We must support our teachers, just as they support our children

The start of the new school year is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to those efforts. A recent report by the Illinois State Board of Education found roughly 5,300 unfilled positions at Illinois schools, including more than 1,000 openings at CPS.

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A teacher works with a student at Chalmers Elementary in Chicago.

A teacher works with a student at Chalmers Elementary in Chicago.

Nam Y. Huh/AP Photos

There’s a common saying: “Teaching is the one profession that touches all other professions.” Whether a child becomes an artist or an astronaut, they will spend much of their early lives supported by teachers who help them build a strong foundation for whatever comes next.

These words have rung true all throughout my life, from my time as a Chicago Public Schools student on the South Side of Chicago to the various teaching and administrative positions I’ve held throughout my career in education. My teachers supported me through thick and thin, noticing the overwhelming desire I had to learn and always investing in me to reach new heights.

Despite the vital importance of the teaching profession, many of our students will soon return to classrooms that lack the effective educators they need to help them thrive. While those of us in education have been patching holes in the teacher pipeline for years, we must constantly adapt with the start of each school year.

With 25-plus years of experience in education — from teacher to principal and now the chief program officer of The Golden Apple Foundation, an organization working to be a material solution to the teacher shortage — I always tell teachers to be fearless and relentless as they advocate for their students. Now, we must do the same for our teachers, and be intentional about creating conditions that empower them to show up as their best selves for our kids.

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Current data on teacher shortages suggests that there is much to be done when it comes to setting educators up for success. A recent report by the Illinois State Board of Education found roughly 5,300 unfilled positions at Illinois schools, including more than 1,000 openings at CPS. A nationwide survey by the National Education Association found that 55% of current teachers are signaling they are considering leaving the profession.

These numbers are frightening. Without highly effective, passionate educators, who will be there for our kids? Who will provide the educational and personal support I was so fortunate to receive while I was a student?

The current shortage is a crisis, but it doesn’t have to be. Addressing it will not only require getting more teachers into the pipeline and into classrooms of need, but also providing holistic support so they stay in the profession for years to come.

“Able, prepared and excited”

Hope for solving the teacher shortage crisis lies with those who have the drive to make an impact as a teacher, but lack the resources and support to do so. Future educators are out there, but we must ensure they’re able, prepared, and excited to take on the role of teacher. That’s where initiatives like Golden Apple’s Scholars and Accelerators programs make a difference. These programs provide the financial assistance, hands-on experience and ongoing mentoring necessary to break down key barriers that currently prevent so many candidates, and especially minority candidates, from pursuing the profession.

Collectively, more than half of all Golden Apple Scholars are the first generation in their families to attend college, and approximately 50% are people of color. The Accelerators program also opens the door to career changers who may have found their calling to teach post-college.

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I knew I was destined to become an educator, but family finances limited my ability to attend college. It wasn’t until I heard about the Golden Apple Scholars from my career counselor that I saw a path to making my dream a reality. I applied and became a proud 1992 Golden Apple Scholar. The program put me in the best position possible to have an amazingly impactful career in the same CPS system that I attended as a child.

There is a path for our future educators, but the responsibility of leading them to that path, and ensuring they stay the course, lies with us. I have no doubt that if individuals are given the same support I had, they will be set up for a long, fulfilling journey in education.

We must support our educators the way they support our children. The start of the new school year provides us an opportunity to recommit ourselves to those efforts. We need to ensure our teachers have what they need to not only enter the profession but stay in it — and continue shaping the futures of artists, astronauts and everything in between.

Kesa Thurman Stovall is the chief program officer of The Golden Apple Foundation.

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