Blue Valley students explore teaching careers at time when profession is under strain

Local high school students, including these four from Blue Valley schools, attended an event Tuesday at Johnson County Community College about pursuing a career in education. The event was co-hosted by Emporia State University's Teachers College. Above, from left, seniors Jenna Schwarting from Blue Valley Northwest, Gabby Kern from Blue Valley North, Kate Gifford from Blue Valley West and Libby Coffnan from Blue Valley High. Photo by Lucie Krisman

Hundreds of students from roughly more than a dozen local high schools came to the campus of Johnson County Community College on Tuesday to learn more about pursuing careers in education. 

The “Buzz Into Education” Day event was put on by JCCC and Emporia State University Teachers College and featured a range of informational breakout sessions and speakers who currently work in education. 

It served as an opportunity for local students to hear more about the education programs at JCCC and ESU. 

The event was also intended to help students learn more about a profession that has faced heightened levels of scrutiny and stress in recent years, with schools’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and politicized battles over the teaching of race and history. 

Blue Valley students consider education careers 

Blue Valley West senior Kate Gifford said she wants to become a teacher to return the ways that her own teachers have positively impacted her learning. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and impact students like I’ve had some teachers impact me,” she said. “I want to be that impact and that resource for kids.”

Blue Valley High School senior Libby Coffnan said she became inspired to become a teacher after working with children through summer camp and special needs coaching for several years.

Finding future teachers is especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on teaching, she said. 

“(Many teachers) don’t like teaching on the computers because they started out teaching in person,” she said. “A lot of them have quit or gone away. There’s not that many left, and we’re honestly short on subs, too.”

Emma Medlock, an event volunteer and junior studying education at ESU, said it’s important for new teachers to bring new ideas into education.   

“Teachers really aren’t treated the way they should be, and there are a lot of inequities with students in different areas and things like that,” she said. “I think we need young teachers with new ideas to go into education so that they can change the field to make it better.” 

‘Something different than we expect’ 

Tiffany Hill, director of elementary education at ESU and co-organizer of the event, said it’s important to build the confidence of education students before they enter their own classrooms. 

“We’re hoping to get these high school students excited about teaching as a profession,” she said. “Sometimes we can think that we know exactly what teaching is because we sat in elementary classroom or sat in a high school classroom. But in fact, teaching as a profession — teaching through the lens of a teacher, not the lens of a student — is sometimes different than we expect. ”

Craig Butler, education professor at JCCC and co-organizer of the event, said it’s important for future educators to learn how to form relationships with their students and to create an accepting environment. 

Finding future teachers is important given the state’s current teacher shortage, he said. The problem has become so acute, the state board of education passed an emergency rule loosening rules for who can become a substitute teacher. 

Butler said teachers are a crucial part of young people’s foundation of learning. 

Every profession starts from the teaching profession,” he said. “You know what your teacher taught, but you don’t remember exactly what they taught you. But you remember how they made you feel when they come in that room, and you remember how they made you feel when you left that room.” 

Todd Roberts, event organizer and an ESU advisor, said it’s important for future educators to understand all students will have different backgrounds- and all are deserving of an education. 

I think our society is truly based off getting a good education,” he said. “We all have somebody in our life that has had that impact, and a lot of times it is a teacher. We want to truly inspire and help them be able to positively impact future generations. If we can do that, we can make the better world a better place overall.”