January, 2012. A few years into college and a few years to go. Each week I would look in the church bulletin, read it over. One thing that would draw my particular interest during those first few months of the year would be “teacher-needed” notices. The problem…there simply weren’t many. Anxiously, I would close the bulletin, tuck it into my pants’ pocket, sit back, and try not to think about what my future in education would hold. Would there be a job for me when I graduated? Would it be a high-school job? What about in areas of my interest? Would I need to move out of state? There was still time. Those jobs didn’t even apply to me because I wouldn’t be applying or interviewing for another two years or so. There would be more jobs then. I would analyze which teachers would be thinking about retiring. Would that line up with me graduating? And what about all the others going into teaching? And those experienced teachers who might be interested in those jobs, would I be competing with them? Any local jobs surely wouldn’t be available for me as they would be gobbled up by experienced teachers. Could I move away? I most surely would have to. Would I be ready when the time came to leave everything I knew and those I loved to take a job far away from home? How many choices would I have? One? Maybe two? Zero? Oh wait – I was trying not to think about the problem. Yet, there was no way to avoid it. Teaching jobs weren’t going to materialize out of thin air. I would need to trust. I would need to pray. I would need to be sure that God was calling me to teach. I would need to not worry…
June, 2013. One-and-a-half years later. I was out of education. Many changes had happened in my life. My wife and I had celebrated our first wedding anniversary in May. July would see us moving out of our one-bedroom apartment and into our first house, making mortgage payments and having house-expenses for the first time. Our first child was due in six months. This created an understandable sense of excitement but also a level of apprehension (at least on my part) as I looked ahead and worried. How would we pay for all the extra expenses: house, child, school, food, church budget, medical expenses? We were making ends meet but not with much excess. I had recently received a letter of acceptance into the College of Education at Grand Valley State University, but I had a dampened excitement. In August, I would be starting my teacher assisting. Then the semester after that: student teaching. None of it paid the bills. Nine months of working in schools during the day, taking classes in the afternoon and evenings. When would I work? December would see, Lord willing, the birth of our first child. Dual income would soon be coming to an end as well. What would we do? And then…the anxiety of the past few years would creep up again. Would there be a job available when I graduated? And so the cycle of worry rewound itself and replayed on a free-running loop in my brain. Would there be a job? How will we make it? How? What? Where? Would there? Should we? What if?
And so, shortly after receiving my acceptance letter into the College of Education, I abandoned my Education Major and my Teaching History Minor and charted a course to finish my degree with a simple English Major and an added Applied Linguistics Minor. I would still graduate in four years, but I could take primarily night classes and work during the day. My family would be provided for and my college education wouldn’t be entirely wasted. Maybe I would even continue night classes and pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree. This, I decided, must have been God’s way of steering me away from teaching. Surely, the shortage of readily-available teaching jobs and my need to provide for my family was sign enough. I would put that career-option behind me as God apparently was closing that door. At least that was how I rationalized it. Suffice-it-to-say, though, God hadn’t closed that door. He only delayed it. My conclusions weren’t correct, and my anxieties weren’t correctly founded and that was a lesson the Lord needed me to learn. Look back at those questions: how would we pay for everything? Would there be a job for me? What would we do? My worries were horizontal in thinking, not vertical. I wasn’t looking up and trusting. I sought to solve the problem and find a way to conquer it in my own strength instead of leaning and casting my burdens on the strength of Jesus Christ.
That, however, isn’t the focus of this blog post and, after all that set-up, we need to bring this post back to its intended direction. We’ll return to some of the other ideas in future posts. This post is about supply-and-demand. It’s one of the most basic economic principles. Now, to be clear, supply-and-demand principles aren’t designed to add insight into employment. It’s designed to gain insight into the pricing for market goods. However, there are connections we can draw to our own teacher-shortage crisis and how we got here. If demand equals the number of teacher jobs available and supply equals the number of teachers looking for a job, then market equilibrium (the desired state) would be when there are as many teaching jobs available as there are teachers looking for jobs. This is ideal. Disequilibrium occurs when there is an excess or shortage of either the supply or the demand. This is where we are right now. We are in a state of dramatic disequilibrium. The demand is far greater than the supply.
Yet, this didn’t come out of nowhere. Often, when a market is in equilibrium, only minor tweaks and adjustments are necessary to keep it at equilibrium. However, once a market begins to slide into disequilibrium, dramatic reactions and counter-reactions begin to occur within the market. That’s where we are now. The market that is Protestant Reformed Education has been in disequilibrium for some time now. What we are now currently facing, a shortage in supply, is actually the result of a counter-reaction within the market. Prior to having a shortage in supply, we faced a shortage in demand. There simply weren’t enough jobs for those interested in teaching. This resulted in a weakening of the supply as those interested got diverted elsewhere or didn’t enter the supply at all as they evaluated the job-potential in that field. This happened. It didn’t get the headlines that our current state of disequilibrium is getting, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Our current problem is more noticeable because a larger, bigger body is hurting: the schools and then, in turn, the students, families, supporters, etc. that face the possibility of not having enough teachers in their school. However, the state of disequilibrium prior to this, while not as public, was also a very difficult time for those it affected. It just wasn’t as noticeable. Those who normally would think about teaching found themselves thinking of alternatives because of the very real lack of demand. There were those who put years of work and effort into college preparation only to find, upon graduation, that there was no place for them. That hurt for those people. It was a struggle for myself. I can witness to the stress and worry it placed on myself and my family. Don’t be deceived. Our current shortage has roots. It has been building for years. My graduating class from Covenant (2010) originally had roughly eight students, give-or-take, bound for education. By my count, three are currently teachers. That includes myself, who left then rejoined, and one who wasn’t in the original group but changed his major in college. That says something. While the factors are complex, and we’ll get into some of the other factors and ways to combat those another time, I wouldn’t doubt the shortage of demand played into it. And so, less teachers graduated and less candidates entered education. The supply went down to match the demand. Equilibrium was briefly re-established but over-swung and, as the demand increased abruptly and suddenly over the last few years, the supply couldn’t keep up.
However, within all this, we need to keep in mind why the demand has increased so dramatically in such a short time. When we consider this, we realize that there is a blessing in the shortage. While the shortage in supply can be explained, in part, due to a lack of demand in previous years, the increase in demand in recent years can be attributed to the growth of the Church. The LORD has richly blessed His covenant seed within their generations and our schools are experiencing this right now as this wave of covenant youth has entered the schools. This is a great blessing. That ought not be ignored and ought, instead, to be celebrated. So, while it may be hard to take it as a blessing, we can still rejoice and know that the Lord is good. His goodness shall not fail. May we take heart with the Psalmist in Psalm 89:3-4 as he writes, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.”
So that leaves us where we are today. High in demand. Short in supply. The bad part … this won’t be fixed immediately. It will be a few years for those in college and those entering into education out of high school to graduate and enter into the workforce. The good part … if you’re interested in education, there will be jobs, Lord willing. Our schools are growing at a prestigious rate and that doesn’t look to be slowing down. To those with a heart to teach…you will have a place to teach. The schools need you. And so we wait, and we trust, and we pray. We pray that the Lord grants abundant patience and lasting trust as we wait but also that He instills liberally among our young people a love for His people and a desire to teach. But, as in all things, may His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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