary education, and math and science at the secondary level. Out of the more than 900 names, 47 teachers met those criteria. Principals in her district are in the process of contacting those candidates. 

For Roark, she is optimistic about the chance to hire experienced teachers, especially during a challenging school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Veteran teachers have the pedagogy piece that new teachers will learn over time, she said. 

“Bringing back someone who has that pedagogy behind them is the biggest piece,” Roark said. “Someone who is passionate or willing to stay in the profession – they are going to be the biggest cheerleaders. They are the leaders that want to stay and say this is a great profession.”

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