• Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis and several panel members said teaching is often perceived as not good enough for the best and brightest students.
  • Panel members said their students and former students frequently tell them they don’t think they would be good at teaching.

By Mike Marsee

Teachers who are part of a Kentucky Department Education (KDE) advisory council are concerned about whether enough of their students will follow them into careers in education.

Several educators who spoke on the subject at the first meeting of the 2019-2020 Teachers Advisory Council (TAC) said the agency’s efforts in educator development are both welcome and needed.

“I strongly believe if we don’t promote our profession, the parents of the kids that we teach sure won’t,” said Jennifer Howard, a mathematics teacher at Magoffin County High School.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis discussed the importance of recruiting and retaining educators at the previous TAC meeting July 22. Erin Ashcraft, assistant director in KDE’s Division of Educator Preparation, Assessment and Internship, told the group at its Oct. 15 meeting about Educators Rising Kentucky, an organization for middle school and high school students interested in education-related careers, and the teaching and learning career pathway, a four-course pathway available to high schools.

“More than likely, our future colleagues are in our halls right now,” Ashcraft said, citing research that shows 60% of teachers are working within 20 miles of the district they attended as students.

Lewis told the teachers at the October meeting that the decline in the number of people entering education is tied in part to a perception that the best and brightest students shouldn’t consider teaching careers.

“We’ve got to do something to break this stigma,” he said. “This is a long-term challenge that we’ve had in the United States about who goes into education.”

Shawn Sizemore, a former teacher who is now the gifted and talented coordinator for the Laurel County schools, said he saw an example of that in his own home when his daughter, who has two parents who are educators, went to medical school before turning to teaching.

“For years she had wanted to be a teacher but didn’t think it was good enough. I think that’s very sad that my child, a child of a teacher, didn’t think it was good enough for her,” Sizemore said. “Because of the way teaching is perceived as not good enough for that upper echelon of students, we’ve got to change that and it starts with us.”

Miles Johnson, an art teacher at Warner Elementary School (Jessamine County), said the growth of Educators Rising, which has chapters in a number of schools, is a step in the right direction.

“I like that this is a program, that it has a conference and it has networking attached to it,” Johnson said. “This is what is needed, and I really believe that you’ll get teachers of all different experience levels and years who want to be a part of it.”

Some of the TAC members said their current and former students frequently tell them they don’t think they would be good at teaching.

“As a high school teacher, I’ve heard that so many times,” said Taylor Sullivan, a science teacher at Larry A. Ryle High School (Boone County). “They don’t see that they would be good at it, and then they don’t see that the compensation outweighs the challenge.”

Howard said collaboration in her classrooms allows her to watch students “teach” each other, and she makes it a point to encourages those who do that well.

“I make sure to tell them I’m proud of them, to say, ‘Hey, you could be a teacher,’” she said. “There are little things a teacher could do in their classroom every day to encourage that.”

The teachers also said there should be a better support structure for “option six” teachers who have used an alternative route to certification for those holding degrees in non-teaching majors.

“We have a handful in every district who came in late and don’t have the pedagogy, but they were taught by good teachers,” Sizemore said.

Council members also asked Lewis if there is a program in place for recruiting and retaining male students of color as educators. He said no such program is in place yet, but he said 2020 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Erin Ball will work toward recruiting students of color – male and female – as part of her sabbatical at KDE during the spring 2020 semester.