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Teacher retention first, then recruitment

Once again, those of us in the education world find ourselves wringing our hands about a teacher shortage. We can’t find enough teachers to fill the available slots. Enrollment in university teacher preparation programs continues to decline. Too many teachers leave the profession every year. And so, once again, teacher retention and recruitment becomes one of the hot topics.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, I spent quite a bit of time on numerous committees, commissions, task forces, and panels addressing a wide variety of education issues – the teaching workforce a chief one among them. Repeatedly, several of us addressed the priority issue of “recruitment and retention,” making the case that the order very much influenced the focus of the energy to address the problem. We felt that we needed to deal with “first retention, then recruitment.” It might sound simple, but spending more effort on recruitment over retention is like trying to fill a bathtub with water when the tub has a hole in it.

So how do we focus on retention first?

For one thing, we acknowledge all of the obstacles and all of the factors that make staying in the profession challenging.

But there is another thing that may be even more important. We need to talk about all of the reasons that teachers choose to stay in the classroom.

We need to blitz the airwaves and newspapers and every other media outlet with stories of dedicated educators telling their own specific stories about their careers.

Recently, we voted on our Teacher of the Year. Each person wrote an essay about their philosophy of teaching. When I saw the list of names, I had no idea how I was going to choose one of them above all the others. After reading the essays, the task became much more difficult. Here are excerpts from each of the nominees.

Why teachers continue to teach?

“The students I teach will not only be future farmers, but doctors who may find the cure for cancer using the science of study of plants, animals, and mechanics; find new ways to produce crops in limited space; and create machines that will make those practices easier and more cost effective.” – Brickhouse


“Trying a new lab, practicing inquiry based learning strategies, incorporating an online simulation, using slick probeware, singing a ridiculous song, cheering the steps to calculating chemical formulas, dispensing cereal for edible orbitals, using S’mores to teach stoichiometry are just a few of the weapons in my arsenal of lessons.” – Freeman


“In spite of the current educational environment, I believe in public education, and the fact that the greatest strength of the public education system is quality educators. Teaching is as rewarding as it is exhausting; but the responsibility we have to our students and our community leaves no time to be tired.” – Hall


“After being in the business world for the majority of my career, I finally got the opportunity to pursue teaching as a full time career. I began teaching as a lateral entry teacher in 2009. The first day in the classroom with my students, I felt I had finally reached the area where I belonged.” – Hanna


“Teaching is the only profession where you are able to create change one day at a time. As we consistently change with the ever-changing world, our classrooms and teaching strategies must change equally.” – Milliken


“I love to teach and I care for my students. When a student walks through my classroom door, I own my responsibility to that child. The best rewards are when I see my students succeed, small or large scale. I also find it rewarding when my students realize how much I do care for them, as a person and not just in math class.” – Parks


“Teaching is not all about lecturing or inventing ways to teach. It is about a relationship between a teacher and their students including the support of other colleagues and the community that surrounds the school. Rita Pierson once said, ‘Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.’ Everything that a teacher does is all for the students. That is why I teach.” – Pendergrast


“I approach education as an invitation to discover.  Educators need to be passionate, knowledgeable, and above all, delighted by the process of learning.  Students who are in a classroom with a teacher who delights in learning may be more willing to accept the invitation and enter into the journey of learning.  At times that requires the educator to be able to say, ‘I don’t know so let’s find out together.'” – Raymond


“At the completion of four years, my greatest hope it that the students leave me in better shape than they came, ready to tackle new challenges and make good choices. In the end, when they walk across that stage, I will see the smile on their faces and feel the smile on mine. That smile will be there because I know that I had a part in it, and something I taught them will make a difference in their lives.” – Sartwell

Let’s spread the word about the great things going on in great schools as the result of great teachers who continue to teach. Teachers, email the editor of EdNC at and share the reasons you choose to stay in the classroom.

Henry Foust

Henry Foust is a Spanish teacher at Northwood High School in Chatham County, He has been teaching for 31 years.