Mark Twain believed the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. I was born in rural South Carolina, the son of an auto mechanic and a homemaker. Thanks to great teachers and much-needed scholarships, I was the first member of my family to attend college — and it radically changed my life. Through the liberal arts, I delved into subjects I didn't know existed. I studied in other countries and developed a profound sense of the importance of diversity. Most of all, I figured out "the why" of my life: I was born to teach.
Even now, as president of McDaniel College in Westminster, I am proud to say I am first and foremost a teacher. Unfortunately though, teaching today — especially teaching pre-K through 12th grades — is not always viewed as a lofty career goal. According to UCLA's annual survey of students entering college, those with an interest in teaching has reached its lowest percentage in the past 45 years: less than 5 percent.
Michelle Shearer, a former national teacher of the year, recalls that as a high-achieving chemistry major at an Ivy League university, she was pressured to become "something more." Despite this, Ms. Shearer, who earned a master's degree in deaf education from McDaniel, became a high school chemistry teacher. As a teacher, she engages students who have been traditionally underrepresented in scientific fields, including students of color, women and those with special needs. She even taught Advanced Placement chemistry in American Sign Language at the Maryland School for the Deaf for the first time in the school's history.
Our country needs more skilled, dedicated teachers like Michelle. During this year's American Education Week, I propose we resolve to find new and better ways to redefine the teaching profession as one that is aspirational for our best and brightest. One way we can do this is through compensation — not just by raising teachers' salaries, but by offering more incentives to entice students into teaching in the first place.
For example, McDaniel College recently launched Teachers for Tomorrow, or T4T, a partnership with Howard County Public Schools in Maryland. Believed to be the first public-private program of its kind, T4T provides full scholarships, including tuition, room and board, for up to12 Howard County students per year, or 48 total, to attend McDaniel in exchange for their commitment to work for the school system for three years immediately following college graduation. T4T was designed to increase the diversity among Howard County's teachers while providing college access to high-achieving academically talented students with limited financial resources.
Another way McDaniel shows a commitment to teachers is through our $100,000 Educator's Legacy Scholarship. Every high school senior accepted to McDaniel with a parent or guardian who works in K-12 education qualifies for $25,000 per year for each of their four years. This scholarship also extends to the children of anyone who works in a school: counselors, nurses, support staff, administrators. We created this scholarship to recognize the contributions of educators and to make sure that middle-class families can afford a high-quality liberal-arts education. This fall, we welcomed 56 recipients of the Educator's Legacy Scholarship into the Class of 2020. They can major in any subject of their choosing, but, of course, we'd love it if they too became teachers.
Teaching is much more than a job; it's a rewarding vocation. The world's need for well-trained, talented, passionate teachers runs deep. So the next time you hear a young person express a desire to teach, I hope you will be both impressed and encouraging. And I hope that when American Education Week rolls around next year, more innovative programs will be in place to recruit and reward those bright minds who have chosen to do "something more" — by deciding to teach.
Roger N. Casey is president of McDaniel College; he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.