Will Teaching Become A Plastic Profession?

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Topics: Early College High School, Future of Learning

This post is part two in a series of five posts exploring the future of teaching.

What might teaching look like in ten years if we do not alleviate current stressors on the profession and do not make significant changes to the structure of today’s public education system? This scenario from my recent paper on the future of teaching projects that, as the federal accountability system continues to emphasize narrow measures of student and teacher performance and districts face daunting fiscal challenges, many public school teachers could find their creativity increasingly constrained.

Expected Future: A Plastic Profession

As educator evaluation systems aligned with student performance mature, many teachers remain uncertain about the impact of these systems on their profession. Furthermore, the now long-established “new normal” of constrained government resources, combined with public distrust of educators, limits districts’ scope for innovation. With reauthorization of the nation’s major K-12 education law long overdue, state legislatures and special interest groups work actively to change the K-12 education system at the state level. This combination of heightened political activity and shrinking education budgets causes distraction for many teachers, making it challenging to set compelling visions for the future of learning.

Without strong visions for the future of learning, public will for change remains limited even as anxiety over whether the U.S. will be able to educate a future-ready workforce reaches new heights. Schools and districts continue to pursue limited school reform – including limited differentiation of teaching roles – in the context of the existing educational paradigm. Likewise, teacher preparation programs make minor changes in an attempt to improve their programs and attract more candidates. However, nothing makes a significant impact on learning or on teachers’ job satisfaction as the fundamental design of the education system remains unchanged. Some new learning platforms emerge, offering learners new options, but they remain largely self-organized and on the fringes and do not yet offer full-time educators remunerative career pathways. Many learners who see and have the means to exercise better options – in their local communities, via distance learning platforms, or from a mix of sources – exit the public education system, especially in those places where the system has long struggled to turn around low-performing schools.

Similarly, many teachers leave not just the public education system but the field of learning in order to pursue more lucrative and satisfying careers. Those who remain feel increasingly disenfranchised. Just as students in the system are treated largely as cogs moving lockstep through an industrial machine, many teachers begin to feel as if they have become production line supervisors.

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This is just one scenario for how the future of teaching could play out. I don’t regard it as a positive one, but I see it as being the likely baseline if we don’t make significant changes to the education system. For key drivers, signals of change and additional scenarios on the future of teaching, as well as a guide to making use of these scenarios to guide strategic decision making, see the full paper.