Saturday, March 30, 2013

Teachers Happy Despite Poor Work Environments

A recent article on reports that teachers have very high satisfaction rates in key areas when compared to other professions. Namely, their self-reported overall wellness is second only to physicians among 14 professions.

Unfortunately, teachers are unhappy with their workplace. Gallup reports:
Despite enjoying top marks in overall wellbeing, teachers rank toward the bottom (eighth out of 14) of the professions surveyed on one very important element of wellbeing: work environment. They rank sixth in saying their “supervisor treats me more like a partner than a boss.” And they are dead-last -- 14th, behind coal miners and truck drivers -- in saying their “supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.” They are also dead-last in saying they were “treated with respect all day yesterday,” and experience the second-highest stress level across all occupations. 
This corresponds to what I've seen personally in schools and gathered from other research on the topic. It suggests that if we could correct the problems of schools being poor work environments, we would have a much easier time retaining talent in the teaching work force.

Wouldn't retaining good teachers go a long way in addressing an array of problems from poor student achievement to dropout rates? And if teachers don't like the work environment, what about students?

Gallup doesn't take this step in the article, but I think this survey is suggestive of the root causes of our education system's issues: poor school leadership, dysfunctional school culture, and bad curricula. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Future Teacher

I think a lot about the role of the teacher and how it really doesn't match up well to the needs of students or the structure of the ideal school. Teachers are asked to do so many different things with such diverse skill requirements that every teacher is weak in at least one critical area, even if he or she is amazing in other areas.
Think about it---if a teacher is a great lecturer, we expect her to also be great at data tracking. If he's great at lesson plan writing, he also has be great at one-to-one tutoring. If she's amazing with building fair and accurate assessments, she also has to be great at talking to parents.
Is this really realistic, let alone ideal?
With technology, regulations and school practices changing, I see the role of the teacher shifting. For this change to benefit teacher and students, we, as teachers, need to know what we want our profession to look like. What should a teacher's job be? I would argue that in the future school a teacher has 3 primary responsibilities:
·      Learning resource curator
·      Class captain
·      Student (and parent) advisor
I arrive here by asking the question: what can the teacher, and only the teacher, do?
Answer: The teacher is the interface between students and their learning objectives.
Not the answer: build resources from scratch, hands on skill building or information delivery, write and grade assessments or design and manage data trackers.
Because books, videos, adaptive learning software, experts and classmates can all be the source of information.
Because only the student himself can do practice required to increase skills.
Because professional designers, scientists, developers, and writers can create lesson plans, games, assessments and curricula that are standards-aligned and proven to improve educational outcomes.
ONLY the teacher can modify, curate and adapt resources to the unique needs of her specific school environment, especially on the fly.
ONLY the teacher can communicate to a class the importance of a learning objective and can coordinate a group's efforts to all achieve that objective.
Finally, ONLY the teacher can reliably intervene and support a student who is struggling emotionally when the adaptive software fails.
If my predictions are true, then the most important skills of the future educator will be the ability to curate and utilize a variety of learning resources, manage a class of self-paced learners, and personalize coaching to the individual student.
The teacher will never be obsolete, because these are the critical, human functions that only a teacher can provide, and a trained, professional teacher will always do it better than any other person.
Do you agree with my assessment? If you are a teacher, how much does your current role resemble that of my "future teacher"? Are you advocating for the necessary support and resources so that you can do these 3 jobs of the future teacher as well as possible?