I love my children dearly. They are both so different in their own way, much like my students in the classroom. Naima is independent and a deep thinker, and Jadon is precocious and inquisitive. We often have long talks about what they will be when they grow up. While I never try to push my beliefs onto my children, I also want the absolute best for their future. One day, while swimming on a hot summer day, I asked Jadon, my six-year old, “What do you want to be when you get older?” He listed five different professions, and I said to him, “You should be a teacher.” As the words escaped my mouth, I realized it was the first time that I had ever suggested teaching as a profession to my children. I had to come to a hard truth for myself and ask myself why I would not advise teaching as a future job for my children. I wanted them to make a lot of money and not be stressed. In my thinking of what I viewed as a negative aspect, I was neglecting all of the benefits that teaching brought to me. I also realized that I had never suggested it to my students in my classroom.
There are many teachers leaving the profession after only a few years in the classroom, enrollment in teacher preparation programs are down across this country, and the profession needs students to choose teaching as a career. What messages are we sending to our students based on how we teach them about the teaching profession? This exchange made me start thinking, what type of environment do I create for students, not just in words, but in actions, that might inspire them to choose teaching as a career? I challenge you this school year to encourage students to consider teaching as a position by:
- Make them feel loved: From day 1, students need to know that the classroom is a place they are wanted and needed. How can we expect students to want to come back to a school as a teacher after they graduate if they felt unloved throughout their years in the classroom? Love is not just saying nice things to students, but it is also holding students to high standards, accepting nothing less than the best for them, and holding them accountable.
- Help them to discover their passion: Our job is not only to teach students to read, write, and do math, but it is also to help students discover who they are and what their passion is. A career for our students should be something they want to do every single day because it brings them joy, and we have to help them find out what that is. Exposing students to project based learning will assist them in discovering ways in which their learning and their passion can make the world a better place.
- Expose them to multiple pathways to success: There are so many different career choices out there, and many of the jobs of tomorrow do not have enough students to fill them, especially in the teaching profession. We have to help students learn how to apply to college, fill out applications, apply for financial aid and scholarships, and many other things that they need in order to make their way to whatever profession they choose. I remember not knowing how to go about figuring out how to actually go to college and what to do. While the school counselor can give information, there are things we can be doing from the classroom in order to prepare our students for life beyond high school.
- Show them the joy of teaching through our actions: Perhaps you are a novice teacher, or maybe you have been in the profession for over 20 years. Do you still come into the classroom with a smile on your face? Do you still remember why you came into the profession? Are you seeing the profession as a half full glass or a half empty one? If your classroom is not a joyous place to be, students are not enjoying it, and if they are not seeing school as a place of happiness, they will not seek to get into the vocation of teaching. Think about it, would you want to go somewhere and work where you knew everyone was unhappy and not nice? What messages are you sending? If you have lost your passion for teaching, seek to find it again, and if you cannot find it in the classroom, maybe it is time to find your passion somewhere else.
I don’t know what Naima and Jadon will do in the future, but I am proud to have suggested to them a profession that has brought me joy and fulfillment that no amount of money could ever bring. A profession that has allowed me to share so much of what I have with the next generation of children, and a profession that helps to make every other profession.
I ask you, who will you inspire your students to be this school year?
About the Author: Kelisa Wing is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. She is an Army veteran and a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree.