Recruiting for a Profession
Before becoming a teacher, I spent ten years as an accountant. The possibilities and career trajectories of the accounting profession were endless. Probably because I didn’t know any better, I viewed the teaching profession in the same way when I entered it. Combining my work as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, district administrator, and now, professor to preservice teachers, I stayed fresh in my work. Each new shift provided different learning opportunities, widened my professional network, and allowed me to see a more broad view of the profession. In essence, I stacked my experiential assets by resisting the temptation to stay in one place with the same assignment for too long.
Now, as I work with preservice teachers, it is glaringly apparent that students have career choices outside of education that largely appeal to their desire to curate a particular lifestyle. They are not widely choosing education as a career pathway since they view it as restrictive, lacking respect, underpaid, and immobile. Generation Z is authentic to the core. They desire meaningful experiences when they choose to gather and want to impact their world in positive ways. However, they do not view education as a diverse profession with overflowing opportunities. And, perhaps, they aren’t to blame for that.
We need a better recruiting plan. Our story about the work we do as educators must change, improve, and inspire. Our profession still does all those things. Young people who have the desire to teach but avoid the profession because of its reputation need to know what still works, what still brings people together in schools, and understand more deeply the incredibly positive impact the profession has on every aspect of our lives.
I believe in honesty and telling the whole story. Teaching and working alongside young people is as challenging as it has ever been. We cannot continue to allow young people to view the job of a teacher as 30+ years in a single classroom. They simply won’t buy it. There is so much more that’s possible. Our profession needs moving pathways. We need career trajectories where potential recruits to our profession can see movement laced with professional learning opportunities, increased compensation, higher education, and the acquisition of leadership skills.
Working with preservice teachers has taught me so many things about what they need in the early stages of their careers. At the very top of this list is high-quality mentoring. Mentoring, I’ve found, is a tricky thing. Often, we sacrifice high expectations for friendship and comfort in these relationships when they can absolutely be both.
During my years as an educator, I have witnessed a variety of these professional arrangements. Some mentors were only interested because they were being paid. These seem to have the absolute worst outcomes because the mentee never benefited from critical feedback and was also robbed of a safe landing place when things became overwhelming. I get it – mentoring takes a lot of time, energy, and is, at least at some point, completely inconvenient. And can’t we say the same about….parenting? And healthy marriages? And strong family relationships? And any friendship worth its salt? Mentoring is a version of all these things while also bringing the expectation of moving each other professionally forward.
The art of coaching is absolutely fascinating to me. I really watch very few sports, but I hardly ever miss what great coaches have to say about managing their organizations and the relationships they build with young people. Almost always, there will be a mentoring theme present in these conversations. In worthwhile mentoring relationships, there is no question about the commitment of the mentor to the mentee. Conversely, when these arrangements are the strongest, the mentee is eager for time, advice, feedback, and encouragement from the mentor. Creating space, allowing time, and building capacity in these relationships are necessary ingredients for success, and I believe these are important intangibles in both teacher recruitment and retention. Young people today need to know they have access to undisputed support. They want to be very clear in knowing who is for them.
Mentoring is an ideal way for educator preparation programs to partner with local school districts. No one knows preservice teachers better than the faculty members and clinical supervisors who just supported them through coursework, internship experiences, and preparation for state licensure tests. This background knowledge of preservice teachers should be harnessed for the good of the profession. What structures do we have in place to ensure these relationships are both maintained with new teachers and transferred to their new school environments? It’s an opportunity for recruitment and retention.
Developing a School Culture where Adults (and new Recruits) Want to Be
An overlooked part of our recruiting strategy is walking potential teachers into the building and creating a place and culture where they want to be. This is the first, absolutely necessary step to their recruitment and retention in the profession. In my work as a district administrator, I’ve been part of hiring hundreds of new teachers. Before they ever signed on the dotted line and were granted school board approval, I began talking with them about the culture we were building in the district. Our mantra was Culture, Data, Instruction – in that order. We worked on culture every single day and guarded it with great care. Award-winning math teacher Kay Toliver from the New York Public School System once said, “It has to be a place kids want to come.” Our district leadership team expanded that truth to say, “It has to be a place adults want to come to, too.”
We began to focus very intentionally on collective teacher efficacy. Our teacher leaders wanted to know more about collective efficacy. So we obliged. Working with the text, Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning by Jenni Donohoo, we scheduled a session where the leadership team primarily discussed how collective efficacy could become visible in our schools. This began to change the culture across our district. One elementary school created Cafe 1.57, a place where teachers gathered to collaborate as they designed lessons, held data meetings, and encouraged one another. The significance of 1.57 related to the documented effect size collective efficacy has on student achievement.
No teacher should ever be on an island or work in a silo. This collaborative, intentional work and belief that collectively teams can make a difference for students draws new teachers toward strong connections to the profession and deepens relationships in the building. But, it must be cultivated every single day. The return on that investment strengthens new teachers’ commitment to the profession because they are working in places where they think about and are able to see the impact they have on students.
School culture, according to Rick DuFour and Bob Eaker, architects of the Professional Learning Communities at Work model, is “the way we do things around here.” Preservice teachers may not have the appropriate words or adequate understanding to describe schools with good culture, but they know there is something different and better in those schools. Without fail, each time my students return from field experiences, they talk to me about the schools where they were placed. Students quickly recognize when it is a place where there is a culture that supports high levels of learning for all and where educators work collaboratively to improve student outcomes. They recognize, mostly, if it’s a place where both teachers and students want to come. Carefully, I introduce the ideas around strong school culture to them so they are aware of how important it is to cultivate this in their future schools.
Lastly, within and outside of school, each school team member must work to preserve the integrity of the school’s culture. We must remember who we are. We must understand that we are our profession’s greatest ambassadors, and we have the power to positively (or negatively) impact our school’s culture.