The Most Important Profession There Is

By Colin Smith, Founding School Leader, KIPP New Orleans

Last week, we received an email from an education major who wrote about the unexpected negativity she is experiencing from her peers, family members, and even professors towards the teaching profession. I responded to her directly, but I know she is not alone. Her thoughts bring back memories from when I began my own journey in teaching, years ago. This is why I decided to post my email back to her here, to support other students as they bravely head into the most important profession there is – teaching.

To an aspiring teacher:

You are at an important crossroad in your career. It may be the first time negativity among teachers surprises you, but it won’t be the last. I’m not sure how America ended up with its current view of the teaching profession, but it is unmistakably undervalued and under-resourced. Those who can’t, teach–the saying goes.

Community members here in New Orleans have said publicly that schools like mine, who have a vision and mission to serve the underserved in our community will only ever be mediocre, because of the children and families we serve. As troubling as that is, shock and disgust don’t help the movement, and anger certainly doesn’t persuade people to the cause.

What is compelling, however, is data.

Data that shows children from homes under a certain level of income can achieve at levels on or above their wealthier peers across town. Data that shows teachers make more of a difference in learning than anything else in their students’ lives. Data that shows how this nationwide achievement gap is solvable!

I have been teaching and leading now for several years (the two are synonymous) and I often encounter mindsets and language that don’t align with my own, just like you shared about. And whether that happens at family reunions, teacher trainings, or community meetings, I mentally summon the incredible colleagues who inspire me in this movement and instead of sharing my dissent or my disgust, I share OUR data. Because the data I’m talking about is the collective impact of great students, teachers, leaders, and families from across the country. Working together we are building a body of evidence that shatters the archaic thinking that income is destiny.

Our movement is gaining momentum. And it rolls onward across the country, in classrooms where teaching and learning is sacred. We need more classrooms like that, and more teachers to lead them. As you continue your journey as a teacher, keep yourself surrounded with colleagues and resources that encourage you to sharpen your skills, expand your repertoire, and deepen your relationships with students. And as our efforts move the needle on what America can expect of ALL its people, perhaps your efforts, your lesson plans–you and your students’ data–will be the needed push to move our country into a place where teaching is the most revered and honored profession, where people press their noses to the glass of a classroom’s window and marvel at the skilled, artful work happening there between teacher and students, where high expectations are as pervasive and ubiquitous as air.

Keep your chin up; plow on.