Changing the conversation: Too smart NOT to teach

What action steps are needed to change the conversation about teaching? In this guest post Roz Byrne looks at examples from global leaders on how to solve the teacher shortage crisis by changing how American society views and values the profession. Teachers can start by telling students that they are too smart NOT to teach.

By Roz Byrne

Roz Byrne has dedicated over a decade to the education profession. She currently teaches World Studies to both middle and high school students in Atlanta, GA, where she also serves as the 9th grade dean. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Teacher Leadership through Mount Holyoke College. You can follow her @TheMsByrne.

Previously in this roundtable, Krista Galleberg wrote about how she was once told by her teacher that she was “too smart to teach.” Well I have a confession to make: I’ve been that teacher. Before you stop reading, please let me explain.

Earlier this year I accompanied a group of sixth graders to an early childhood education center in the heart of Atlanta. My students enjoyed working with and reading to these preschoolers. After our trip, I asked my students to share what they had learned from the experience. One of my brightest students, Margaret, raised her hand and shared that this experience made her want to be a teacher when she grows up. While I told her how wonderful I thought that was, in my head I was really thinking, “Oh Margaret, trust me. You don’t want to be a teacher.”

I was troubled by my own thoughts. I’m a teacher, and I’ve been in the education field for over a decade. I understand the frustrations of classroom teaching, but I also know firsthand the joys and triumphs that come in this rewarding and important profession. Even on my worst days I still love and value what I do.

Why would I ever want to discourage an eager student from pursuing a similar path?

The truth is that even though I value my profession, I believe that American society in general does not. Despite the annual praise of educators during Teacher Appreciation Week, claims that we are valued professionals often feel empty. I’ve had to defend both my intelligence and my career choice a number of times over the last decade. And I’m not alone. Only 34% of teachers believe teaching is valued by U.S. society.

Unfortunately, because of poor societal value, many high achieving students like Margaret, despite their early intentions, will not pursue teaching. A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute found that enrollment in teacher-preparation programs dropped 35% between 2009 and 2014, leaving 250,000 teacher vacancies to fill each year. It is becoming harder for teacher-preparation programs to compete with more seemingly prestigious professions that can offer better career diversification and higher salaries.

This is why we need to change the conversation about teaching. Research shows that high quality teacher collaboration helps improve student achievement. Using that model, perhaps American educators can work with and look toward global education leaders for solutions on how to raise the value of teachers in our society and solve the teacher shortage challenge.

Global Examples

The United Kingdom addressed their teacher shortage crisis by creating a major campaign that rebranded the teaching profession and improved the status of British teachers. The government also put a substantial amount of money into emphasizing the diversity of skills teachers could acquire, and scholarships were provided for teachers who went into education, specifically for candidates in the fields of math or physics.

As explored by Jessica Roberts in her roundtable post, Finland creates a highly competitive teaching program by requiring a research-based masters degree for those entering the teaching field. This also helps to give Finns autonomy in the classroom.

Other leading countries, including Singapore and Canada, are able to attract and retain strong teachers by making their careers more sustainable. While proper compensation is always a struggle, these leading countries provide teachers with career diversification through hybrid roles and schedules that properly balance time in front of students with time for planning and collaboration.

Researchers have noted that collaborative time is an indicator of both job satisfaction and teachers’ belief that their profession is valued in society. American teachers spend more of their time in front of students than their average global counterparts. This means that American teachers have less time for planning, grading, and collaborating.

Teacher Leader Action Steps

We don’t have time to wait for government leaders to make large-scale legislative changes similar to those in other successful countries. In order to tackle the urgency of teacher recruitment and retention issues, it is up to American teacher leaders to be the agents of change. 

There are many ways educators can take immediate steps to help our profession, including these four strategies:

  1. Valuing current professionals: Before we expect American society to value teachers, teachers need to first feel valued in their own schools. Teacher leaders can help create school cultures where educators feel like valued professionals. This can be done by creating programs that support professional growth and collaboration with colleagues, while also giving experienced teachers more autonomy in the classroom.

  2. Partnering with preservice programs: Teacher leaders can work closely with teacher preparation programs to help mentor student teachers and continue to work with new teachers as they enter the field full-time. As they do in other successful countries, teachers should stay on top of educational research, thus promoting a culture of best practice and ensuring teachers are the go-to experts when it comes to education policy.

  3. Redesigning roles & compensation strategies: Teacher leaders can also make changes in their own communities by working with their schools, districts, and even legislators to implement new compensation strategies or create diversified career paths and hybrid roles to attract and retain strong teachers.

  4. Reframing the conversation: Finally, and most importantly, teacher leaders should speak intelligently and positively about the profession, especially to non-educators. How we speak about our own profession may have a direct impact on our ability to recruit high-quality teachers and shape how society views teaching.

We can start by encouraging our own bright students, like Margaret, to join what we know to be a very rewarding career. Just think how different the state of education might be if we told students they were too smart not to become teachers.


Roz’s post is part of CTQ’s May/June blogging roundtable on teacher shortages. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.