Calling on All to Lift Up the Teaching Profession

Out in the field with students.

Out in the field with students.

After spending 25 years in education as a classroom teacher, adjunct faculty member in teacher education, and English Language Arts coordinator, I am increasingly concerned about the future of teaching in America and the urgency with which we must work together to lift up the profession. The reasons for this alarm are many fold.

Those of us who have chosen education as our career path continually see statistics about the decreasing number of students entering the teaching profession. We witness our credential programs struggle to fill seats and our districts struggle to fill positions.

We hear stories about the varying quality of teacher-credential programs across the nation. But that isn’t the only problem. Students enter the profession with limited skills because they have educated, but not encouraged to use critical thinking skills that could help them creatively plan a lesson.

We read the data about the staggering number of teachers that choose to leave the profession because they feel unsupported. And we observe them struggle in their first years with classroom management, lesson planning, and providing differentiated instruction.

So what can be done to help combat these problems? We must lift up the teaching profession, as Acting Secretary John King has prioritized and is calling on educators to do. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary for the long-term health of the profession. The following steps illustrate how to achieve this goal.

Getting Them

After teaching for more than 20 years, I have had the pleasure of seeing children discover the joy of teaching others, for example, the Kindergartener who lines up the dinosaurs during free choice to read a story to them. We need to foster this spirit and encourage our students to consider teaching as a profession. Students who find enjoyment in specific content areas need to be given opportunities to delve deeply into their area of study and consider becoming a teacher.

Training Them

Teacher credential programs across the nation are distinctly unique; however, we must advocate for all programs to provide pre-service teachers with a balance of pedagogy and practice. In my 10 years as Adjunct Faculty, I have found that this balance is crucial to helping students navigate the shifting role from that of student to that of teacher. Additionally, student-teachers thrive when their program is instructed in such a way that models exemplary classroom teaching. We must advocate that all pre-service programs be taught using strategies we want these future teachers to embed into their practice.

Keeping Them

Teacher retention is currently a “hot topic,” and the Teacher Ambassador Fellows held a Twitter Chat about it last week. We need to become leaders to mentor new teachers as they begin to navigate through their first years of teaching. In my two year role as a Teacher on Special Assignment as the English Language Arts/Literacy Coordinator for my county, I provided support for 14 school districts. The biggest concern that I heard from all teachers was that they felt overwhelmed and unsupported as they sought to provide quality instruction that ensured student learning.

Teachers should take the lead and encourage their school district to develop mentoring programs or expand the role of content coaches so that all teachers who ask for support receive it. With an increasing number of retirees, seasoned veteran teachers cannot mentor all that will need support, and their professional learning is also important. It is therefore essential that we advocate for district-wide systems of support for all teachers.

The bottom line is more must be done to ensure teaching in America remains sustainable. It needs the voices of all 3.5 million of us to lift up this profession. From Acting Secretary John King to the rural teacher in northern California, we know that the future of our nation depends upon our collective effort to make it happen.

Nancy Veatch teaches at Bend Elementary School in Cottonwood, California, and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. I find it extremely irresponsible on the part of the U.S. DOE to post something like this without listing the real reason for the decline in enrollment in Colleges of Education and the massive exodus of teachers across the country. It’s the misguided and abuse reform policies put forth by politicians! It’s the misuse of standardized tests to measure teacher performance, and the extremely inappropriate Standards that are being forced upon the states with little to no input from actual educators. Fix the Standards and get rid of the tests, and only then will you start to restore value to the teaching profession.

  2. What a wonderful vehicle for honest and regular dialogue! I believe in you Nancy and what you are working to do here. Nothing will ever get better without passionate and honest leaders like you and the other fellows. Your service to education, especially in this critical time, is deeply appreciated and will make a tremendous difference for kids.

  3. You are MEAN! Why would you encourage our young adults to teach? It used to be a great job, but that was a while ago. I’m now on my 19th year and the last six have been tough.

    It seems to me that it isn’t the teacher prep schools that need reforming; it’s the admin credential programs. Administrators graduate with no idea of state and federal laws. I am directed to break a law almost daily, particularly concerning special education. I’ve witnessed far too many great kids purposely thrown away.

    Admin graduates seem to believe that teachers are children who must be scolded. In the past, we veteran teachers didn’t mind helping a new principal through the first couple of years. They needed to get their sea legs. We understood. We wordlessly smoothed the rough patches. We all wanted what was best for the kids, right? We had faith.

