Recently I served as a member of the governor’s Task Force on Public School Staff Shortages in New Jersey.
Board members don’t need to be reminded that it can be difficult to hire new teachers, particularly in hard-to-fill areas such as special education, science, math and bilingual education. Nearly every district has struggled with hiring challenges. Statistics indicate that the problem involves both the retention of existing educators and the recruitment of new ones.
What makes someone want to be a teacher? Many educators, myself included, first got interested in the profession because someone suggested they’d be good at it and they might like it.
In my case, it was my father. I started college believing I might follow him into a career in medicine, but I remember calling him and telling him this wasn’t for me. He immediately suggested I go into education. I was surprised, reminding him that I hated my education. That is largely because as a child, I had been the victim of bullying. His response? “Exactly!” So I got into education to change it from the inside out and create a safe environment for all children. Throughout my career, I have found education to be an immensely satisfying vocation and have always been grateful to my father for suggesting it.
Sometimes it’s not a parent, but a teacher or mentor who makes such a recommendation to a child. Whatever it is that calls our educators into the profession, we need to remind existing educators why they got into this noble profession and rekindle their enthusiasm. We also need to generate excitement and interest in young people who are considering their career options.
I would urge board members to spread the word about the advantages of a career in education — the inherent satisfactions of helping children, the job stability and family-friendly schedule and the fulfillment that can come from knowing you are helping to shape the future and build a better world.
I would also urge districts to step up their efforts to honor and recognize their existing staff members — including teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses, custodians and other support staff. By applauding our employees and telling their stories, we can raise morale, give staff something to aspire to and send the message that educators are important.
In March, the Task Force appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy released its report and recommendations at www.nj.gov/education/docs/TaskForceReport.pdf. The report makes more than 30 detailed suggestions to improve retention and recruitment. All of the recommendations deserve close study and attention.
But we can all begin now to elevate the profession by recognizing the excellent work of our current school staff and by encouraging young people to think seriously about a career in education.