I recently thought about the most inspirational teachers in my high school and college days -- Mr. Kotter and Mr. Keating. Mr. Kotter, from the television show Welcome Back, Kotter, came to me in reruns and convinced me that a good life was not out of reach. Mr. Keating, from the movie Dead Poet's Society, challenged his students and the rest of us to "make your lives extraordinary." These two educators grabbed my attention and made me feel excited about the future.
But sadly, I made it through high school and college with fictional characters as my greatest inspirations. It turns out I'm not alone.
Gallup recently polled over 200,000 high school students through the Gallup Student Poll and more than 30,000 college alumni through the Gallup-Purdue Index about their academic lives and beyond. Half of the high school students we polled said they don't have a single teacher who excites them about the future. And one-third of the American college graduates we surveyed said they didn't have a single professor who excited them about learning.
This is a huge missed opportunity for these students. The high school students who said they had at least one teacher who made them feel excited about the future were 4.4 times more likely to be involved in and enthusiastic about school than those who did not. These students were also 1.9 times more likely to be thriving in their lives than those who didn't have a teacher who excited them about the future.
College graduates who said at least one professor made them feel excited about learning were twice as likely to be engaged in their current jobs. These grads were also 1.5 times more likely to be thriving in all areas of well-being than those who didn't have a professor who had made them feel excited about learning.
Another Gallup poll reveals that America's systemic shortage of inspiring teachers may be rooted in the fact that only 30% of K-12 public school teachers are engaged in their jobs. This means that seven in 10 teachers are not enthusiastic about and committed to their work. And the 13% of K-12 public school teachers who are "actively disengaged" are actually doing more harm than good, spreading demoralization rather than inspiration. If teachers are not engaged at work, it's difficult for them to do a competent job much less inspire their students.
We clearly have a shortage of inspirational teachers and professors. To fix it, policymakers, provosts and principals must prioritize recruiting new teachers and professors who can do more than teach content competently and must engage existing educators by letting them do more of what they do best. To win the hearts and minds of American students, we need teachers and professors who are enthusiastic about their work and capable of spreading that enthusiasm to learners. We have to find more real-life Mr. Kotters and Mr. Keatings.