Great teachers are a gift to our children, their future, and our country. I wish that were enough to keep our best teachers in the profession. However, the truth is sad. Forty-six percent of teachers who have spent a minimum of four years training to become teachers leave the profession within five years. (This statistic comes from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future). That is a staggering figure. Almost half of all new teachers spend as much time training as they do teaching and then they are gone.
What is even more sobering to me? I’ve been a trainer for future teachers for at least two decades now. I know my students well and keep in close contact with many of them. I find it very disconcerting that so many of my former students whom I know will make top quality teachers, are the ones who begin talking about leaving the profession the fastest. The teaching profession in its current state is driving away the cream of the crop. The best ones have options. They will be successful whatever path they pursue. The greater their confidence, creativity and initiative, the more likely they are to look for greener pastures. We are pushing away the wrong people. Is that our goal?
I know plenty of reasons why teachers are leaving the profession or thinking about fleeing. But that is material for another post. I don’t want to enumerate the obvious reasons to leave. I want to beg great teachers to stay.
Today I want to share my most fervent Christmas wish for teachers. I want you to continue to teach. I want you to stay in this profession. From my heart I want to share a truth with you. It takes time to reap the fruits of your labor. Often when you are making the greatest difference, you won’t know it. It takes sometimes decades of commitment for you to really understand what an impact you have created. The difference you make in your teaching career will outlive you. Great teaching creates a legacy that will span generations. I promise you this is the truth. I’ve lived it. I know it. I’m sharing only facts with you that I have discovered (sometimes painfully) during my own teaching career.
Please do me the honor of reading some true stories from my own teaching career. I know this is risky…providing links to my most meaningful stories. Many of you will stop reading before you click the first link; but I’m hoping most of you will take the time to read some of my true stories. If you do invest your time, these stories will inspire you. That’s a promise.
First read about a thank you letter I wrote to a high school teacher thirty years after I graduated from high school. Find out how this letter changed her life and mine.
Now read about how a college teacher changed my life in ONE hour. She never knew the impact she had on me. Even now, she doesn’t remember my name and doesn’t know how she changed my life in one day.
Once I had a senior girl in my class who was planning to drop out on her 18th birthday. Her birthday was only two months away when she entered my classroom. See how that turned out.
I’ll be honest. Twice I almost quit the teaching profession. Once was in my second year as a teacher. I ran into some health problems which I hadn’t encountered before. I blamed them on the stress of teaching. I was off school for almost a month. But I stayed in the profession and I’m glad I did. The second time I almost quit was in my twenty-fourth year. I went from teaching in the elementary grades to high school and those teens almost ate me alive. Read about my toughest year ever.
When you bring your own experiences into the classroom and share them with your students, you will absolutely change lives. How am I sure? Read this.
So you think you can’t make a difference in someone’s life? Read this letter a student wrote to me. Her name was Sarah and she gave me permission to share this with you. It will take your breath away.
In several decades of parent teacher conferences, there are about a dozen that were so memorable, I know I will never forget them. Here’s just one sample. It’s a great story.
Someday you will be so excited about a lesson you’ve planned. Then that lesson will bomb and it hurts. Fear not. Someone will hear you.
Why teach? Why put up with the moderate pay, the long hours, the attacks from the media, the test score tunnel vision, and the inner school politics? A 17 year old girl in my class revealed her reasons and inspired even this veteran teacher.
Great teaching isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. Here are some tips I put together to help the best teachers stay in the profession for the long haul.
Great teachers don’t just dump academic minutia into students or give them a list of facts to memorize for a test. They light a candle within them. They teach the skill to problem solve. They demonstrate the power of persistence and why to fear the comfort zone. They ignite their curiosity and jump-start their initiative. They role model the satisfaction derived from hard work. They encourage creativity and build their self confidence so that students will be able to find new paths to success long after they forget a certain algebraic formula or how to conjugate a particular verb form. Our students desperately need those greatest teachers. Please stay and make a difference. The very best teachers teach to change lives.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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I am also startled by the large number of teachers that want to quit. I would love to see inexperienced teachers have the support of a mentor teacher on their way out or who have just retired from teaching. The support of an experienced teacher, in my view, would be invaluable in keeping a teacher focused and confident.
What do you think?
Thank you for your comment. I agree. We’ve all had our challenging or even dark moments as teachers. I know I have. It sometimes takes the perspective of a teacher who has invested many years in the profession to help a young teacher keep a balanced view and stay the course.