The school law of Michigan/Teachers

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Legal Qualifications.

No contract with any person not holding a legal certificate of qualification authorizing him to teach, is valid; and all contracts with a person holding a legal certificate terminates, if the certificate expire by limitation and is not immediately renewed (5065). All persons who expect to teach must procure the necessary certificate from some duly constituted authority. There are several ways by which teachers may receive certificates. We first mention those granted by the county board.


REGULAR EXAMINATIONS. The regular examinations of teachers in all counties of the state are held at the county seats on the last Thursday and Friday of March, and the third Thursday and Friday of August in each year. In nearly all of the counties are held two other regular public examinations on the third Thursdays and Fridays of June and October in each year.

EXTRA EXAMINATIONS. Examiners in counties containing more than one hundred fifty school districts, may hold one other public examination for each twenty-five districts in the county. By this plan the counties of Kent and Oakland are entitled to three extra examinations; the counties of Allegan and Lenawee to two; and the counties of of Berrien, Genesee, Hillsdale, Jackson, Saginaw, St. Clair, Van Buren, Washtenaw, and Wayne to one. The dates for such extra examinations are fixed on the third Fridays of February, April, and September (Act 66, 1895).

Three grades of county certificates are granted, as follows:

FIRST GRADE CERTIFICATE. First grades are granted from the examinations of March and August and are valid for four years. The examination is in algebra, botany, geometry, general history, physics, arithmetic, grammar, United States history, civil government, geography, reading, penmanship, orthography, school law, theory and art of teaching, physiology and hygiene with reference to the effects on the human system of alcoholic drinks, stimulants, and narcotics.

All county certificates must be signed by the commissioner and at least one examiner (Act 34, 1893).

Without the indorsement of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, first grade certificates are valid only in counties where granted.

INDORSEMENT. To secure this indorsement the papers written by successful applicants must be forwarded by commissioners within ten days to said superintendent for examination and approval. If he approves and signs the certificate, it becomes valid throughout the state.

SECOND GRADE CERTIFICATE. Second grades are granted from the four regular examinations and are valid throughout the county where granted for three years. Candidates may select any two of the four studies—algebra, botany, general history, and physics—and are required to write on all the other branches excepting geometry.

THIRD GRADE CERTIFICATE. Third grades are granted from any public examination and are valid throughout the county where granted for one year. The branches required in an examination for a third grade certificate are all those, excepting the first five mentioned, in the first grade list.

For the purpose of limiting the number of third grade CLASSES A AND B. certificates which may be granted to a person in the public schools, third grade certificates are divided into two classes known as A and B. Certificates of class A are granted to teachers of three years experience in primary department (first four grades) of graded schools. Certificates of this class license the holder to teach only in primary departments. The number which may be granted to a person is not limited. Certificates of class B are the regular third grade certificates and license the holder to teach in any school of the county; but no more than three certificates of this class can legally be granted to the same person (Act 34, 1893). The purpose of this law is to require teachers to progress and secure higher grades of certificate. The questions for these two classes of third grade certificates vary somewhat to correspond with the kind of work required of the teachers.

EXAMINATION QUESTIONS. All questions for county examinations are prepared by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and furnished to the commissioner under seal, to be opened in the presence of the candidates for certificates.

STANDARD OF EXAMINATION. The standard of examinations to be followed is left entirely to the discretion of the examining board, so that success or failure of applicants depends more on the closeness or liberality of the marking than upon the character of the questions furnished.

SPECIAL CERTIFICATES. Besides the certificates mentioned, the county commissioner has power, upon personal examination satisfactory himself or herself, to grant certificates which shall license the holder thereof to teach in a specified district for which it is granted; but such certificate does not continue in force beyond the time of the next public examination, and in no case can a second special certificate be granted to the same person, and it does not in any way exempt the teacher from a full examination (Act 34, 1895). The object of a special certificate is to bridge over the time between the commencement of a school term and the next meeting of the examining board (71 Mich, 361).

CITIZENSHIP OF TEACHERS. Educational qualifications are not the only qualification of teachers. After July 4, 1895, no board of examiners can legally grant a certificate to any person who, having arrived at the age of twenty-one years, is not a citizen of the United States (Act 66, 1895). The law also directs the examining board to grant certificates to successful applicants who have attained the age of seventeen years (Act 34, 1893).

MORAL CHARACTER. The moral character of the applicant is another question which examining boards must carefully consider. Certificates may be withheld from persons who, though possessing all the educational qualifications, are unfit to teach in the public schools. The supreme court, in the case of Sturdevant vs. the Board of Examiners, refused to interfere with the decision of the examiners, and decided that the board was better able to determine the qualifications of applicants than the court. From another decision we quote, “A man who habitually violated his duty by profanity and Sabbath breaking, was of bad moral character” (45 Mich. 484).


The only Michigan law in existence authorizing boards of examiners to renew certificates, is the provision found in Act No. 34 of the law of 1893. It reads: “The board of examiners shall have the right, however, to renew without examination the certificates of persons who shall have previously obtained an average standing of at least 85 per cent, in all studies covered in two or more previous examinations, and who shall have been since that examination continuously and successfully teaching in the same county.” This seems so plain as to require no explanation, but numerous inquiries addressed to the department of public instruction suggest that it is not interpreted alike by teachers and examiners. We, therefore, in the absence of any court decisions, venture the following interpretation: 1st. The standings on each certificate must average 85 per cent. 2d. The board does not have the right under this provision to renew the certificate of an applicant who has not been teaching continuously and successfully during the two years just preceding. 3d. The law is simply permissive and not mandatory on the examiners.


The board of examiners may suspend or revoke any teacher’s certificate issued by them, for any reason which would have justified said board in withholding the same when given—for neglect of duty, for incompetency to instruct or govern a school, or for immorality—and the said board may, within their jurisdiction, for immorality or incompetency to instruct and govern a school, suspend the effect of any teacher's certificate that may have been granted by other lawful authority: Provided, That no certificates shall be suspended or revoked without a personal hearing, unless the holder thereof shall, after a reasonable notice, neglect or refuse to appear before the said board for that purpose (Act 147, 1891).


The officers of every school district which is or shall hereafter be organized in whole or in part in any incorporated city in this state where special enactments shall exist in regard to the licensing of teachers, shall employ only such teachers as are legally qualified under the provisions of this act: Provided, That in cities employing a superintendent, the examination of teachers shall be conducted by such superintendent or by a committee of the board of education of such school district, and certificates issued at such time and in such a manner as the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Board of Education in such city shall prescribe. Cities having a special and thoroughly equipped normal training department under control of a special training teacher, such school having a course of not less than one year, shall be exempt from the provisions of this section as to the examination of teachers (Act 66, 1895).


COURSE OF STUDY. The state board of education is empowered to grant teachers’ certificates without examination to any person who has received a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctor’s degree from any college in this state having a course of study of not less than four years, actually taught in such college, in addition to the preparatory work necessary for admission to the university of Michigan, upon a recommendation from the faculty of such college, stating that in their judgment the applicant is entitled to received such certificate. Such college must also have a course in the science and art of teaching of at least one college year of five and a half hours per week, which shall have been taken by said aplicant and shall include a thorough examination by the college granting such diploma, as to qualification and fitness for teaching.

LENGTH OF CERTIFICATE. Provided, that if said person furnishes to said board satisfactory proof of having successfully taught for three years in the schools of this state, said certificate shall be a life certificate. If such proof is not furnished said board, then such certificate shall be for four years only, and a life certificate may at any time thereafter be issued by said board upon the filing of such proof. Such certificate shall entitle the holder to teach in any of the schools of this state without examination, provided a copy of the same is filed or recorded in the office of the legal examining officer, or officers of the county, city, township, or district in which said person is to teach, and shall be annulled only by the state board of education, and by it only for cause.

It shall be the duty of said board of education carefully to APPROVAL OF STATE BOARD. examine any course of study in the science and art of teaching that may be submitted to it by the trustees of any college and, if satisfactory, to furnish such trustees with a written certificate approving the same. If, at any time the said board of education concludes that any college, whose graduates may desire to WITHDRAWING OF APPROVAL. receive such certificate, is not giving such instruction in the science and art of teaching and in the other branches as shall be approved by it, then said board shall so determine by a formal resolution and shall give notice thereof to the trustees of such college; and thereafter no teachers’ certificates shall be given by said board to the graduates of such college, until said board shall be satisfied that proper instruction in the science and art of teaching and in other branches is given by such college, and the board shall certify such fact to the trustees of such college (Act 136, 1893).


