In Elka Torpey’s (2018) article “ Projections for teachers: How many are leaving the occupation?” According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, between the years of 2016 and 2026, more than 270,000 teachers will be leaving the profession each year. Whether it is retirement, career changes, burn-out, there are a lot of open teaching positions. That was before the onset of the COVID-19 factor, which has impacted each of our lives in so many different ways.
As described in the Madeline Fox (2021) article, “Teacher retirements were up in 2020 and more are expected in 2021,” the Covid pandemic has caused many teachers to evaluate their retirement plans and, in many cases, make the decision to retire early. According to the Fox (2021) article, there are various factors that are causing teachers to make this decision, including but not limited to: health fears; burnout; feelings of not being able to manage; etc.
Whether teachers are retiring because they are reaching the age of retirement or making the decision to retire early for any reason, we are in the midst of teacher shortage and are losing mentoring teachers who have been relied upon to usher in the new waves of teachers. All of this is leading to the reality that there are going to be a lot of new teachers in our classrooms. While training Montessori teachers may have a slight advantage in that many Montessori teacher education programs require a year of supervised practicum, the reality is that teaching is hard work and mentorship and support is incredibly important, especially in the early years of a teacher’s teaching career.
The first question then becomes: Where are we finding the teachers? In a publicly acknowledged underpaid career field that is increasingly becoming more about parent management rather than inspiring students, we need to find teachers and nurture and guide them to become the types of teachers needed to replace the expanding sinkhole of seasoned educators.
Now, assuming young adults entering university make the decision to enter the education field, whether it is to work in a kindergarten or a high school (private or public), Montessori, traditional, and any of the other flavors of education out there, what are our expectations of these teachers?
This is the first generation of young adults that have grown up with their entire lives memorialized on social media. Essentially, these young professionals entering the workplace have a history, good or bad, and it is there for us to see, criticize, judge, and ultimately use to make decisions regarding character.
So, to reference a 2021 article published in the Washington Post, “The Right to be Forgotten: Should teens’ social media pages disappear as they age?” Davis (2021) shares stories of the impact of older social media posts on careers, and we are all aware of stories that have impacted college scholarships, public perceptions, etc. Davis, (2021) writes, “Some question whether what children post online (and what others post about children) should follow them into adulthood, potentially affecting their academic and vocational careers.”
Most schools follow a similar hiring practice that includes local and national background checks. These checks generally report infractions, ranging from simple misdemeanors to more serious felonies. What is not included on these federal or law enforcement background checks, is whether Suzy (as a young adult) posted a picture smoking a joint back in college or whether Jack (also as a young adult) allegedly made a sexually provocative response to a classmate and used inappropriate language.
Whether these youthful indiscretions may not be relevant to the present, be assured that inquisitive parents and students will find that post from ten years ago. While there may not have been any laws broken, is that comment or photo more damning because someone was photographed smoking marijuana (which is now legal in 18 states and Washington, DC) at a friend’s house?
My response is, “YES!”
Going back to the Davis (2021) article, “Should Teens’ Social Media Pages Disappear as they Age?”
As there is an increasing need for teachers, a hole that will have to be filled with these young men and women entering the workforce, as we read through their CVs and discuss their interest in the positions, should we also look into their Facebook and Instagram pages? Google is public, so it is certainly not illegal to do a basic search. Even if we don’t look into it, a parent or our students certainly will.
What happens when we find something we don’t like? Furthermore, an expectation of teachers, and even more so, Montessori teachers, is that we need to be able to stand behind what we teach children. More explicitly, how can we talk about modeling behaviors and responsible use of social media when we have a teacher with a less than stellar digital record?
Summarizing the points suggested above: there is an increasing shortage of teachers that need to be filled by young men and women, many of whom have less than perfect social media records that are publicly available for judgment.
While the reality is that many of the applicants will not have any skeletons in their closet waiting to be discovered, the question still remains as to how we value and or judge someone based on decisions or judgments made before the frontal lobes of the brain were able to comprehend future consequences. Davis (2021) asks this question differently: “When should a person’s ‘permanent digital record’ start recording, if ever? To what extent should social media be a space for trial-and/or-error exploration around identity and social behavior?”
If we are to judge others based on the higher than average expectations of Montessori teachers, are we not only limiting the potential eligible candidate needed to fill the Montessori teacher shortage, but are we also denying the fundamental principles we teach of learning from mistakes. If we are to measure young adults based on decisions made years earlier, are we encouraging children to not self-express? Are we warning against risk? This is non-synonymous with being careless with our words and actions but acknowledging the biological and neurological transformation that takes place in the third and fourth planes of development.
Citing Dr. Maria Montessori, Camillo Grazzini describes the third plane of development (ages 12-18), stating, “This is the time, says Montessori, ‘when the social man is created but has not reached full development; this is the time ‘the sensitive period when they should develop the most noble characteristics that would prepare a man to be social, that is to say, a sense of justice and personal dignity.”
Describing adolescence, Dr. Montessori wrote, “The period of life in which maturity is attained is a delicate and difficult time, because of the rapid development and change which the organism must go through.” Again, describing adolescence, Montessori wrote: “From the physiological point of view this is also a critical age. There are doubts and hesitations, violent emotions, discouragement, and an unexpected decrease in intellectual capacity.”
Collectively, we (the grown-ups in the room) are facing questions about how to evaluate a young person’s character when they are making decisions for which they may not be able to adequately comprehend the consequences. This is not to suggest that students or adults should be immune to bad decisions, lack of judgment, or impulsive and emotional responses.
This is simply a plea, from an imperfect Montessori educator, in a time of scarcity and heightened emotional tension, to focus on the person, the development of responsible men and women, and focus on awareness and education rather than judgment.
Dr. Daniel Robinson (Robin) Howe began his Montessori career at the age of two at the Barrie School in Silver Spring, MD, which he attended through the eighth grade. Graduating from Dickinson College with two majors (Spanish and Religion), he went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Bioethics from University of South Florida. After successfully pursuing a career in the restaurant industry, Robin decided to return to certification from Palm Harbor Montessori School (AMS) then attended St. Catherine’s University to earn his Lower and Upper Elementary Certification (AMS). He also attended NAMTA’s Orientation to Adolescent Studies (AMI). Robin holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Argosy University and worked with The Montessori Foundation’s management team at NewGate (the Foundation’s lab school), serving as Associate Head of School and as a Senior Montessori Foundation School Consultant. In his spare time, Robin lives with two Elf cats and has set a personal goal to run marathons in all fifty states.