15 Challenges For The 21st Century Teachers
How Education is Changing
It’s easy to argue that classic educator skills like evaluation, curriculum design, classroom management, and cognitive coaching will always be necessary, no matter how far education technology advances.
It’s not wrong to assume that the next 20 years of education will simply be shaped by the tidal surge of social and technological development, and that’s a possibility.
There are certain areas where significant change is more probable than others. It doesn’t seem likely that eLearning will replace schools and teachers as we now understand and use the term. Online courses are inferior to in-person teaching in too many important ways to supplant teachers and schools completely. (Blended learning will likely be the norm in the next decade.)
We’ve written before about the kinds of “things” modern teachers must be able to do. Below are 15 less skill-based tasks and some that are a bit more conceptual, collectively representing how teaching is changing.
Teaching is no longer about classroom management, testing, and content delivery.
15 Reasons Why Teaching is Changing
The Old: Administer assessment, evaluate performance, report performance, then–maybe–make crude adjustments the best you can
The New: Identifying, prioritising, and evaluating data for each student individually–in real-time
The Difference: Precision
Or rather, determine the kind of data that is most important for each student, figure out a way to obtain that kind of data consistently, and then either analyse it personally or monitor the algorithms that are doing it for you.
This is not unlike an automotive mechanic moving carburettors to fuel-injection systems in the 1980s and 1990s. The former was crude, requiring frequent corrections and “tune-ups” done by hand; the latter was far more precise and required new skills on the part of the mechanic. Rather than making mechanical adjustments, mechanics become system managers. They spent more time adjusting the systems–sensors, ECUs, etc.–than they were making the adjustments.
2. Data forms
The Old: Numbers, letters, and maybe a bar graph or pie chart
The New: Making data that’s beautiful. (Or at least visual.)
The Difference: Meaning & accessibility
More and more, teachers have to design data sources and visualizations—usable data applied meaningfully. The days of taking a test and waiting for results have been gone for years. Soon it will be time to put behind us the process of even instant data results unless that data is packaged to promote the seamless revision of curriculum, assessment, and instruction.
3. Classroom management
The Old: Minimize negative interactions (fighting, bullying, etc.) and promote compliance with rules and “expectations”
The New: Analyze and coordinate student social interactions
The Difference: Scale
This could mean physical communities or digital. Teachers need to mobilize students, whether within classrooms, schools, campuses, or local communities, in a place-based or project-based learning scenario. Teaching digital citizenship, connectivity, and possibility will be more important than teaching content. This is a reality faced today, not tomorrow.
The Old: Delivering content shaped for universal consumption
The New: Modeling affection and curiosity
The Difference: Truly valuing how students think
Today’s teacher has to demonstrate to students not how to solve problems but why those problems should be solved. It will be less about creating a PBL unit where students clean up a local creek or park but rather teaching the students how to identify and work through those needs themselves. This is the human element of affection–honouring the things and spaces around you as a way of living.
The same goes for curiosity—thinking aloud through a self-reflection. Challenge student assumptions through digital commenting or face-to-face interactions—and connect them with communities that can do the same.
The Old: Initially, it was teaching “a class,” and then it became a list of standards
The New: Reconcile hundreds of academic standards–standards that include technology, citizenship, literacy, etc. This goes way beyond “content areas.”
The Difference: Integration
This means not just knowing the standard, planning for its mastery, and then “teaching” it, but reconciling discrepancies “horizontally” within and across content areas and then “vertically” across grade levels as well. And further, it’s no longer just about your class or content area but also standards from a dozen other organisations that all chime in with well-intentioned but ultimately unsustainable to-do lists.
6. Lesson planning
The Old: Manage grouping, finishing classwork, and creating a “system” for homework
The New: Personalising workflows based on constantly changing circumstances (data, need to know, student interest, changes in the community, etc.) using flipped classrooms, digital distribution, and even self-directed learning
The Difference: Authenticity
Given local context and circumstance–technology, bandwidth, social opportunities and challenges, etc.–what kind of workflow is most efficient for this student?
Does it make sense to embed every student in every local community? Does it make more sense here and less sense there?
Given local literacy habits and access, is it better to spend more time gathering, evaluating, or sharing sources? What kind of adjustments should we make based on what we know about the world the students are growing up in?
Does in-person mentoring make sense, or given topics of study–agriculture, robotics, literature, music, etc.–do digital spaces make more sense?
For this student, right here, right now, what exactly do they need?
7. Your students
The Old: Receiving a class roster
The New: Knowing a student’s history, place, and potential
The Difference: Becoming a more human process
This brings us to #6 (which is kind of the point of it all)—taking all of the mechanical and gadget-borne stuff above and making it “whole” for the person standing before you. This is not new, but the complexity of making this possible daily is.
Other New Realities The Modern Teacher Faces
8. Designing learning experiences that carry over seamlessly between home and school. So, making “school” disappear and even giving the illusion that you’re working yourself out of a job.
9. Troubleshooting technology, including cloud-based issues, log-in info, etc.
10. Verifying student privacy/visibility across scores of monitored and unmonitored social interactions per week; Validating legal issues, copyright information, etc.
11. Refining driving questions and other matters of inquiry on an individual student basis
12. Insisting on quality–of performance, writing, effort, etc.–when the planning, technology, and self-reflection fail
13. Evaluating the effectiveness of learning technology (hardware, software, and implementation of each)
14. Filtering apps based on the operating system, cost, complexity, performance, audience, and purpose
15. Clarifying and celebrating learning, understanding, mistakes, progress, creativity, innovation, purpose, and other abstractions of teaching and learning on a moment-by-moment basis.