By Elizabeth Exline
Ask someone about his or her favorite teacher, and you’re practically guaranteed an effusive response. That’s because educators, from kindergarten teachers to college professors, have the power to evoke transformations within their students. What’s interesting is that careers in education are undergoing some transformations as a result of the shift to virtual learning.
From virtual platforms to leadership opportunities, some educators agree that teaching tomorrow may look different than it did yesterday.
"As we learn more about how students learn, about how to be more inclusive and about how to support each other as professionals, different positions and structures in schools become more common," observes Kristie Jackson, a 20-plus-year veteran of the education field.
Jackson should know. In addition to teaching kindergarten and third grade, she has served as a reading coach/interventionist, school principal and Teacher Advisory Council member with the Gates Foundation. (And that’s just the beginning.) She currently works as a senior learning strategist with BloomBoard.
While the field of education presents its own set of opportunities and challenges, new findings speak to a sense of optimism about the future of all jobs in general.
"Despite everything that people have gone through, almost 80% are feeling optimistic about their careers," explains John Woods, provost and chief academic officer at University of Phoenix (UOPX).
Woods cites the Career Optimism Index™ as support. The study was performed between December 2020 and January 2021 by an independent market research firm. It canvassed adults across the country and of every generation.
When it comes to the field of education, that optimism seems well-placed. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular has afforded new opportunities, says thought-leader, writer and speaker Michael B. Horn.
"With so many teachers having left the profession after COVID," he says. "I expect the job market for students majoring in education will be quite strong."
Horn, a senior strategist at Guild Education and a co-founder of the Christensen Institute, sees some of the most significant changes coming from technology. In addition to creating demand for virtual learning environments — and teachers to facilitate them — the sudden immersion into online learning has, Horn hopes, "put wheels in motion to better and more thoughtfully integrate technology to create a more active, personalized learning experience in the long run."
That doesn’t mean tablets in every classroom, per se, but rather helping students succeed by doing more with less and being creative with the technology available to them. Silicon Schools, which funds innovative programming along these lines, is one example.
"Teachers," Horn says, "will need to be able to create and lead student-centered environments in which they are less focused around lesson planning and the moves of whole-class learning … [and] instead much more versed in the sciences of learning … and how to create an environment in which they can leverage technology and other resources to personalize learning."
Pam Roggeman, EdD, agrees with Horn. Roggeman is the dean of the College of Education at University of Phoenix and closely tracks the shifting trends in this field. Like Horn, Roggeman foresees a change in the way students are both taught and assessed.
"Everybody is realizing that the way to recognize student growth is not solely with a standardized exam," she explains.
Leading those changes, Roggeman says, will be educational leaders. "We really need to emphasize the development of our leaders in education," she argues. Roggeman points out that the "districts that really kill it" are those that invest in developing good principals and leaders.
This is an area where University of Phoenix shines. "In a traditional context," Woods explains, "a faculty member can rewrite the syllabus at the start of each semester. At UOPX, programming is developed with insights from employers and industry partners. This enables University of Phoenix students to stay current by learning in-demand skills."
This process of educating educators is one that Roggeman views as crucial when it comes to developing effective teachers for the future. In addition to offering a number of programs that lead to teacher licensure, Roggeman supports a high level of academic rigor.
State regulations impact programming, Roggeman explains, and UOPX aligns to these. For example, several education programs require that students take an assessment (known as an edTPA) that enables them to reflect on what works about their teaching and what doesn’t. And all students are educationally complete upon graduating from UOPX.
"The requirements and the assessments that we expect from our students attest to our rigor and our standards," Roggeman explains. "If I wouldn’t put them in front of my own children, I won’t put it in front of our students."
Another focus for Roggeman is greater awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion. This is something that appears at every level of education, from leaders who implement policies and procedures, to teachers who have to rethink how they approach lessons, to students, Jackson says, who see on social media what’s happening in the world and want to discuss issues like social justice in the classroom.
UOPX teamed up with an advisory council to address diversity, equity and inclusion in education, and the college has already begun to implement some of the resulting lessons in its programming.
"The whole idea of microaggressions — and how they can erode classroom culture — is something that is kind of new to practicing teachers," Roggeman observes. "For example, pronouncing a child’s name correctly and asking a child, ‘How do you pronounce your name?’ can feel like a microaggression."
This awareness also plays out in the virtual arena. When COVID-19 forced schools to temporarily close and students had to access their education online, the disparity across socioeconomic and geographic lines was apparent. Students in low-income schools or rural areas, for example, might not have access to high-speed internet.
So, while it will be critical for primary schools to offer more options in the future, addressing the equity issues behind online learning will likely be just as important. One example of a possible solution, says Roggeman, is for schools to invest in one-to-one technology so as to level the playing field for all students.
Other possible changes may relate to how classrooms and workloads among teachers are structured. For Jackson, a diversity of roles is a goal that has kept her in the field for more than two decades. She sees this as a phenomenon that will continue to expand.
"We won’t expect all teachers to do everything in a classroom," Horn says, "but instead will have more team-teaching environments." This would allow teachers to specialize in their individual areas of expertise rather than fill the jack-of-all-trades role that so many teacher positions have previously required.
Micro-schools – small neighborhood schools focused on personalized learning –boomed during the pandemic among parents who balked at the prospect of suddenly being their children’s teachers in addition to their parents, role models and disciplinarians.
"While I expect their growth will stall somewhat," Horn says of micro-schools, "I [also] expect more innovations in that field to create more viable models for more families."
Then, of course, there are always the skills that teachers develop over the course of being in the classroom. From interfacing with parents, to overseeing committees, to simply teaching 30 or more students at a time, educators cultivate a variety of transferable skills. Whether they use them in the field of education or elsewhere is up to them.
"I think there’s no longer the idea that you’re going to get into education and stay there for years and years," Jackson observes. She notes how many teachers have left the profession altogether. And with the ability to think on one’s feet, communicate across groups and lead, the world is really open to experienced educators.
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