Everyday Education: Passing The Torch: Advice To New Educators From Transylvania's Teachers Of The Year


June 5, 2017

Courtesy photo

Brevard College graduated eight new teachers this spring.

Teaching is not a good career choice. What do you think?

At the end of the semester in May, a Brevard College freshman walked into my office and said, "I think I want to be a teacher, but everybody tells me that teaching is not a good career choice today."

It breaks my heart that across our nation we are experiencing a growing teacher shortage. According to data collected by the NC Department of Public Instruction, enrollment in education programs across the UNC system is down 30 percent since 2010. The severe shortage of math and science teachers and middle school teachers for all subjects is a critical problem. The state estimates needing at least 10,000 new teachers for the 2017-18 school year.

North Carolina's teachers are dedicated and hardworking, and historically their professionalism has made our public school system a gem among Southern states. With teacher pay at 42nd in the nation, per-pupil spending at 46th, little job security, and no incentive to get advanced degrees, the appeal of a teaching job has been significantly reduced in North Carolina.

Sadly, this situation in North Carolina is mirrored in our nation. A decade worth of research from Richard Ingersoll at the University of Pennsylvania shows that somewhere between 40 to 50 percent of those who go into teaching in the United States leave the profession within five years.

Despite the difficulties of the profession, we still have intelligent, hard-working and gifted teachers helping young people in our schools. Last month, Brevard College graduated eight new teachers prepared to start their careers in education. At the same time, Transylvania County celebrated their teachers of the year in each of our school buildings across the county.

In this column we would like to celebrate those courageous teachers, many of whom have allowed the Brevard College teacher candidates to observe and work in their own classrooms as they offer empowering advice to the young teachers faced with the challenging climate that currently surrounds the education field.

Laura Burgess, a kindergarten teacher at Pisgah Forest Elementary, gave the new teachers probably the same growth mindset advice she gives her kindergarten students who are beginning their new journey of learning: "Do not be afraid to ask for help and learn from your mistakes." She reminds us that good teaching, like good learning, is about doing, reflecting, changing and doing better the next time.

Veteran teacher Joe Russo, who teaches at Davidson River, added on the importance of perseverance, noting the value of "practice, patience, understanding, and compassion."

Sara Plum, a special education teacher at Brevard High School, echoed Russo's emphasis on the human dynamics of teachings: "I would encourage new teachers to be a shining light in the lives of their students and those around them. You never know when a simple smile or kind gesture can make all the difference in someone's day.

Carol Martin advised flexibility and collaboration, reminding new teachers to "work with your parents" and understand that "open communication makes a strong foundation" for helping children and families.

Kasey Shook, a second grade teacher at Rosman Elementary, offered some words that showed just how difficult achieving balance is in this profession where there is so much good work to do: "My biggest advice would be to leave 'work stuff' at work and 'home stuff' at home." She wisely cautions the young teachers about burn-out: "We often give so much of ourselves to our students that we can be left feeling burnt out."

Kristi Clark, a second grade teacher at Pisgah Forest and also one of the first graduates from Brevard College's Teacher Education Program in 2006, acknowledges the huge responsibility for our new teachers: "You will be impacting our next generation on a daily basis. Yes, you will get frustrated. Yes, sometimes you will feel like quitting but remember the impact you have on the lives of others. Keep fighting, don't quit, don't give up."

The advice given by these veteran educators demonstrates a profound passion for their profession of choice, a passion perhaps grounded on the knowledge, once expressed by celebrated education psychologist Lee Shulman, that "classroom teaching...is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced and frightening activity that our species has ever invented."

When asked, this is what I told the freshman seeking career advice. I also told him that there is no profession that does more to improve our world, and then I asked him if he were up for the challenge.

So, at the end of this school year, thank you again to all of our veteran teachers and those entering the profession for having the courage to teach during these challenging times. Teaching is truly the profession for our most intelligent and compassionate human beings, and it is more important than ever to celebrate the teachers who are leading the way while we welcome the new ones into the profession.

(Burrows is director of teacher education at Brevard College.)


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