Why Be an Educator Now?

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May 17, 2024

This is the ninth in a series of guest blogs by the 2023-24 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Vanessa Robert is a kindergarten teacher at Canton Charter Academy in Canton.

Whether you’re a teacher, an administrator or a superintendent, we can all agree that our positions have lost their luster amongst young people entering the workforce. The desire to enter this realm of education has subsided in recent years and now we face a shortage or high turnover.
Teaching is difficult. We all know it to be true. However, looking at the big picture, who is suffering the most? The well-being of our local public and private schools, but the long-term is much more dire. The future of our country’s rich culture itself is at risk.
Our students, presently, will be responsible to uphold a functioning society that will require them to communicate, lead and navigate through the trials of life, and this makes me nervous. My feelings do not presume our students are not capable because they are. But, without strong educators in place to help guide our students, how can they stand a chance of exhibiting those capabilities?  
It is very sad to think after 15 years of teaching, my beloved career – my passion – is facing an obstacle that could jeopardize thousands of children.
So, how can WE as a group of educators, recruit the work ethic, resiliency, grit and devotion necessary for new teaching candidates that our schools desperately need? The answer is simple.
We change the negative tone of what we do best and bring perspective.

Using Our Power to Change What We Can

Decisions and policies are created and passed with some of our input. Sometimes we have control, and other times we don’t. In contrast, though, we can control how we address the issues of our teacher shortage and prevent the high turnover. Executing this big change will require all hands-on deck from the entire state.
I understand that you may be thinking: Where do we make time? Time is limited within and out of our jobs. But, if we work together thinking smarter and not harder, time is attainable. If we are in a shortage and are struggling to maintain positions in our system, why not change it ourselves? Why wait for others to take control and advertise what we do best?
If I have learned anything in my experience of 15 years in education and, in addition to being Region 9 Teacher of the Year, is that we do have a voice. We have the grit to build a strong platform for change. We could volunteer at college events, facilitate presentations, talk to applicants at job fairs and offer services to talk to high school students who are interested in teaching. We can encourage, mentor and give advice.
Setting aside the challenges of student behaviors, parent complaints, government and politics, think of these questions: Do you love your students? Do you love making a difference and embrace that feeling when you see your class evolve over time? Do you enjoy working with special education students because you see a power of capabilities, they have that no one else can see but you? And for administrators, do you love leading a school with hardworking teachers and making an impact on not only a classroom, but an entire building filled with 500 to 780 students?
Yes, you do because you would not be teaching or leading a school if you didn’t. You didn’t do it for the money, you did it because your devotion fulfilled you! Ignite that spark again!

Teaching Equals Fulfillment

Hopefully now that I have encouraged you, and there’s a spark lighting up, let’s discuss the fulfillment our job acquires.
For as long as I can remember, education or teaching was never encouraged because the pay was not great, and the workload was heavy. It remains the same, if not worse, since the pandemic. Of course, the lack of support consequently lessens interests, and now there are not enough resumes to fill our pool of interviews.
Is teaching hard with many facets and dynamics to uphold? Yes. Although, how often does any profession get to see a seed grow into fruition of a long-lasting learner? Or have taught a student that one day became a doctor, lawyer or even a business owner contributing to our communities? This profession produces a never-ending product, and its positivity can radiate for decades if we have the right people in place to build up our children.
For this reason, teaching fulfills the soul, and salaries shouldn’t always be the driver in pursuing a career. I understand in today’s world, money talks, and profitable careers become the focal point in starting adulthood, supporting a family, etc. Yet, thinking of all the prestige and money that could have been, it cannot replace the lasting impression I have had on my students. I am making the world a better place with what I do daily, and that extends beyond the perimeters of my school building. I do not see money as my motivation. I see what I do as an investment in my passion and utilizing my resources for our future.
Perhaps all my colleagues should zero in on this unique aspect of teaching too - seeds will be planted, cultivated, and pruned to bear fruit for all our benefits.
So, why be an educator now?
While a guest on “The Tonight Show,” Charles Barkley famously told Jimmy Fallon that there are only five “real jobs”: teachers, doctors, police officers, firefighters and a member of the military. Mr. Barkley was obviously going for the joke by comparing these noble professions to multi-million-dollar athletes, but he touched on something important. The professions he highlighted are some of the exact jobs that are difficult to do but serve a lasting purpose to society. So, if you know someone on that fine line of whether the education realm is something to consider, think of all it takes and all it can do with one child.