GRANTED BY FACULTY. The faculty of the department of literature, science, and the arts, of the university of Michigan, shall give to every person receiving a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctor’s degree, or a teacher’s diploma for work done in the science and the art of teaching from said university, a certificate, which shall serve as a legal certificate of qualification to teach in any of the schools of this state, when a copy thereof has been filed or recorded in the office of the legal examining officer or officers of the county, township, city, or district.


Such certificate shall not be liable to be annulled except by the said faculty of the university; but its effect may be suspended in any county, township, city or district, and the holder thereof may be stricken from the list of qualified teachers in such county, township, city, or district, by the legal examining officer or officers of the said county, township, city, or district, for any cause and in
the same manner that such examining officer or officers may be by law authorized to revoke certificates they have given, and such suspension shall continue in force until revoked by the authority suspending it (Act 144, 1891).


The state board of education holds two meetings each year, at which they examine teachers and grant certificates to such as have taught in the schools of the state at least two years, and who, upon a thorough and critical examination in every study required for such certificate, are found to possess eminent scholarship, ability, and good moral character. Such certificates, signed by the members of said board, impressed with its seal, entitle the holder to teach in any of the public schools of this state without further examination, and are valid for life unless revoked by said board. No certificate shall be granted except upon the prescribed examination (Act 194, 1889).

PRESCRIBED EXAMINATION. The branches required in an examination for state certificates are chemistry, zoology, rhetoric, literature, geology, in addition to those required for first grade certificates.

FROM OTHER STATES. The said state board of education may, in its discretion, endorse state teacher’s certificates or normal school diplomas granted in other states, if it be shown to the satisfaction of such board that the examinations required or courses of study pursued are fully equal to the requirements of this state (Act 73, 1895).

Teachers’ Institutes.

ANNUAL FEES. All boards or officers authorized by law to examine applicants for certificates shall collect, at the time of examination, from each male applicant an annual fee of one dollar, and from each female applicant an annual fee of fifty cents; and the director or secretary of any school board that shall employ any teacher who has not paid the fee hereinbefore provided, shall collect, at the time of making contract, from each male teacher so employed, an annual fee of one dollar, and from each female teacher so employed, an annual fee of fifty cents.

All persons paying a fee as required by this section, shall be given a receipt for the same; and no person shall be required to pay said fee more than once in any school year (5187). The requirements of this law apply to all teachers, whether applicants for certificates or employed by school boards (Atty. Gen., March 21, 1884).

INSTITUTE FUND. All such fees collected by the director or secretary of any school board are paid over to the county commissioner of schools of the county in which they were collected, on or before the fifteenth day of March, June, September, and December, accompanied by a list of those persons from whom they were collected (93 Mich., 281). And all such fees, together with all those that are collected by the county commissioner of schools are paid over by him to the treasurer of the county in which they were collected, on or before the last day of March, June, September, and December in each year, accompanied by a complete list of all persons from whom said fees were collected; and a like list, accompanied by a statement from the county treasurer that said fees have been paid to him, shall be sent by said commissioner to the Superintendent of Public Instruction. All moneys paid over to the county treasurer as provided by this act, shall be set apart as a teachers’ institute fund (5188).

WHERE HELD. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall annually appoint a time and place in each organized county for holding teachers’ institute, make suitable arrangements and give due notice of the same: Provided, that in organized counties having less than one thousand children between the ages of five and twenty years, the holding of the institute shall be optional with the said superintendent, unless requested to hold such institute by fifteen teachers of the county in which such institute is to be held. However, if there shall not be a sufficient number of teachers in any county to make such request, then teachers of adjoining counties who desire to attend such institute may unite in the required application to said superintendent. Also, the said superintendent may, in his discretion, hold an institute for the benefit of two or more adjoining counties, and draw the institute fund from each of the counties thus benefited (5189).

THE CONDUCTOR. The Superintendent of Public Instruction, in case of inability personally to conduct any institute or to make the necessary arrangements for holding the same, is authorized to appoint some suitable person for that purpose, who shall be subject to the direction of the superintendent.

