Every teacher has a story. We all have a path. Only a select few of us have the hope. I want nothing more than to hear my students talk about their future career plans, and many of them say I want to be a teacher. I want to see teachers come to work every day excited to be there and believe they are working in a profession they have always wanted to do. During the release of the Teach Plus and Stand for Children recommendation on improving the quality of the education profession in Indiana, I was fortunate enough to speak.
Growing up I did not have teachers who looked like me. As I went through school, it became important to me that future generations of students have representation. I had one black male teacher my entire K-12 experience; he was my 7th-grade social studies teacher. When I realized this in high school, I decided this is probably why most of my friends were turned off from school. Becoming a teacher just wasn’t something that black men did. When I was 17, I knew I wanted to be that representation and the role model future students needed to see. This passion was further ignited when my college professor pressed upon me the reality that education is the civil rights issue of our generation, and I could make more impact in the world as an educator than practically any other profession. So, after I finished up my bachelor’s degree in English, I moved back home from Ohio and started my teaching career.
During my first year of teaching, I worked under the guidance of Mr. Pate, a special education push-in teacher that knew what he was doing. I had an entire year of experience and growth before I led my own English classroom the next year. While I didn’t go through a formal residency program, the experience I received and the guidance provided by Mr. Pate was just as valuable. The combination of the content knowledge I received in my undergraduate program and the opportunity to work and learn my first year set me on the right path to become an effective educator going forward. All new teachers deserve to have that experience and feel confident entering their own classroom ready to teach on day one. Creating a pilot residency program that makes the space for teaching candidates to do just that is essential to continuing to set our future educators up for success.
In turn, when we create formal opportunities for teachers to lead within their schools and mentor others, we help to strengthen the resolve of educators who want to keep teaching. The career trajectory of an educator often ends with stepping away from the classroom to take on administrative roles that pay more. We must change that narrative. I never wanted to be a principal. If I had had access to a career ladder that allowed me to grow as a professional and be compensated for the additional responsibilities I took on, I might have considered staying in the classroom.
The report released by Stand for Children and Teach Plus outlines the current reality of the teaching profession in Indiana. Preparation program attendance is declining, teachers are leaving the classroom due to lack of opportunities, declining pay, and negative experiences. All of these factors are negatively impacting our students. As a former teacher, this bothers me, and as a current administrator, I am truly concerned. My students need access to high-quality teachers who feel valued, respected, and cared for. I need to be able to hire teachers who want to come to school every day passionate to teach our students, knowing they’ll be able to make a living wage and grow as professionals. As a state, we must invest the time, energy, and dollars into finding solutions for these issues. By implementing the recommendations laid out in the report, we’ll be able to make teaching in Indiana a competitive profession.