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I recently was asked to present some ideas to a group of aspiring educators on what the teaching profession held in store as they embarked on their professional lives. Since that talk, the topic has continued to germinate new thinking for me. What would the teaching profession look like over the next 30 years and what changes should we expect? Presented below are some juxtapositions and generalizations on that question – drawn in part from thinking about the Center for Teaching Quality’s (CTQ) excellent work, Teaching 2030. Many of these are, of course, already underway to a degree. However, in looking ahead I imagine these “new school” trends will be the norm, and not the exception. I look forward to your responses and reactions.
Teaching is telling versus learning is doing. There is indeed a revolution underway in how teaching and learning intersect. Past and present it was acceptable to “stand and deliver” and covering content meant that the teacher said it. On the other side of the looking glass, it won’t be considered “taught” unless the learner experiences, understands, and can apply the knowledge.
Teaching is the new law. When we compare teaching to professions like medicine and law, stark differences emerge in terms of selectivity, expectations for preparation, degrees of professional autonomy, and levels of compensation. Over the next 30 years, I expect all of these factors to change course. It will be more difficult to get into and out of teacher education programs and competitiveness for initial teaching jobs will increase. Starting pay levels will rise as we work to attract top talent into the field and professional autonomy will grow as we leave a form of education where fact/recall preparation sufficed.
“Teacherpreneurs.” A term coined by the folks at CTQ, this idea posits that teachers of the future will have a great diversity of career options, or pathways, available to them. Teachers, using their individual talents infused with the spirit of entrepreneurship, will reject the limited career options currently available and will instead develop individualized and specialized roles including mentoring, student supports, leadership, curriculum design, and policy.
Personalization will rule. Like practically everything else about our world, students and parents will demand an education specifically tailored to individual needs, interests, and talents. Students will exercise greater autonomy over curriculum pace and content as well greater autonomy in the manner by which knowledge is gained. In exchange for this autonomy, evidence of competence or mastery will be expected of students and the educators will coordinate and facilitate this personalized learning experience.
The new labor/management paradigm. We already see this shift occurring in the world’s highest performing school systems. Unions evolve to function more as professional guilds, meaning they are standard-bearers in insuring quality of the profession and take on an advocacy role less related to worker rights and pay and more related to the institution of public education. Management approaches will also be different and on a large scale. Top-down and autocratic management approaches will be viewed the same way workplace smoking and harassment once were. Instead, the norm will be inclusive and distributed leadership and the role of the people with formal leadership titles will be focused on getting the conditions right where their education professionals can do their best work.
Accountability and diminishing returns. We will see that ever increasing attempts to raise performance through accountability-based mechanisms result in small to no improvements in results. Instead, the focus on accountability will be replaced with a focus on collaborative inquiry. Genius and high performance takes root in the team setting and our thinking and innovations will increasingly center on ways to structure and enhance team-based sharing and learning and translating that into actions.
Many pathways into the profession – all of high quality. The current landscape of traditional versus alternative preparation pathways are both soon-to-be dinosaurs. Blended models and shared ideas will emerge between universities, non-profits, and education employers to create a variety of on-ramps into education. Each of these on-ramps will be very selective, emphasize strength in content, pedagogy (especially the ability to personalize learning), and clinical (or field-based) experience.
Sharing expertise is the solution. Identifying high quality educators and replicating those skills will become the norm. Isolated professional work in education will be considered heresy and models of co-teaching, continuous mentoring throughout one’s career, and meaningful involvement with professional learning communities will all be professional expectations. Learning environments will be transparent, where multiple educators will move through and within them for the purposes of sharing, critiquing, supporting, and learning.
*Thanks to the Iowa State University Education Association for the beginning ideas in this post and for reacting to my original presentation.
An unfortunate aspect of the current debate on education in our country is the polarizing nature of the discussion. It would seem that everyone must be in the “Education Reform Camp” (teachers and unions are the problem, charter schools and firing people are the answer) or the “Status Quo Defender” camp (all our problems could be solved if we were just left alone, had a better curriculum, and were given more money). Of course, I over-generalize here, just for fun – but I hope you get my drift.
Education leaders on both sides of this debate are heavily influenced by the extremists in their respective camps. Pick a fight and raise hell and you’ll be ballyhoo’ed as a champion. Compromise and you’ll be vilified as a wimp and sell-out to the cause. Unfortunate, but true.
What we should agree on is that our education policies should be all about improvement.
A recent study noted that in the U.S. we recruit teachers from roughly the bottom quartile of college graduates. What are we doing to get higher caliber candidates into the teaching pipeline and are we preparing them for the tough job they have ahead? A recent study from Tennessee suggests, at least in that state – but I bet the results pan out across the country, there are significant differences. We can do better in preparing teachers.
We also do a pretty terrible job of recruiting and screening teacher candidates. Some research even suggests that being really bright, having a high GPA, and coming from a top school actually hurts your chances of getting hired. I did a recent webinar for AASPA on this issue. We can do better.
Teaching in many schools is a lonely experience. Most schools allow for little real and meaningful professional learning, collaboration, or interaction opportunities for educators. The traditional model of professional development is for someone on high to devise an “initiative,” get some funding for it, and then cram it down through various organizations to the classroom teacher. By the time it gets to them, it frequently has little meaning or relevance to what they face on a daily basis. We need to turn this whole system upside down and empower teachers in schools to tell the system what they need, and then configure the system to deliver. Again, we can do better.
We also don’t do a very good job evaluating teachers. Dan Weisberg’s “The Widget Effect” shone the light on this national issue. I would venture that just by paying attention to the fundamental elements of validity (does the evaluation measure good teaching) and reliability (is the evaluation administered consistently) we could dramatically improve the quality teacher evaluations, and actually make them something that can lead to improvement. We can do better!
Then there is the issue of teacher dismissal, which garners all the headlines … and may be all that many of you remember about reading this piece.
Let me be clear on this next point, because we have a really hard time talking about it and I want to be very clearly understood: By far, the vast majority of teachers are amazing, kind, and selfless people who would do anything they could to help kids and help their community. These are the teachers who have inspired us, who saved our lives in one way or another, and who deserve our gratitude for their service and for sharing their gifts with us and our children.
There is also a small minority of teachers who are failing our kids and our schools. Sometimes, a teacher is failing our kids because of the system they have been put into and they lack the necessary supports and leadership to be successful. However, there are also teachers who are failing our kids because they either don’t have what it takes (talent or knowledge) or they don’t have an interest in getting better.
Great teaching is really hard work and (contrary to popular opinion) not everyone can do this well. But the structures we have now treat all these kinds of teachers the same regardless of their quality. We ignore the real differences in teachers because it’s a difficult conversation and the determination of quality involves a degree of human judgment. Because of this, we have created systems and legal protections beyond those in any other field that make it nearly impossible to remove an ineffective teacher.
We have all been complicit in creating and perpetuating this system – teachers, unions, administrators, school boards, legislators, governors, and the voters. All of us are to blame for where we are now … and all of us must share in the responsibility of making it better.
It’s about improvement – we can do better.
New York, NY