CERTIFICATE OF ATTENDANCE. Every teacher attending any institute held in accordance with the provisions of this act, shall be given by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or by the conductor, a certificate setting forth at what sessions of said institute such teacher was in attendance; and any teacher who closes his or her school in order to attend the institute, shall not forfeit his or her wages as teacher during such time as he or she attended it, and the certificate provided shall be evidence of such attendance (5190).

DEFRAYING EXPENSES. For the purpose of defraying the expenses of rooms, fires, lights, or other necessary charges, and for procuring teachers and lecturers, the said superintendent or the person authorized by him to conduct the institute, may demand of the county clerk of each county for the benefit of which the institute is held (who shall there-upon draw an order on the county treasurer of his county for such sum) an amount necessary to defray these expenses but not exceeding the institute fund in the county treasury; and the treasurer of said county is hereby required to pay over to said superintendent or conductor, from the institute fund in his hands, the amount of said order (5191).

STATE AID. In case the institute fund in any county is insufficient to defray the necessary expenses of any institute held under the provisions of this act, the auditor general shall, upon the certificate of the superintendent that he has made arrangements for holding such institute and that the county institute fund is insufficient to meet the expenses thereof, draw his warrant upon the state treasurer for such additional sum as said superintendent shall deem necessary for conducting such institute, which sum shall not exceed sixty dollars for each institute of five days’ duration (5191a).

GENERAL INSTITUTE. The superintendent is authorized to hold, once in each year, an institute for the state at large, to be denominated a state institute; and for the purpose of defraying the necessary expenses of such institute, the auditor general shall, on the certificate of said superintendent that he has made arrangements for holding such institute, draw his warrant upon the state treasurer for such sum as said superintendent shall deem necessary for conducting such institute, which sum shall not exceed four hundred dollars and shall be paid out of the general fund: Provided, That not more than eighteen hundred dollars shall be drawn from the treasury, or any greater liability incurred in any one year, to meet the provisions of this law (5192).

VOUCHERS. The Superintendent of Public Instruction or the conductor drawing money from the county treasurer, shall, at the close of each institute, furnish to the county treasurer vouchers for all payments from the same; and he shall return to the county treasurer whatever of the amount may remain unexpended, to be replaced in the institute fund (5193).

Teachers’ Associations.

ORGANIZATION. Any fifteen or more teachers, or other persons residing in the state, who shall associate for the purpose of promoting education and science and improvements in the theory and practice of teaching, may form themselves into a corporation under such name as they may choose, providing they shall have published in some newspaper printed at Lansing or in the county in which such association is to be located, for at least one month previous, a notice of the time, place, and purpose of the meeting for such association, and shall file in the office of the secretary of state a copy of the constitution and by-laws of said association (4385).

FUNDS. Such association may hold and possess real and personal property to the amount of five thousand dollars, but the funds or property thereof shall not be used for any other purpose than the legitimate business of the association in securing the objects of its corporation (4386).

POWERS. Upon becoming a corporation, they shall have all the powers and privileges and be subject to all the duties of a corporation (4387).


REQUIRED RECORD. A teacher’s contract must be in writing, and must state the wages agreed upon and the length of the term. The teacher must be required to keep a correct list of the pupils and the age of each attending the school. He shall keep a record of the number of days each pupil is present, and furnish to the director a correct copy of the same at the close of the school.

FILING OF CONTRACT. The contract must be filed with the director and a duplicate copy furnished to the teacher (5065).

UNQUALIFIED TEACHER. A contract with a teacher who does not hold a certificate that is valid within the county, is void. If the certificate expires during the period for which the contract is given, said contract becomes void, unless the teacher immediately secures a new certificate. The word “immediately” in the foregoing sentence should be construed to mean that the certificate be renewed before the teacher continues with the work of the school.

LEGAL HOLIDAYS. All contracts for teaching must be construed as subject to vacations on legal holidays.[2] No deduction from teachers’ wages on account of such vacation can be made (39 Mich. 484). Holidays should always be counted as days taught. The employment of teacher by the day instead of by the month or year, does not make it the duty of teachers to make up time lost in the observance of holidays.

