The Power of Inspiration in Creating and Retaining Our Country's Educators

Shot of graduation caps during commencement.
Shot of graduation caps during commencement.

It's graduation season, and all across the country students of all ages are donning caps and gowns to celebrate a milestone of academic achievement. Some will go on to continue additional paths of study; others will soon find themselves taking steps toward a new job or career.

In the world of education, graduation season is also the time when student teachers advance into professional teaching roles. Years of study have prepared them to take the lead role in the classroom, a role responsible for shaping and inspiring young minds. It's an exciting opportunity; one that, if fulfilled to its highest potential, has the promise of leaving a positive impact on our world for generations to come.

But today, the number of individuals going into the teaching profession seems to be dwindling. According to a 2016 survey of college freshman done by the University of California at Los Angeles, only 4.2 percent indicate their intention of pursuing an education major. That percentage is down by more than half from the last survey in 2010.

And for those who do choose to go into teaching, data suggests that nearly one fourth will either move to different schools or leave the profession altogether within their first five years in the classroom -- costing school districts time, money, and effort to find replacements.

The combination of these two factors poses a challenge to the field of education. Of the diminishing number of teachers available, how do school's find replacements who will not only fill physical gaps in the classroom, but also commit themselves to a long-term career dedicated to increasing student achievement?

There are many resources on the market today hoping to help answer that question using big data and analytics -- PeopleAdmin being one of them. But looking beyond the numbers, there's an emotional case to be made for the role inspiration can play in helping address teacher shortages and teacher retention. The field must do more to recognize and appreciate the generations of past and present educators who are leaving their mark and offering inspiration to lift up the aspirations of those entering the field for the first time.

That is exactly what we're trying to do with our Inspired2Educate program, which we launched in February. We want to encourage a national conversation around the many different ways educators leave a lasting positive impact on us -- not just while we're in school, but for as long as we live.

I recently read a piece that illustrates the kind of inspiration I'm referring to. The Washington Post ran a profile piece this week on Donovan Livingston, who recently graduated from Harvard with a master's degree in education. As someone with teaching experience in city schools, as well as a graduate student at one of the top academic institutions in the country, Donovan has seen the full spectrum of what our country's education system has to offer.

He was selected to give a convocation speech, and delivered a poem to his fellow students that that has since been reprinted and shared across the internet. It is deeply moving, incredibly challenging, and wonderfully inspiring. In his poem, Donovan writes:

"To educate requires Galileo-like patience.
Today, when I look my students in the eyes, all I see are constellations.
If you take the time to connect the dots,
You can plot the true shape of their genius...

"Are we not astronomers -- searching for the next shooting star?
I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships --
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their true potential from right where they stand."

It's exciting to see this kind of inspiration making headlines. I hope that all present and future educators, like Donovan, dedicate themselves to aligning the stars within their students and making an indelible impact not just in the classroom, but in the world.

And finally, I hope they take the time to share that inspiration, both with their students and with each other. It's an important part of the education equation, and if properly harnessed, might be what the industry needs to bring more shooting stars into classrooms for years to come.

Kermit S. Randa is chief executive officer of PeopleAdmin, the leader in cloud-based talent management solutions for education and government. He has twenty years of executive experience leading firms in the software industry.