School shutdowns put emphasis on tech-ready teachers

State budget shortfalls could lead to a greater blend of online and in-person teaching

COVID-19 has affected seemingly every profession, not the least of which has been the nation’s K-12 teachers. Educators (and students) have had to quickly adapt to virtual teaching, some with little time to prepare.

What are the lessons learned from the pandemic-forced shutdowns of local school districts? What will teaching jobs look like in the future? And what kind of training will be needed?

WorkingNation spoke with Dr. Richard Ingersoll, Board of Overseers Professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, recognized as a leading expert on the nation’s teaching workforce. He says, given the economic impact of COVID-19, the education landscape is difficult to predict.

Economic hurdles, Ingersoll speculates, could lead some school districts to use this opportunity to blend more virtual teaching into their existing curricula as a way of saving money. “A big chunk of their funding consists of state and local property taxes. The feds, that’s only a small portion of the rest of the funding. States are really in an economic free fall.”

New Skills, New Roles

Indeed, leaders in some school districts—like Florida’s Miami-Dade—say digital teaching skills are something they will look for in future hires. Because of the region’s frequent hurricanes, the district has invested in technology that allows for virtual learning when schools are closed and trained teachers accordingly. That technology is being utilized during the pandemic.

The future of teaching may require the creation of new roles with specialized skills rather that adding new responsibilities to existing teacher jobs. KnowledgeWorks is a nonprofit organization that advocates for personalized learning. It has suggested the creation of a new role called a “learning pathway designer” who would curate, plan, and design individual student learning experiences instead of providing instruction themselves.

Educators Will Need to Continue Their Own Educations

Online education requires teachers who know how to effectively use technology in the education process. “Continuing advances in technology create disconnects between the needs of students and the skill sets of teachers,” according to a recent report from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

The report recommends continuous training for teachers and administrators to update their skills.

“One of the lessons that we have to take away from the COVID-19 response is the need build the technology infrastructure in our K-12 systems and to provide all teachers the professional development needed to use it effectively,” says Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation.

“Student centered learning, small group instruction, and assessment all require different pedagogical skill sets in remote teaching. The professionals who may need to continue this instructional design in the future deserve the attention to be able to deliver that instruction at the professional level they expect from themselves,” suggests Oates who has served as a senior policy advisor on education on the state and federal levels.

The career path for teachers also may need to change. Researchers Michael DeArmond, Christine Campbell, and Paul Hill, in a paper for the nonpartisan Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington Bothell, argue that right now only people willing to attend traditional training programs teach full time.

They suggest that expanding who works with students and in what ways might make teaching a more inviting profession to people who do not have a conventional teaching career. This would include mentorships and internships. In addition, they say teachers might work part-time in many schools or offer virtual courses in certain subjects.

How to train the teachers of the future? The trio says the answer may require “thoughtful experimentation.” They note that advocates of teacher preparation reform have called for more clinical practice and learn-by-doing.

To that end, they say one possible example is a residency-based experience at innovative schools focused on experimentation and adult learning. New teachers would be exposed to new practices, mentorships, and theories as well as receive university-based training. This, the trio says, could help schools and their partners develop new teaching approaches.

Changing how teachers are taught will create challenges that affect financial arrangements, and organizational and institutional coordination. DeArmond, Campbell, and Hill suggest that it almost needs to be built from scratch.

But in the end, they argue, it will be the teachers themselves who must be engaged in defining the substance of their work, their training experiences, their on-the-job learning, and accountability systems.

Teacher Shortage or Teacher Glut?

Ingersoll he does not believe there will be a mass exodus of teachers linked to the pandemic but adds that hiring could lag as a lack of funding prevents states from bringing on new teachers.

“In general, when the economy goes down, no matter how much people don’t like their jobs, they don’t quit, because there aren’t options. In general, employee turnover as a whole goes down.”

Ingersoll suggests that teachers who are nearing retirement might decide to cash out with their full pensions rather than deal with the stress of change caused by COVID-19. But those losses could be offset by a possible increase in the number of new people entering the profession.

Ingersoll says the teaching force has increased in size over the past 30 years, faster than the student population has grown, and that an influx of new teachers could lead to supply outstripping the demand.

“I don’t think there would be any shrinkage of the pipeline because it’s a job with some stability. In fact, with all this unemployment, the supply of people applying for positions might go up.”

Read more about the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce and the future of work here.

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