Having taught during seven decades, from the last school year of the 1950s to my recent retirement, I have been interested in one phenomenon in particular: how successfully we have been able to attract talented and dedicated classroom teachers to our profession.
Teacher-preparation institutions tend to marvel at this reality, especially when being aware of the competition for candidates within a culture that prizes careers that are well-compensated with appealing benefits. Luring individuals to classroom teaching has been dependent upon rewards that are more closely related to how much of a positive impact one can make when working with the young; most of us can recall how a teacher made a significant difference in our youth.
Something that I believe is being overlooked as we public school educators reel from the assault upon schools by our governor and legislators is the fact that high-quality candidates for classroom teaching are becoming more and more difficult to attract.
I continue to “recruit” potential classroom teachers as I engage young people who may be students – asking about their academic plans, the careers they may be electing, and whether they might consider studying to become a teacher. Clerks, cashiers, restaurant servers and others are fair game for my spiel about the many advantages and rewards that emanate from classroom teaching. The banter, always brief, can be both entertaining and informative regarding my sincere intentions to urge their consideration.
I recently had an exchange with a young man that I will not soon forget – and an alert that prompted this message. As I made my pitch to this amiable and articulate fellow, the totally unexpected response caught me by surprise: “Why would anyone want to become a teacher in Kansas today?”
He disarmed me with his acquaintance about how the public schools are “taking a beating,” citing the governor’s disdain for adequately supporting the schools’ missions and the legislators’ lockstep seconding.
My fear is palpable – that our profession’s success in attracting such capable candidates might become but a memory. This danger isn’t receiving proper attention, as the arguments about high-quality public education have featured only funding and benefits.
Once again, I am reminded that those who will suffer include not only our children but the future of our greater culture.
John H. Wilson is a professor emeritus at the College of Education at Wichita State University.