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 being an educator, 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." Is the root of the issue retention instead of recruitment and if so, what can we do about it?
How do we not only recruit, but retain those who initially choose to become educators? As I pose this question to those I meet, who share similar interests and work, the same puzzled response and furrowed brow comes across their face, with the same response..."That's a really good question. It's the one everyone is asking too." While I certainly don't have the answer to that question, I do have some ideas about how we shift the conversation around being an educator to help with this challenge. While those of us who have been in the field can attest to the complex challenge of being an effective educator, the level of dedication and commitment needed to do so successfully, and the difficulty in doing so, what else can we do to elevate the profession and reshape the narrative regarding the teaching profession?
Shifting the Conversation & Reshaping the Narrative
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 we somehow elevate the perception that others have of our field and ultimately would that help us retain more teachers because the feeling of being a part of something so special would be accompanied by a feeling of appreciation, value, and dignity?
I believe there are important questions for us to think about in this regard. In my experience, my best work has always been driven by the posing of more questions rather than answers. It is my curiosity, inquiry, and thinking of what could be, what might be, and how to do what I am questioning, that has helped me as a learner, a leader, and an educator. I believe that identifying what is wrong will never be more important than what is next, and that is why I pose such questions to you. I'd love to know your thoughts on shifting the conversation and reshaping the narrative to elevate the teaching profession. Leave your comments, thoughts, and ideas on this blog or share them with your PLN via face to face conversation or via your social media network. Above all, honor our work by your words, your work, and your sharing of the incredible stories and rewards that come with being an educator! Remember, making a difference is not a slogan. It is a real, action packed, daily to do. Keep doing just that for those rewards you can see right now and for those you've yet to see, but know are there.
Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!