What Advertisers Can Do About the Teaching Shortage

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Recently, a friend of mine ordered 200 flesh eating beetles from the Internet.


He’s a 7th grade biology teacher. And he wanted to engage his students in the world of entomology. Knowing that kids get a kick out of being grossed out, he found the ickiest bug imaginable and set hordes of them loose on a supermarket steak.

That is the real face of teaching.

Only 9% of the top one-third of college graduates pursue a career in teaching. And America currently faces a shortage of 60,000 teachers.

Not the sanitized, selfless vision of a guy in pressed chinos and a plaid button down that looks as though he stepped out of a Sears catalog circa 1982. Nor the patient grandma-type standing at the head of a class, chalk in one hand, textbook in the other.

Teaching has changed tremendously over the past 50 years. But the way we portray it hasn’t. (Search for “teacher” in Getty Images and you’ll see what I mean.) So it should surprise no one that today’s high-performing college students have set their sights on other, more seemingly innovative careers in tech.

Can you blame them?

In our reluctance to portray teaching as anything other than a selfless career choice — something you sacrifice yourself to in order to make the world a better place — we lose all the brilliant students who want their jobs to be more than an exercise in martyrdom.

Only 9% of the top one-third of college graduates pursue a career in teaching. And America currently faces a shortage of 60,000 teachers. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that several states are even being forced to loosen requirements for teacher certification due to the scarcity of candidates. Rather than lowering the bar, we should be focusing on attracting more qualified educators. These are the people, after all, helping to shape our future generations.

So what can we, as advertisers, do?

We can’t change some of the not-so-great realities of teaching. Namely, the salary. But we can begin to bust the myth that teaching is boring and perfunctory — and to start showing it for what it really is. Creative. Weird. Funny. Enriching. Challenging. A job that’ll give you lots of stories to share with friends over a beer. A job that, unlike other entry-level roles, puts you in a leadership role right from the start. A job where people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, bizarro fashion senses and weird hobbies can learn, advance and thrive.

The recent Ad Council campaign for TEACH.org begins to change the representation and conversation around teaching. As advertisers, we’re storytellers and metaphorical picture painters and we need to create and share more realistic portrayals of teachers today. The implications of this issue are serious and with the teacher shortage expected to grow to 110,000 by 2021, it couldn’t come at a better time.

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