Advocacy for Educator Preparation Has Never Been More Critical
This op-ed originally appeared in District Administration and is reprinted with permission.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented responses. For the first time, much of the country appears to have the same goal: getting both students and teachers back into schools. To that end, there has never been a more critical time to advocate for educator preparation and policies than now.
COVID-19 drastically changed the world, and its impact continues to influence opinions, strategies, and even political policies. The pandemic shined a spotlight on the importance of education for both students and educators alike. Everyone could finally see the existing deficits in the education system. The absence of education in the physical classroom revealed the importance of educating our children and ensuring quality learning environments.
Education is a cornerstone of our society. Now more than ever, our teachers are a critical resource. As such, we must advocate for educator preparation and policies. Our profession’s mission is to educate students and equip educators to work directly with students. This mission surpasses political lines and appeals to the core of humanity itself. As the nation focuses on deficits in education, we as educators must speak as one voice to protect our children’s future and ensure their greater needs are fulfilled.
Why should we advocate for educator preparation and education policies? The students, the students, and the students! It is that simple. We must commit to enabling student learning across the entire continuum: preschool, elementary, secondary schools, and beyond. From research, we know that incarceration rates correlate with education levels, and that informed communities fortify a stronger nation. Without education, we don’t have an informed society, and without an informed society, we have chaos.
Advocacy is a tool that creates a collective voice for change and navigates our path to continuous improvement. We must advocate for educator preparation to rectify and amend past policies, that although implemented with good intent, have since failed to achieve intended goals and are inherently flawed. And while some policies are still working, they require nurturing to remain upright in their intended mission. Such advocacy for teacher preparation prevents the entire profession from becoming stagnant, which we as educators cannot allow to happen. To maintain forward momentum, we must continue our research and gauge our progress at the local, state, and federal levels.
What significant issues should drive our advocacy efforts today?
- Leadership Reform
- Systemic Inequities
- Teacher Shortages
- Health and Well-being
Informed leadership in our schools is critical. Many in leadership attempt to stay knowledgeable, but the current system must address the need for lifelong learning and continuous improvement. We must have leaders who comprehend budgets, work collaboratively with school boards, understand both the teaching profession and the need for educator preparation, and act in the best interest of the students.
Inequity in our education system is a known issue. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our eyes were opened to the significant disparity between technological needs and general school funding. We must advocate for the essential financing to equip our schools and our students in this digital age. Real resources paired with good leadership and principled intentions can facilitate a course correction for the profession.
Before the pandemic, school districts were already confronting ongoing teacher shortages. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these pre-pandemic conditions. According to U.S. Department of Education data for the 2020–21 school year, 43 states report math teacher shortages, 42 states report science teacher shortages, and 44 states report shortages in special education teachers. Additionally, there is a growing reduction in people entering the teaching profession, which compounds these already significant shortages. Intertwined with the teacher shortage is the lack of teachers of color and diversity in the teaching profession. As a result, we have never had a greater need for teachers, especially teachers of color, than at any time in history.
COVID-19 also brought greater attention and awareness to the health and well-being of students and teachers, but it is not a problem that was solely birthed during the pandemic. Obesity, mental health, and dropout rates have consistently remained issues within the educational system. Today, it is a veritable balancing act for both teachers and students to navigate their education journey while maintaining a healthy outlook amidst the pressures to perform.
It is not easy to become an advocate, and it can be a thankless endeavor at times. However, it is imperative we advocate for educator preparation and policies. To be an effective advocate, you must channel your passion for making substantive, systemic changes. You must be willing to be a part of a collective group, speaking with one voice for the good of the whole, not just a personal agenda. When your personal passion aligns with the greater mission, then you are ready to successfully step into your role as an advocate for change.
Jane S. Bray, Ed.D., is the former dean of the Darden College of Education & Professional Studies at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk (retired). She is also professor and dean emeritus of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and former chair of the AACTE Board of Directors.