Teachers are in a difficult job. In some sense, teachers are caught in a soft skills business around deeper learning with hard skills accountability such as skill and drill standardized tests. On the one hand, they have to teach students to memorize, apply, and problem solve while on the other hand, standardized curriculum and testing requires them to teach students to memorize and quickly respond to a multiple-choice test. Do we want teachers to teach for deeper understanding that involves thoughtful analysis and evaluation or do we want them to drill our students for shallow understanding and quick answering in multiple choice environments? Many teachers are simply thinking about leaving:
“In a 2022 survey conducted by the National Education Association, 55 percent of educators said that they were thinking about leaving the profession, many of them citing pandemic-related difficulties and burnout. Teachers must not only face long hours in a stressful environment, but also the rise of political debates around Covid policies and curriculums” (New York Times, March 13, 2023).
“More than a quarter of teachers and principals reported experiencing symptoms of depression as of January 2022, according to a survey from the RAND Corporation. Nearly three quarters of teachers and 85 percent of principals said they were experiencing frequent job-related stress, compared with only a third of working adults, according to the survey”
How Can We Help?
Some people think that “creating resilient school systems to ensure that all students thrive” (EdWeek, Feb. 15, 2023) might be a good place to start, but there is a deeper problem here and that is the effect of some of the reforms of the last twenty years, for example, the Common Core, traditional reading strategies, and political interference. To be fair, all of these reforms are well-intentioned and all of them were in response to problems that were agreed upon as needing some help to solve, but all of them are holding back the system from real change. So how can we help? Can we develop students with hard and soft skills who are good at shallow and wider coverage and also deeper learning skills to solve problems?
Schools of the Future
Let’s imagine a good school serving all students that is a joy to have in our community and reduces the stress levels of teachers and students while increasing the efficiency in learning. First of all, it probably is open most of the day and it is filled with community resources. Students arrive and get fed really good food, check in with onsite medical personnel, settle down to do homework or run outside to play. Teaching and learning take place in flipped classrooms, where students stand up at tables to work together in groups that are solving problems from the homework of last night. Home work is watching the best teachers in their subjects and applying that learning in class.. Teachers are hovering around and intervening when student independence in their own learning loses direction. Teachers teach for deeper understanding that involves thoughtful analysis and evaluation. Computers and content are available everywhere. The arts are fully integrated into all subjects, science is in service of literacy, and literacy is in service of science. Recess, play, and sports are structured for success. Teachers often meet with each other to coordinate the best learning experiences. Some students find it hard to leave at the end of the day, and parents often pick up their kids while watching what is happening. Schools work in the future, so let’s get there together.