MEREDITH: To address shortage, understand why teachers teach

January 16, 2016

A friend recently posed a question that hit me straight in the heart. He asked, “Why do educators stay in the classroom when there are so many other opportunities with less stress and higher salary potential?”

His question and my answer gave me pause. Indiana has turned to solving the teacher shortage out of necessity, but do we really understand the reasons thousands of educators choose to dedicate their careers to our kids?

Evaluating my friend’s question, I began to review why my colleagues and I annually return to the classroom. While there are challenges such as over-testing and the teacher shortage, for many teachers, these are only challenges to overcome in order to do what they love.

Educators enter the profession to make a difference. Like many educators, I was inspired to teach by numerous educators along the way who completely changed the course of my life. I wanted to make a difference in my community. And when I look back on more than 20 years in the classroom, I think I achieved that.

But, I didn’t do it alone. I had support, team collaboration, and classroom autonomy.

The best learning environments are when educators are supported by administrators who care as much about the students as the educators in the classroom every day. At one point in my career, I felt this unending encouragement from a principal. This principal ensured that we, as teachers, all understood that while data was important, so were the things data never measured—a student’s involvement, creativity, enthusiasm and desire to learn.

Teachers were allowed to build the curriculum, guided by standards, and to work as a team to plan the best course of instruction for students.

They were also given flexibility so that teachers could meet individual students’ needs. There was room for the “teachable moment” that often presents itself—the unplanned lesson that comes from a student’s question and desire to learn and explore further.

My principal often walked around the building with pen and paper, not to evaluate, but to leave words of encouragement and make note of needed supplies or tools. On occasion, I was surprised to find those same supplies and tools appear in my classroom. The principal took steps to know the school and the staff, to make sure our needs were met. She felt if our teaching needs were met, educators would be well equipped to instruct our kids.

My principal lent an ear to hear what educators felt was necessary to improve as a school and provided the flexibility to implement ideas for improvement. The principal acknowledged our classroom expertise and our relationships and assessments of our students. And she trusted us. That professional endorsement made us strive to be better every day in our classrooms.

With the support from my principal, I stayed in that school. I was led by a principal who valued my knowledge and expertise, who questioned my techniques to confirm I had sound reasoning behind my choices. There was a culture of collaboration—educator to educator, educator to administrator, and even educator to parent.

To answer my friend’s question, educators choose to stay in the classroom when their desire to make an impact on the next generation overcomes a desire for significant salary advancement, when collaboration is embedded in the culture of the profession, when support from administrators guides smart classroom decisions, and when educators are recognized as professionals with valuable insights.

These factors should be considered when addressing Indiana’s teacher shortage.•


Recent Articles by Teresa Meredith / Special to IBJ

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