The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world of education into sudden and unexpected disarray, with schools and colleges around the world being forced to shut down classrooms and move entirely to distance learning all at once. With many school systems across the US already lagging behind in their inclusion and understanding of modern technology, one can’t help but wonder what this will mean for the future of teachers. What permanent changes might come out of this, and how will it impact the availability of jobs and the requirements to become a teacher across the states?
At present, proficiency with technology and computers is not a significant requirement in order to become licensed as a teacher. The common core standards, currently adopted by 41 states, make more mentions of the importance of technology in the classroom, but is often intentionally vague so as to avoid becoming dated. While understandable, this can leave things up to interpretation and allow teachers who aren’t familiar with technology to use it in minimal ways. The importance of technological proficiency in the modern era is almost equal to such basics as reading and writing, and students not picking up these skills can severely impact their future and careers down the line. The Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology has recognized some of these issues and made recommendations that teacher preparation programs bring technological literacy and proficiency to the forefront. If these recommendations are heeded, it could signal a substantial shift in how education degree programs at universities are designed in the near future.
Those who are a bit tech-averse may wince at the thought, but the goal isn’t to replace teachers with technology; rather, it’s to improve the classroom experience for students by utilizing all the tools available. Teachers and students together in classrooms will return, as there are still no adequate substitutes for the personal connection and trust that students develop with teachers from in-person instruction. New approaches to learning, such as gamification and virtual simulation, can be used to help different types of learners who aren’t well suited to the traditional lecture-and-note-taking form of instruction most are familiar with. Better catering to varied learning styles will ultimately result in a more educated population overall. So aside from technological proficiency, creative thought will also likely be a key skill for teachers moving forward.
The changes that teachers may face go beyond just the rapid improvement of technology, however. An increasing problem in some school districts is a lack of teachers capable of handling English as a Second Language, or ESL, students. As demographics shift, the number of students in the US who primarily speak Spanish or other languages at home increases, the need for more teachers capable of teaching in a second language will increase. Even a basic level of ability to communicate with ESL students can be extremely beneficial, so there may also be a push towards ensuring that teachers are fluent in major languages like Spanish or Chinese.
What does all this ultimately mean for the employment of teachers through the future? The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the growth in the employment of teachers over the next ten years is expected to be roughly on par with the national average, although it notes that individual states may vary in response to budget surpluses or shortfalls at the state level. As the population of the US is still growing at a fair rate, it seems unlikely that there will be a decrease in the number of teachers needed for the foreseeable future. There have also been pushes towards smaller class sizes, which would by necessity require more teachers to be active. Investment in infrastructure at both the state and federal levels could result in the construction of new and renovated schools, equipping them more effectively to make use of technology and providing more classrooms to accommodate these smaller class sizes.
The present era is a good time to aim to become a teacher, but those who wish to futureproof their careers might benefit from practice with technology and picking up a second language. After all, a good teacher must also be a good student, and should never stop learning.