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Perspective | Your choices can make all the difference: An open letter to new educators

Throughout this year, Western Governors University (WGU) is celebrating its 25th anniversary by hosting several in-person commencements in regions across the country. Attending these ceremonies, you can’t help but soak in the joy and excitement seen on the faces of our graduates and their family members.

However, for our WGU School of Education graduates, this excitement runs parallel to oftentimes discouraging personal and professional challenges. During the pandemic, our education ecosystems across the country have been upended by a massive teacher shortage.

It is beyond disheartening to note that according to a recent National Education Association (NEA) survey of its members, an alarming 55% of educators now indicate that they are ready to leave the profession they love earlier than planned. Moreover, school districts nationwide are scrambling to find committed and qualified teachers to join their cause.

I often think about what it’s like being a new educator in today’s world and the work we all have to do to help our newly minted educators stay, strive, and succeed in one of the most meaningful careers. We need to champion them — along with all teachers doing this work. And even as we do our work to champion the teaching cause, I would challenge you — our newest teaching professionals — to make choices that will help you meet this moment and make a difference for years to come. Here are just a few to consider:

Choose to thrive.

As a new educator, you have chosen a path paved with endless possibilities to make a tremendous impact. The importance of your work has never been greater. Appreciating your value as an educator will help you understand the unique situations of the students that you teach. Social-emotional learning, for example, is an important component of our School of Education’s curriculum, and what works for students can also work for teachers. In short, stay healthy — mentally and physically — and keep learning.

Choose to be a difference-maker.

In cities big and small, teachers are held in high esteem — in fact, according to a Varkey Foundation survey published by the World Economic Forum, teaching is in the top ranks among the world’s most respected professions. This acknowledgement stems from your potential positive influence over students and colleagues — an influence that lasts forever. Own this ability. Embrace it. Encourage it in your colleagues. It may sound trite, but it is more than true: your smallest act can make the biggest of differences with the students you teach and reach.

Choose to connect and collaborate.

As you may encounter challenges and changes throughout your career, one thing is certain: you are never alone. Just by entering the teaching profession, you are forever allied with other educators around the world from many disciplines with whom you can connect and collaborate. You are part of a community in which influential bonds with students shape their futures. And with personal learning networks and alumni support, the groundwork is already in place for you to embrace as you aspire to become the best educator you can be.

While the education landscape has certainly changed over the past two years — and will continue to evolve in the months and years to come — you are a new educator for a reason. Many crucial decisions have led you to this moment, and as you grow as an education professional, know that you already have the passion and the power to change lives. So, to new teachers across North Carolina: never forget how important you are to so many, and never forget the power of your choices.

Mark David Milliron

Mark David Milliron, an award-winning education leader, author, and speaker, serves as senior vice president and executive dean of Western Governors University’s Teachers College, the nation’s largest college of education. In nearly 20 years, WGU’s Teachers College has graduated more than 59,000 educators in every state in America and currently enrolls more than 31,000 students.