“Have you ever thought of being a teacher?” was the question that changed my life all those years ago. The truth is I never thought of being a teacher until that chance question and self-reflection which led me on this life’s journey. Looking back, I had plenty of great examples of teachers who believed in me and nurtured my love for learning. Those teachers are indirectly responsible for my choices, and I am very grateful. Through the years, I have posed the same question, and I am proud to say that quite a few former students have entered this noble profession in all levels from pre-k to university positions. For these reasons and more, it is imperative to recruit a highly qualified and diverse pool of potential teachers, and, once hired, to retain them.
Teacher recruitment is an ongoing concern at the local and state levels. While the causes include increasing occupational choices, falling enrollment in schools of education, lack of diversity within the teacher ranks, or a public perception of the profession in general, students still deserve a leader of learning who is committed, caring, and accessible to all. The challenges are real, but so, too, are the solutions!
If a challenge is an increasing choice of occupations, our profession must entice recruits through the very means by which they are lured away, and that is a multi-level recruitment blitz leveraging social media as a starting point. Recruitment should be yearlong with networking opportunities often. Asking young professionals what attracted them to teaching and playing on those insights is another tool to employ.
If a challenge is falling enrollment in schools of education, school districts can partner with them to recruit high school seniors into various fields within education. Schools of engineering do it all the time! Also, all high schools should offer a "Teacher Cadet" course or a type of teacher’s club that introduces the field of education as a possible career choice, making it easier for students to navigate and understand the entire process.
If a challenge is a lack of diversity, recruitment efforts could include maintaining job boards aimed at underrepresented groups, revising position announcements that are more inclusive, and/or making sure there is diversity among the recruiters for the school system. (7) The positive is that once teachers of various backgrounds are hired, candidates for future jobs will see the school (district) as a welcoming place and will be encouraged to apply.
If a challenge is public perception of the profession, teachers are at the forefront. We must act as ambassadors for our school, district, and state. We must advocate for the profession by uplifting what we do on a daily basis and lead by example. We must be knowledgeable in current educational issues/trends and contribute to the discussion. Finally, we must be recruiters and continually ask those worthy of consideration, “Have you ever thought of being a teacher?” and then follow-up with “Students need people like you in their lives!” It just may start a moment of self-reflection and another journey to begin.
Teacher retention is just as important as recruitment. When teachers leave the profession, a talent pool of experience walks out the door. How can the profession keep the best and brightest? Of course, teacher compensation is often cited as one way to retain teachers. But, there are other ways. They include offering meaningful systems of support, ensuring positive onboarding experiences, and making connections with new hires that build relationships within the school. Encouragement of work-life balance cannot be underestimated. Teachers at high-poverty schools need additional support, as determined by their unique circumstances, to attract highly qualified professionals and keep them there.
Teacher retention truly begins at the school level. When the magic elixir of a school’s climate and culture are combined with a collaborative principal-leader and collegial relationships are formed, teachers stay. Keeping excellent teachers provides continuity for students, most especially for students with greater needs, for today, as well as in the future.
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Alison Thetford, M.Ed