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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What If You Only Had 5 Minutes to Inspire a Teacher?

By Peter DeWitt — March 12, 2015 2 min read
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Enrollment in teacher training programs is down. NPR’s Eric Westervelt wrote,

Several big states have seen alarming drops in enrollment at teacher training programs. The numbers are grim among some of the nation's largest producers of new teachers: In California, enrollment is down 53 percent over the past five years. It's down sharply in New York and Texas as well.

Westervelt’s next paragraph is not surprising, but is very disturbing.

The erosion is steady. That's a steady downward line on a graph. And there's no sign that it's being turned around," says Bill McDiarmid, the dean of the University of North Carolina School of Education. Why have the numbers fallen so far, so fast? McDiarmid points to the strengthening U.S. economy and the erosion of teaching's image as a stable career. There's a growing sense, he says, that K-12 teachers simply have less control over their professional lives in an increasingly bitter, politicized environment.

Unfortunately, teaching has lost its image because of the political football that has been played over the last few years. Westervelt went on to write,

The list of potential headaches for new teachers is long, starting with the ongoing, ideological fisticuffs over the Common Core State Standards, high-stakes testing and efforts to link test results to teacher evaluations. Throw in the erosion of tenure protections and a variety of recession-induced budget cuts, and you've got the makings of a crisis.

Status is Up!

However, the NPR story comes at a time when Education Week reports that the academic ability of teachers, as well as the status, is on the rise. Sarah Sparks wrote,

The academic strength of new teachers has been getting better, not worse, for the last decade, according to a new longitudinal study of educators in New York state. Moreover, academically strong teachers are becoming more equitably distributed across all public schools--both high- and low-poverty--that serve the Empire State's 2.7 million public K-12 students. "We find increasing academic ability of individuals entering teaching," said Luke C. Miller, a co-author of the study and a research assistant education professor at the University of Virginia, at a research symposium here last month at the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. "We believe this is a signal that the status of the teaching profession is increasing."

Regardless of both reports, teachers get up every morning, brush themselves off and walk into the classroom working hard to inspire students.

But...they need some inspiration too.

What If You Only Had 5 Minutes to Inspire a Teacher?

Teachers are inspirational. We know that. They aren’t victims. Instead, we should think of them as change agents (Hattie). But lately they have been bashed, raked over the coals and treated unfairly. In our present situation, it’s easier to look at the good ole’ days than to the present and future possibilities. But we need to. We need to provide some inspiration to our teachers. Sure, they get it from their students and their subject, but they need it from their outside world.

How would you do it?

Would you do it?

Would you stand up to defend them...or offer them a kind word? Maybe you would tell them that every day they have the opportunity to wake the sleeping giant of an uninspired student. They have the chance to be innovative and creative. Let’s face it though, it’s easy to be creative in a time long ago when accountability meant something different. It’s harder to be creative when all we do is look around and see the inside of a box.

Teachers have the ability to show students a book they have never read before, and open their minds to an idea they have never thought of before. They safeguard the marginalized student and help the struggling ones. Every conversation...every piece of dialogue they have with a student may be remembered...long after the student leaves their classroom.

At 44 years old, I can name every teacher I had from K-6. I see their faces, remember their warmth and kindness during tough times, and remember their glare when I was going down the wrong path. I remember the teachers in high school who were not as a warm, but they are far outweighed by those who helped keep me going in the right direction.

They taught, coached and mentored me. There were many who were worth looking up to and gave me something to aspire to. They not only helped me through my struggles, but they inspired me to become a teacher...something Id di for 11 years.

As a school leader for 8 years, I was inspired by the teachers I worked with every day. Their “feedback” (those reading may laugh at that one) and dialogue made me a better leader. They changed my world because of their support...and debates. Leaders need teachers as much as teachers need good leaders.

We need to spend some time, not only thanking them, but inspiring them to keep moving forward. What if you had 5 minutes to inspire a teacher? What would you say?

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of Bryan Mathers.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.