When I was a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to teach a kindergarten class. I spent days designing the lesson, and I will never forget the look of excitement in the eyes of the students as they participated in the lesson I created. A seed was planted; I wanted to become a teacher!
All teachers are responsible for inspiring students to contemplate and investigate career pathways as well as promoting college and career readiness. Teaching is one of those careers. The U.S. Department of Education reports teacher shortages throughout the nation in all geographical areas, subject areas, and grade levels (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, 2015).
While grow-your-own strategies have included initiatives, such as alternative licensure programs, formal efforts have not included the classroom teacher in the recruitment of future teachers. Teachers of all grade levels have the expertise to grow-their-own through purposeful efforts.
- Identify potential educators and plant the idea in their hearts and minds. Ask if they have ever considered becoming a teacher, then follow the question with specific, descriptive feedback on why they think they could be a successful educator. Encourage capable students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Include parents and guardians in the mission. During formal and informal conferences, share why their child would be a successful educator. Collective efforts produce an abundant harvest.
- Use “yes . . . but” in conversations to emphasize the positive aspects of the profession. Make it a practice to follow a voice of concern with a statement on the joys of teaching. Be mindful of how encouraging messages about teaching can influence a student who is entertaining the thought of teaching. Consider how your reactions to the challenges of teaching enhance and contribute to the grow-our-own approach. All careers have challenges, yet students in the public schools typically do not regularly interact with other career professionals nor do they hear about their difficult times. Teachers are part of a student’s daily life. Consequently, explicit positive messages are important during difficult times.
- Share your story. Reveal the motivation behind becoming a teacher whenever the opportunity arises. Describe the events and special people who inspired the decision. Telling one’s own story inspires prospective educators and serves as a reminder as to why you entered the field. Reconnecting to your vision of teaching revitalizes your spirit and strengthens your mission of inspiring others to consider teaching. Share the chapters of your teaching life so that your students might begin writing their own.
- Create opportunities to explore teaching. Ask students to serve a mini apprenticeship as a teacher’s helper for a day or a week. During this time, reveal the positive aspects of a career in teaching. At the end of the apprenticeship, recognize the student with a certificate, a tangible reminder of the special event. This guided practice enables students to discover the enjoyment of planning lessons and making a difference in the lives of others. Students also can be assigned to work with teachers in the younger grades to build confidence in working with others while experiencing education from the teacher’s side of the desk. Student organizations, such as Educator Rising, provide the framework and support to encourage a career in education. Furthermore, Educator Rising promotes interest by allowing high school students to “test-drive” teaching and empowering teachers to act as ambassadors for teaching (Brown, 2016). These ongoing opportunities for practice exposes students to the enjoyment of planning lessons and making a difference.
- Think like a marketing agent and visually promote your profession. Positive messages in the classroom can inspire future educators. Posters that celebrate teaching and the power of learning can motivate students to consider a career as an educator. Highlight successful teachers on a bulletin board or in published news articles. Have students create works about teachers who have influenced them.
- Be a role model. Attract students to teaching by simply doing what you love to do: teach. Be the professional your students want to emulate. Welcome your students at the door with a smile. Facial expressions, attitude, and social interaction become your runway moves. Positive actions and reactions serve as fertilizer that encourage students to perceive education as a desirable calling.
The opportunity to teach during my senior year in high school planted the seed for a fruitful career in education. Teachers have the capacity to grow-our-own. Encouraging students to consider a teaching career begins in kindergarten and continues through 12th grade. Teachers hold the solution to cultivate and mentor the next harvest of teachers to make our garden grow.
Dr. Kathleen Wagner is an Assistant Professor of Educational Studies and Secondary Education at Eastern New Mexico University. She teaches courses on curriculum, instruction, and assessment, supervises teacher candidates during student teaching, and serves as the Assessment Coordinator of the College of Education and Technology. She is also the counselor of the Omicron Upsilon chapter at ENMU.