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Michigan teachers report challenging learning environments in survey

Teacher instructing students in a classroom
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash
Teacher instructing students in a classroom

A poll of Michigan teachers suggests that classroom interruptions, absenteeism, and violent incidents are affecting learning environments. More than 3,000 teachers were asked about incidents in their classrooms in a poll conducted by the Ann Arbor-based firm Emma White Research and released by the Michigan Education Association, the largest teacher's union in the state.

The survey found that 81% of teachers had dealt with disruptive outbursts, 78% dealt with absenteeism among students, and 27% of teachers were physically harmed by a student.

A majority of respondents said they had items destroyed by a student (67%) or were threatened by a student (59%). Just under half said they had concerns about classroom safety for their students or had to evacuate other students. And 40% said they were worried about being harmed by a student.

“There are a lot of concerns out there when it comes to student mental health and it's critical that parents know that their kids and teachers are safe at school,” said Thomas Morgan, spokesperson for the MEA.

As for what's behind some of the problems, Morgan said there was a lack of mental health resources.

“There's an extreme shortage of mental health professionals in our schools, including school counselors and social workers and psychologists,” said Morgan.

He also said that “familial stress” and unstable houses contribute to chronic absenteeism. “Sometimes parents are stringing together two or three jobs,” he added. “So it's important that we work together: parents, educators, and communities, to bring down absenteeism and to make sure that kids are getting into school where they can have that structure they need.”

The poll found that teachers expressed concern about these issues across different environments, including large cities, small cities, suburban areas, and rural areas.

“It's interesting that we see these patterns are pretty common across the state, regardless of the type of district that the members work in," said Emma White, the leader of the firm that conducted the poll.

Michigan's fiscal year 2024 budget includes $328 million for mental health and school safety. Morgan, the MEA spokesperson, said the organization supports that, but there’s more work to do.

“We are making progress. It’s going to take a while,” Morgan said.

He also emphasized the need for competitive wages for mental health professionals.

“Our kids deserve to have the best and brightest working in their schools. So we need to make it a regular occurrence to have record-breaking school budgets. We need to continue focusing on improving our students' mental health and giving them every opportunity that they deserve,” Morgan said.

“Parents deserve to have to know that their kids are safe at school and educators deserve to know that they're going to be safe when they go to work," said Morgan.

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