Alison Bell and Mark Milliron: An open letter to educators: Take care of yourself

The start of a new academic year is usually met with feelings of excitement from students and teachers. However, the anticipation this year runs parallel with some discouraging professional challenges that aren’t unique to school districts within central Indiana and the Hoosier state. The pandemic upended our education ecosystems and left them scrambling to ease an ongoing teacher shortage.

It is disheartening to note that, according to a recent National Education Association survey, an alarming 55% of educators indicate they are ready to leave the profession earlier than planned. Indiana’s teacher shortage has some schools scrambling. Data from Indiana State University shows 96% of districts across the state reported teacher shortages, making it a top concern for school leaders to fill those roles. As of Aug. 9, more than 1,750 teacher positions were open, with an additional 1,200 positions open for other school support staff, leadership, operations and more, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

In recent years, Indiana has reported shortages in math, science, language arts, special education, art and music, and career and technical education positions, among others. Districts are also anticipating school counselors, who are critical to the health of school learning environments, as a growing need.

Regardless of these challenges, students will return to the classrooms, and teachers will be tasked with shaping the next generation of Indiana’s workforce. Educators just like you undoubtedly leave a profound impact on our young Hoosiers. We must ensure we do everything we can to continue encouraging others to not only consider this career path but also stay in the field year after year. With the proper tools and tactics, you can take the necessary steps to care for yourself throughout this next year to ensure you’re reenergized to continue molding Indiana’s future leaders.

Incorporate social-emotional learning. Appreciating your value as an educator will help you understand the unique situations of the students you teach. Social-emotional learning is an important component of curriculum, and what works for students can also work for teachers. Likewise, investing in social-emotional learning with your students can benefit you through cause and effect; if your students understand how to care for themselves, your teacher-student relationship becomes stronger. In short, your health, wellness and continued professional growth can be a bulwark against the many challenges that will come your way and can serve as a powerful model for the young learners you lead every day.

Prioritize being a difference-maker. According to a Varkey Foundation survey published by the World Economic Forum, teaching is in the top ranks of the world’s most respected professions. This acknowledgement stems from your potential positive influence over students and colleagues—an impact that lasts forever. Own this ability. Embrace it. Encourage it in your colleagues.

Choose to connect and collaborate. As you may encounter challenges and changes throughout your career, you are never alone. Just by entering the teaching profession, you are forever allied with educators from many disciplines with whom you can connect and collaborate. You are part of a community where influential bonds with students shape their futures. The groundwork is already in place for you to embrace connection, collaboration and growth.

While the education landscape has certainly changed and will continue to evolve, you are educators for a reason. Many crucial decisions led you to this moment, and you have the passion and the power to change lives. To new teachers across the country: Never forget how important you are to so many, and never forget the power of your choices.•

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Bell is chancellor of WGU Indiana, a not-for-profit, online university. Milliron is senior vice president of WGU and executive dean of its School of Education.

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