If you’re an educator, you may have heard folks talk about the dwindling teacher and principal pipeline or the decrease in the number of students choosing education as a major at institutes of higher education. Maybe you are aware of the vacancies in your own school, district, etc. that seem to be more challenging to fill because perhaps the demand is greater than the supply for your particular district or school. If you’ve read the recent articles related to teacher shortage, you may see mixed reviews. In an April 2016 US News article by The Hechinger Report, the case was made that the shortage varies state by state, district by district, and school by school and in some places there is no shortage of educators to serve students at all. As you might guess, it all relative to the geographic area and/or subject matter that is being referenced.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who did not think that being an educator was a noble and honorable way to serve others. There may be some, but I’ve not had that experience. Responses vary from “I don’t know how you do it,” to “Thank you for what you do because we need good teachers and principals.” While the majority of those I’ve interacted with collectively express a healthy level of respect for educators, I find it quite interesting that even with that level of respect, there seems to be a challenge in the recruitment and retention of educators affecting schools and districts, and most of all children, in many places. So upon further inquiry, reading, and research, this interesting tidbit of information stood out to me. Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is quoted in the article noted above as follows: “Turnover is the big driver of the shortages,” he said. “The problem isn’t that we don’t produce enough new teachers. The problem is that we’re not retaining enough of the teachers we already have.” If the root of the issue is retention rather than recruitment, what can we do about it?
So what is it that we can do right now to assist with elevating the profession? Can we shift the conversation to what an honor and noble opportunity it is to teach young people? Can we spend our time in informal conversations in the grocery store, in conversation over dinner with friends, with each other in the teacher’s lounge or work room talking about how proud we are to be a part of a field where our work is as critical to a student’s ability to change his or her own trajectory as a doctor’s ability to save a life in the emergency room? Can we relish in the moments when we can affirm without a doubt that we are making a difference or have made a difference and publicly document and share it? As educators, do we have a responsibly to elevate our profession by speaking openly and honestly about the value, nobility, and honor that comes with our work and being acutely aware of our participation or silent intake of conversations that emphasize the opposite? If we shift the conversation and reshape the narrative around our own profession, will that impact our ability to retain great teachers?
I’ve never met a person who didn’t want to be a part of a winning team or didn’t enjoy being around positive people, working in a fulfilling and positive environment, and being absolutely certain of the difference being made by serving a purpose greater than one’s self. I’m convinced that our narrative, now more than ever, has to shift. Let’s all do our part to elevate the profession!