CLOSING OF SCHOOLS. If a teacher is employed for a definite time and, during the period of his employment, the district officer closes the schools on account of the prevalence of contagious diseases and keeps them closed for a time, the teacher is entitled to full wages during such period (43 Mich. 480; 39 Mich. 484; 62 Mich. 153). In schools closed on account of a loss of the school house by fire or storm, the teacher can collect his wages (75 Mich. 143).

MADE BEFORE ANNUAL MEETING. Contracts made previous to annual meeting are valid. The MADE legislature contemplated that schools should generally open on the beginning of the school year and that teachers would have to be contracted with in season. Neither the newly elected trustees nor the voters at the annual meeting, have the power to impair the obligation of a contract made before such annual meeting (44 Mich. 500; 98 Mich. 43; 88 Mich. 374).

SIGNATURES TO CONTRACT. When a contract with a teacher has been agreed upon at a board meeting, it is the duty of the director and the moderator to sign it. It is not in the power of the officers to defeat the action of the board by refusing to sign a contract authorized by it (93 Mich., 43). A contract signed by, two members of the board without calling a meeting and consulting with the other member, is void (47 Mich., 626). It is not imperative that a contract be signed by all three of the officers, and one signed by a majority of the board is presumed to be valid, especially if the officers draw and pay orders without protest (61 Mich., 299). It should also have the teacher’s signature.

VALIDITY OF CONTRACT. While it is the duty of the director to sign and file a teacher’s contract, his refusal to perform his duty in this respect does not impair the validity of a contract, if otherwise properly authorized and executed (46 Mich., 316). A contract valid on its face and carried with the acquiescence of all concerned, can not be subsequently repudiated (62 Mich. 153; 77 Mich. 610).

WHEN AUTHORIZED. Contracts made between the district board and teacher must be authorized at a regular meeting of the board (47 Mich., 626). After a contract has been duly authorized at a meeting of the board, it may be signed at the convenience of the officers (30 Mich., 249).

CHOICE OF MALE OR FEMALE TEACHER. No power is now conferred by statute upon the voters at a district meeting, to determine whether the school shall be taught by a male or a female teacher (88 Mich., 374).

CONTRACTS WITH TEACHERS NOT LEGALLY QUALIFIED. All teachers whether qualified or unqualified, are entitled to pay for services actually performed. The general policy of the school law is that schools shall be taught by qualified teachers, but necessities may arise where this cannot be done. A district may be unable to find a qualified teacher. Where the employment of an unqualified teacher is a necessity, the school district is authorized to employ one who has not the proper certificate, (if the school board is satisfied that the teacher is otherwise qualified), and to pay such teacher out of the moneys belonging to the district; but the primary school moneys and mill-tax cannot be applied to that purpose (37 N. W., 570). The liability of a school district to pay a teacher for services actually rendered, has been maintained by the following authorities: 55 Vt, 61; 13 Neb., 52; 47 Mich., 226; 10 N. W., 349; 61 Mich., 299; 28 N. W., 105.

TEACHERS CAN COLLECT PAY. Teachers who do not hold a properly signed contract and who are permitted by the district board to teach, can collect such wages as a court will allow, which is generally the average rate of wages paid in adjoining school districts.

Corporal Punishment.

Our school law is silent on this subject. The decisions of the courts uniformly sustain teachers in the administering of punishment to a reasonable degree. Teachers should exercise much discretion and punish only when all other methods fail. Many of our best educators are opposed to corporal punishment under any circumstances. Below is given a list of cases on which decisions have been made: 4 Gray, Mass., 36; 14 Johns., Ind., 119; 50 Iowa, 145; 4 Ind,, 291; 19 Vt,, 102; 27 Me. 266; 32 Vt,, 114; 50 Iowa, 152.

Extent of Teachers’ Authority.

This is a much disputed question. Generally speaking, the authority of the teacher does not extend beyond the school premises; but conduct of pupils which injures the school and has a tendency to bring the teachers' authority into contempt, may be dealt with by the teacher, even if outside of school house and away from school premises (32 Vt. 114; 31 Iowa, 562).

  1. Note.—In June, 1895, the colleges having approved courses were Adrian, Albion, Hillsdale, Olivet.
  2. Note.—The legal holidays in this state are January 1, February 22, May 30, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas. Whenever a legal holiday falls on Sunday, the next day is observed instead.