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New REL Midwest report explores what keeps teachers out of the classroom in Michigan

Report explores what keeps teachers out of the classroom

By Cora Goldston
April 14, 2021

Equity is a top priority for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). One key factor for improving educational equity is to ensure all students have access to a diverse, certified, and experienced teacher workforce. To help the state strengthen its teacher workforce, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, in partnership with MDE and the Midwest Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation, conducted a study of nonteaching certified teachers in Michigan.

>> Read and download the full report and related infographic.

Why did REL Midwest conduct this study?

Across Michigan, students do not have the same access to certified and experienced teachers. In 2015, MDE found that students of color and economically disadvantaged students were more likely to attend schools where more than 50 percent of the teachers held either an initial or provisional teaching license (Michigan Department of Education, 2015). In addition, students of color and economically disadvantaged students were more likely to have teachers who provided instruction outside of their certified subject area (Michigan Department of Education, 2015).

To create more equitable educational experiences for students, MDE is working to minimize teacher shortages as well as to diversify and strengthen Michigan’s teacher workforce. MDE recognized there may be an opportunity to recruit teachers who are certified but are not teaching in public schools in the state. REL Midwest worked with MDE and members of the Midwest Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation to better understand nonteaching certified teachers and what may motivate them to enter or reenter the classroom.

Teacher supply and demand in Michigan: Context from previous REL Midwest work

In Michigan, teacher shortages in certain subjects and geographic areas may be contributing to equity gaps in students’ access to certified and experienced teachers. A previous REL Midwest study of teacher supply and demand in Michigan found that between 2013/14 and 2017/18, the number of full-time equivalent teachers decreased in several subject areas, including English language arts, math, technology, health and physical education, and business education (Wan, Pardo, & Asson, 2019). The study also found that some regions and content areas are likely to have continued teacher shortages through the 2022/23 school year (Wan, Pardo, & Asson, 2019). Although the study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, it provides useful insights into long-term teacher staffing challenges.

What did the study find?

The study examined the characteristics of nonteaching certified teachers in Michigan from 2013/14 to 2017/18. The study also examined the results of a survey conducted with nonteaching teachers to learn why they are not working in the field and what incentives would motivate them to teach.

  • About 61,000 teachers who were certified in Michigan were not teaching in the state’s public schools in 2017/18.
  • Certified teachers who were not teaching in 2017/18 were more likely to be younger or from a racial/ethnic minority group. Ninety-three percent of certified teachers who were not teaching were under 60 years old, the age at which teachers with more than 10 years of service would qualify for a pension in Michigan. Just over 30 percent of nonteaching certified teachers were under 35 years old, compared to 20.4 percent of certified teachers who were currently teaching. In addition, 13.6 percent of nonteaching certified teachers are from a racial/ethnic minority group, compared to 8.5 percent of certified teachers who were teaching.
  • MDE surveyed certified teachers who did not have a teaching assignment in a Michigan public school in 2017/18. REL Midwest was able to analyze data from 9,842 respondents. Nearly one-third of survey respondents identified wanting a higher salary as one of the top three reasons for not teaching. Another 22 percent of respondents indicated they were not teaching because they had become an administrator or instructional leader. Respondents also cited a lack of professional development opportunities, the pursuit of further education, and difficulty in getting a full-time teaching job among their top three reasons for leaving or not entering the teaching field.
  • Among survey respondents, increased salary was the most frequently cited among the top three incentives that would motivate nonteaching certified teachers to consider entering or returning to teaching. Survey respondents also frequently mentioned easier paths to recertification, smaller class sizes, and the ability to keep retirement benefits.

What can we take away from this study?

The findings illuminate several opportunities for state and district leaders in Michigan, as well as other states, to re-engage teachers who have left the field:

  • Consider options to increase teacher pay. More than 35 percent of respondents said they would teach again if offered a higher salary. While education funding is not an easy challenge to solve, increasing teacher pay may be a high-leverage strategy to bring nonteaching certified teachers into the classroom.
  • Highlight improvements to the certification and certificate renewal process. Twenty percent of survey respondents indicated they would return to teaching if the certification process were easier. However, these respondents may not be aware that Michigan made changes in 2017 to simplify the certification process and reduce the cost. State leaders may be able to re-engage more teachers by more prominently promoting these improvements and how they make certification easier.
  • Advertise open teaching positions more broadly. About 10 percent of survey respondents indicated that they left the teaching field because they could not find a full-time teaching position. However, teacher shortages exist in certain regions of Michigan and in certain content areas. State and district leaders may be able to reduce this gap by publicizing job openings through more channels that will reach nonteaching certified teachers.
  • Provide additional support for teachers. In the MDE survey, 8 percent of respondents said they would return to teaching if they received better support from administrators. To address this need, state and district leaders can provide various supports; for example, districts can provide mentors or instructional coaches to help with classroom management.

Related resources

Browse the resources below to learn more about REL Midwest’s work to support teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention:

  • Visit the Midwest Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation page to learn more about studies, training, coaching, events, and other resources around teacher preparation and the teacher pipeline.
  • REL Midwest released a documentary in early 2021 that highlights strategies to improve teacher working conditions.
  • In December 2020, REL Midwest hosted a webinar about creating inclusive environments for Black teachers, which may increase teacher retention and potentially improve educational outcomes for Black students. A related blog post highlights three actionable strategies that districts and schools can use to develop inclusive teaching environments.
  • Another blog post explores REL Midwest’s work with the Lansing School District in Michigan to build a diverse teacher workforce by using a root cause analysis and evidence-based strategies to address the root causes of a less diverse workforce.
  • A REL Midwest resource roundup includes resources from the REL network on strengthening and diversifying the teacher workforce.
  • Stay tuned for an upcoming public television documentary about this topic!


Michigan Department of Education. (2015). Michigan’s plan to ensure equitable access to excellent teachers. Lansing, MI: Author. Retrieved March 8, 2021, from [3,062 KB PDF icon ]

Wan, Y., Pardo, M., & Asson, S. (2019). Past and projected trends in teacher demand and supply in Michigan (REL 2019–009). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest.

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Author information

Cora Goldston Staff Picture

Cora Goldston

Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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