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July 26, 2022

An Open Letter to New Educators

Your Choices Can Make All the Difference

By Dr. Mark David Milliron, Senior Vice President of Western Governors University and Executive Dean of the School of Education

Throughout this year, Western Governors University (WGU) is celebrating its 25th anniversary by hosting several in-person commencements in regions across the country. Attending these ceremonies, you can’t help but soak in the joy and excitement seen on the faces of our graduates and their family members. 

WGU Teachers College graduate and commencement speaker Commencement speaker and recent WGU graduate Emily Bertholic, MAT in Teaching, Mathematics Education

As a nonprofit institution committed to helping striving students from a variety of backgrounds succeed, at our commencements you’re just as likely to see kiddos cheering for Mom or Dad as you are to see parents and grandparents waving the family flag. All with good cause. The many days, weeks, months, and years of hard work and determination have led these graduates to a particularly meaningful milestone in their lives.

However, for our WGU Teachers College graduates, this excitement runs parallel to oftentimes discouraging personal and professional challenges.  During the pandemic, our education ecosystems across the country have been upended by a massive teacher shortage. It is beyond disheartening to note that according to a recent National Education Association (NEA) survey of its members, an alarming 55% of educators now indicate that they are ready to leave the profession they love earlier than planned. Moreover, school districts nationwide are scrambling to find committed and qualified teachers to join their cause.

As Executive Dean of WGU’s School of Education, I think about what it’s like being a new educator in today’s world and the work we all have to do to help our newly minted educators stay, strive, and succeed in one of the most meaningful of careers. Indeed, to students, parents, school districts, and communities, teachers are often heroes in the purest sense of the word. Each and every day, they have to opportunity to help our children meet their learning, personal, and career exploration challenges and chart a course for making a better living and a better life. We need to champion them — along with all teachers doing this work.     

However, as with most things in life, choices matter. And even as we do our work to champion the teaching cause, I would challenge you—our newest teaching professionals—to make choices that will help you meet this moment and make a difference for years to come. Here are just a few to consider:

Choose to Thrive

As a new educator, you have chosen a path paved with endless possibilities to make a tremendous impact – the importance of your work has never been greater. Appreciating your value as an educator will help you understand the unique situations of the students that you teach. However, you need to remember to do this good work in a good way.  Social-emotional learning, for example, is an important component of our Teachers College’s curriculum, and what works for students can also work for teachers. In short, stay healthy—mentally and physically—and keep learning. Your health, wellness, and continued professional growth can be a bulwark against the many challenges that will come your way. Moreover, they will also serve as a powerful model for the young learners you strive to make a difference with every day.  

Choose to be a Difference-Maker

In cities big and small, teachers are held in high esteem – in fact, according to a Varkey Foundation survey published by the World Economic Forum, teaching is in the top ranks among the world’s most respected professions. This acknowledgement stems from your potential positive influence over students and colleagues – an influence which lasts forever. Own this ability. Embrace it. Encourage it in your colleagues. It may sound trite, but it is more than true: your smallest act can make the biggest of differences with the students you teach and reach.

WGU Teachers College graduate and 2021 U.S. Teacher of the Year finalist Maureen Stover knows first-hand how rewarding being a difference-maker is for fellow educators. In a recent profile, Maureen shares her insights on the irreplaceable value that teachers bring: “I've truly found my calling. This is where I'm meant to be. Becoming a K-12 public educator is incredible, and I feel honored and blessed to have an opportunity to work with young kids and to be part of their success stories.”

Choose to Connect and Collaborate

As you may encounter challenges and changes throughout your career, one thing is certain – you are never alone. Just by entering the teaching profession, you are forever allied with other educators around the world from many disciplines with whom you can connect and collaborate. You are part of a community in which influential bonds with students shape their futures. And with personal learning networks and alumni support such as WGU’s Night Owls program, the groundwork is already in place for you to embrace, as you aspire to become the best educator that you can be.

While the education landscape has certainly changed over the past two years – and will continue to evolve in the months and years to come – you are a new educator for a reason. Many crucial decisions have led you to this moment, and as you grow as an education professional, know that you already have the passion and the power to change lives. As we envision a new possible in education, your talent and vision will be a vital part of this reimagining. So, to new teachers across the country: never forget how important you are to so many, and never forget the power of your choices!

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