As the 2014-15 school year ended, I found myself engaging in the practice of intentional reflection. Like most practitioners, I am always eager to assess where my successes and shortcomings have occurred as they affect the quality of my students’ instruction. Yet, this year, I find that I am not as focused on analyzing best practices employed, the innovations undertaken in implementing more technology in my classroom, or even my end-of-course student growth data measures. I feel confident that my students are leaving with myriad skills and true learning, and are richer for the experiences shared, making them capable of self-reflection and critical thinking to prompt their own self-growth. Rather, this year, I am looking forward with a critical eye to the future of education in this nation. The constant state of flux in our system concerns me as I consider the health and sustainability of my profession, which directly affects the quality of every student’s education in this country, and I feel compelled to address these needs through a call for advocacy.
THE NEED FOR ADVOCACY
Public education in this nation continues to undergo significant change. At present, states are still clarifying their stances on Common Core and new Learning Standards while implementing a host of assessments to measure and report progress, awaiting the revision and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and awaiting word on the higher regulations for colleges and universities. Yet simultaneously, states are engaged in the revision of Equity Plans and working to eliminate the Honesty Gap in data reporting to ensure a bright future for our nation’s children.
As the course of education evolves, continued collaboration and a spirit of unity remain critical.
As professionals, we must embrace a growth mindset—thoughtfully, deliberately and unequivocally striving to make education reform a priority. We must continue to work together to create a culture that truly values education. Yet given the scope of change in the last several years, the decline of enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the nation is not surprising. In his article “Steep Drops Seen in Teacher-Prep Enrollment Numbers,” Stephen Sawchuk (2014) notes that “massive changes to the profession, coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career.” With very little incentive to enter into a field that many agree is more emotionally satisfying than financially lucrative, teaching is a hard sell. Unfortunately, as more baby boomers reach retirement age, and as veteran teachers who have had their fill of policy changes opt to leave before retirement, we find ourselves facing an inevitable shortage of quality teachers. As noted by Clark (2014), “the loss of experience, expertise and the emotional toll on children and their parents” will be felt in the near future if districts and states are unable to attract and retain highly qualified candidates now.
As the 2015 Ohio Teacher of the Year, I served as a member of our State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness, which met in Atlanta, Georgia, for the National Summit on Educator Effectiveness in April 2015. I had the opportunity to discuss with other state delegates the importance of state Equity Plans in providing access to highly qualified teachers for all students. As a result, many states, including my home state of Ohio, have committed to focusing on teacher preparation, attracting qualified teaching candidates, supporting and mentoring those individuals in the first years of teaching to ensure retention and provide teachers with a sense of value and purpose by creating Teacher Leader roles.
ADVOCACY IS A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
The complexities involved in our work and our shared vision of public education is often misunderstood by the public at large and policy makers. Advocacy, however, as a shared responsibility, allows us to unite our voices and have a greater impact as we move forward. I urge all educators to be mindful of opportunities in the near future to speak up, to speak out, to be heard. We know that the dedication and energy required for our profession is virtually immeasurable. Our work, the work of reaching and teaching every student, is all-consuming, emotionally draining and often thankless. We contend with variables most adults in private industry do not—the ever-changing emotional and academic needs of children, each of whom is struggling to find a personal identity in the school community and the larger world. Countless hours of planning, preparation, reflection and collaboration occur in classrooms and professional learning communities across each state to support student learning and provide professional development opportunities or shared leadership experiences to foster the professional growth of staff; yet so often, the general public fails to understand what our work truly entails.
Consequently, we must commit to being more visible and more vocal by sharing stories from our classrooms. Only we can share an honest vision of our students’ needs
. If we truly want to extend our reach and impact change, we must put humility aside and demand to be acknowledged and recognized as true professionals: we must advocate on our behalf and those of our students.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
We will continue, as we must, to incite learning, inspire students to take risks that promote growth, serve as role models and foster collaborative and critical thinking that will prepare our nation’s students for academic and personal success, but we must also share our personal stories. Writing a letter to the editor, engaging in conversation with state legislators or simply talking with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter or blogs, can impact the way our profession is perceived and most importantly, give voice to our students’ needs! We need to forge partnerships with our community members, policy makers and local teaching colleges—aligning ourselves to fully support education and learning.
Advocacy begins when we choose to speak with intent. Once we begin sharing our stories, successes and failures, people will listen. What we have to say is compelling—it directly involves the children who make up the future of our nation. We are shaping young minds and preparing students for careers that may not yet exist, and that is awe-inspiring! Consider the number of lives you have touched in your career thus far. Very few professions have that kind of reach, that kind of impact. Personally, I want to seek ways to foster conversations about our profession that give credence to our efforts and work at creating, once again, an American culture that values education and encourages individuals to seek a fulfilling career in teaching: one that is both intrinsically and extrinsically motivating.
Clark, M. (2014, August 8). Veteran teachers continue to leave. Cincinnati.com. Retrieved May 19, 2015.
Sawchuk, S. (2014, October 22). Steeps Drops Seen in Teacher-Prep Enrollment Numbers. Education Week, 34(9), 1, 10.