I volunteer weekly at my church in the 5th grade youth ministry and each week we have anywhere from 25-50 kids in our care. We walk them through curriculum, obviously centered around Jesus and the Christian faith, but also incorporate life skills and adult topics into the curriculum to help to transition them into middle school the next year. One day we were talking about what they wanted to do when they grew up, an age old classic question inquisitive adults have been pestering children with for centuries. After hearing the usual doctor, police officer, basketball player and even a rare paleontologist, I realized that not a single kid aspired to be a teacher. I myself am an agricultural education major, but that decision didn’t stem from a childhood dream to one day teach high schoolers how a plant absorbs energy or that the ‘Boston Butt’ cut of meat actually comes from a pig’s shoulder. I was originally enrolled as an agricultural leadership major, but switched to agricultural education once I discovered the extreme teacher shortage our country is facing. If you’re not hip to that knowledge, let me bring you to the table. California has experienced a 53% decrease in teacher enrollment programs in the last five years. North Carolina has seen a 20% decrease. That’s just two examples. Even alternative certification programs such as Teach For America have seen consistent declines of nearly 15% for the past two years, after ten years of growth. Nationally, teacher-training programs are down an average of 15% from where they were in 2012. I could go on, but I think you get the point. So there’s a shortage, yet the next generation seemingly has no aspiration to solve the problem. While these kids may only be in the 5th grade, at what point do we bring them into the conversation? At what point do we pass on part of the responsibility to them? I believe the earlier we can expose youth to this issue the earlier we can get them to care and the faster we can start to reverse this decline. Where does this process of illumination start? For me, no where else but the classroom itself. Teachers are the only individuals, outside of student’s immediate families, who interact with them on a personal basis every single day. Teachers must become our number one recruiters for their own profession if we hope to resolve this issue. This teacher shortage is simply not something our country can ignore. While there were plenty of kids to claim to be future veterinarians, athletes and chefs, for every kid with an answer there were two that stuck with a simple, “I don’t know.” While we shouldn’t try and sway a child’s current ambition, there’s no harm in clarifying their uncertainty by guiding them towards teaching as a future career. While this teacher shortage may not be the fault of the next generation, they do share in the responsibility of solving it. The current reality is, whether a child wants to be a doctor, agriculturalist, astronaut or president of the United States of America, each will have had teachers that played a major role in helping them realize that dream. Now we all must work to ensure that remains a reality for generations to come.