I have attended a lot of educator conferences this year. A common theme I heard over and over again is the challenge of teacher shortages. I decided to do my own research and looked into teacher shortages in Georgia, where I was teaching at the time. Despite working with several organizations to address teacher recruitment and retention, I was shocked to learn that 74 percent of teachers surveyed in Georgia reported that they would not recommend teaching as a profession to their students.
Let that sink in. Teachers are actively discouraging youth from entering the teaching profession. I was also surprised to learn that across this country, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down.
The more conferences I attended, the more I heard my esteemed peers shouting to the rooftops about how we need to address the growing problem of teacher recruitment and retention. At these conferences, I too spoke about the issues every chance I could and convinced myself that I was truly passionate and doing what I could to raise awareness about this problem.
Driving back from a conference in New Jersey while listening to the radio, the Migos song “Walk It, Talk It” came through the speakers.
“Walk a mile in my shoes, something you can’t do.” As the words flowed through my car, I started thinking about how many of us in this space talk about our desire to impact teacher recruitment and retention, but we do not “walk it like we talk it.”
I thought about the fact that I have never truly encouraged my students to choose teaching as a profession. I reflected on the fact that on career day, I invited in everyone except for a teacher. Most damning, I realized that I have never recommended to my own children to choose education as field of study for their future career.
As you think of your own journey, do you walk it like you talk it? What are we, as educators and ambassadors, doing to attract more people to the profession besides talking about it at a conference?
Too many times, we talk a good talk and use beautiful words, but words without action will not lead to a change no matter what the issue is. If we want to see more educators staying in the profession, we have to become advocates within our own schools. We have to have an inward look and ask ourselves what kind of an environment we are creating within our own buildings that make teachers leave after four years?
We talk so much about self-care and our desire to be treated well by others outside of education, but how are we caring for each other? We have to realize that change has to start with us. Did you make the new teacher feel welcome? Did you offer to be a mentor to the teacher you know is struggling, or did you just sit back and gossip about them? What did you do to make them want to stay?
We also have to change the way we speak about our profession. If 74 percent of teachers in Georgia do not want their students to enter the profession what does that say about our own feelings about the work we do, and why should we be surprised that people are not choosing to enter the classroom?
If we really want to make a difference, I mean really want to make change, we have to “walk it like we talk it” to truly realize the power that we can have to recruit and retain teachers as spokespersons for the profession. Our words and our actions should line up. As educators, much more is caught rather than taught. We can make much more of an impact with our walk than we ever will with our talk.