MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — Teachers have been under a microscope and many have decided to leave the profession, but there are still those waiting in the wings.

News 2’s Mark Kelly talked to future educators on the cusp of graduation.

For the past four years, Macklin Zehr sat inside the classrooms at Middle Tennessee State University learning how to be a teacher.

“I’m just very passionate about teaching all students,” said Zehr.

But outside the classroom these past few years, we have seen fiery school board meetings, legislative changes to school testing and funding, and teachers leaving the profession.

“Nothing good in life comes easily, and that is why I stuck with teaching in 2020, after a little bit of discouragement,” she added.

The reality is teachers are leaving. There were 3,702 teachers in the pipeline for the 2014-15 school year. In 2021, that dropped to 3,034. That’s an 18% decrease, according to the 2021 educator preparation report card.

“I think it’s important that, you know, that teachers are supported, so they don’t feel like they have to leave. And so they, you know, feel like… what I’m doing is worth it.”

MTSU Education Professor Pamela Kramer Ertel said teachers being replaced by less experienced educators is her big concern.

“I think when there is a shortage, there’s always the challenge of let’s just get someone in there. And we want to make sure that we have quality teachers that are prepared for the demands of this job that are going to do good things for children,” said Ertel.

Ertel said pay raises would help, but it’s respect that goes a long way too.

“Sometimes you don’t have to do something dramatic, but making that first step to show appreciation and help people feel respected and valued for what they do,” Ertel added.

Back in the classroom, students discuss real-world scenarios, like communicating with parents.

“I think we really have to look at parents as partners, that they are the most important person in that child’s life. And so we have to respect them, we have to listen to them, we can accomplish more together than separately,” said Zehr.

Zehr will learn this first-hand when she graduates this spring. And with all the naysaying about teaching, Zehr still knows she can do some good.

“If you think about somebody who had an impact on you, besides maybe like a pastor or your parents, a lot of times it’s the teacher. So I think that that was what kept me going, not for myself, but for students,” said Zehr.

Professor Ertel said the COVID-19 pandemic made two big changes to education: one, technology as a teaching tool; and two, exposing a mental health crisis among students that teachers must now be able to navigate.