    It’s different now. I’ll spend the first few school days supporting a new administrator, smoothing his/her way and deflecting parental concerns. The next thing I know, a veteran teacher is brutally called on the carpet, often in public, over a past practice that the new administrator doesn’t understand. It’s been several years since I have heard an administrator apologize to any teacher, no matter how wrong.

    Conditions are dismal. There is constant pressure to do great projects, but no money is set aside. Teachers spend about $2000 a year on supplies. Rooms are never thoroughly cleaned. I’m sixty but I must get on ladders to wash the windows twice a year.

    The pay is lousy. My car is 13 years old. Some of the teachers in my district have kids who qualify for free meals. In order to do my job well, I pay for, and attend technology seminars – as do many, many teachers. If I weren’t so old, I’d be able to get a good job with my technology skills.

    My advice to young adults would be quite different from yours: run as far and fast as you can from a teacher prep school!

  4. With political climate that’s vilified teachers as nothing but lazy, greedy, and overpaid and calling for the termination of tenure and unions that we’ve endured since 2000, it’s not a surprise that we’re experiencing the fallout of those attitudes now. Although this Administration has tried to encourage and support education, the ignorant attitudes of the previous decade still remain and are becoming even more entrenched at the urging of the majority in power. It’s become commonplace to not only devalue education, but even to mock those who are educated and have critical thinking skills. “Spin” has all but convinced everyone that our schools are completely beyond saving and should be shut down, including the entire US Department of Education, and that privatization is the answer. This is happening at an alarming pace, starting with charter schools that have no oversight, answer to no authority, and are seemingly beyond the reach of not only transparency laws but equal rights laws, as well, all the way up to the for-profit “colleges” that bleed both the government loan system and the students themselves for many times what a state or even a good private college would charge and graduate perhaps 10% of their enrollees. Like everything else, education in this country has become all about the money, obscene profits for a few corporate officers, and to hell with the students OR the teachers. Both are expendable, as long as the “right” paying students attend their exclusive little schools – sadly, I fear we’re a hairsbreadth from a complete return to the days when only the wealthy were allowed to attend school, learn to read, etc. Perhaps I see with a jaundiced eye due to my age, but I feel that until we turn around the political climate from championing ignorance, fear, paranoia, and mindless following instead of learning, questioning, challenging, and valuing education for the sake of knowledge, neither the teaching profession or the schools themselves will have the hope of improving.

    with charter schools with beyond the control of the government or even the parents of students and certainly bey

  5. Having been in the field of education for just over thirty-two years, I have seen a number of talented teachers and I have seen some very poor teachers as well. Even some of the poorer teachers had success in spite of their marginal skills. They saw success because their students were learners who learned from what the teachers showed them and their own drive to understand the world around them and how they fit into it. While some of those poor teachers did leave some lasting scars on some learners, I blame the teacher prep programs of old for that. Those teachers had no business being in the business of education to begin with. Admins & profs held a fervent belief that with the right help they could make it. Problem was that the right help never materialized. I have seen improvement in teacher prep programs and seen folks weeded out that would have been allowed in before. For the crop I have seen most recently, they are driven to facilitate learning in those about them. Unfortunately, they have been hampered by school-based administrators who won’t let them teach, and, subsequently, the learners don’t learn. Admins, remember, principal is the shortened term for principal teacher! So many admins & principals have forgotten that fact. As the poorer admins who are managers and not leaders gradually leave the ranks, I hope this will change. Many of the newer and talented leaders coming up in the ranks are showing great promise. Remember, teachers have the greatest impact on learning & learners’ success. And, admins have the greatest impact on teaching & the schools success. Keep the main thing first as long as the main thing is the students. And, as other professionals profess, first do no harm. Finally, government & politicians: let teachers teach & learners learn. I have taught k-12 in public schools, first-year college student in a first year college composition program, mentored numerous teachers, helped a number get their licenses as an admin working with an alternative licensing program, and, currently, mentor and assist teachers and admins as a tester evaluator. I have hope for education if its leaders take it back as a profession.

    • I work for BOCES in CNY. alternative education. I see seasoned aids on phones in class!! This is not a job its a career !! Be professional! These kids need our undivided attention. I am young and a rookie but seriously, after a month of work I can already see the flaws. I hope to develop my leadership abilities and role model appropriately for the young generations ( I work with K-2ND). ADMIN and teacher NEED to work side by side. Our behaviors affect one another it is naturally an integrated environment!!

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