In the United States, our education system is on the verge of a renaissance! It may not seem so at times because news depicting the demise of the teaching profession is omnipresent. For instance, states such as Utah and Kansas and cities such as Newark are facing widespread teacher shortages, while Colorado is struggling to find enough qualified teachers for its rural school districts. Budgeting shortfalls are commonplace in schools systems as evident by the sad plight of Detroit’s public school systems in addition to others. Published opinion pieces often discuss stressed teachers who endure heavy workloads, burdensome regulations and, at times, an unsympathetic public.
As a professional educator, I will neither deny nor nuance these facts because they are true. In fact, I cringe each time I read an editorial that derides the education profession or see another media story about a teacher that chose to make incorrect decisions. Regardless, it is easy to focus on what is wrong rather than what is going well and I submit that precisely because of these challenges, now is the perfect time to become a professional educator.
We now have 47 states adopting and improving rigorous standards in mathematics and language arts that narrow concepts and learning goals into a continuous thread of competencies to each succeeding grade level. These standards are specifically designed to ensure that all students graduate from high school college and career ready. Additionally, most states now use common assessment platforms that are electronic-no longer the paper and pencil drudgery- and the questions and performance tasks of these assessments requires students to know and apply knowledge in differing situations instead of the previous mono-standard questions that were not applicable to genuine evaluation of a student’s knowledge. Also, the new federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, removes the monolithic federal oversight of education and transfers much of the decision-making back to states. All good news indeed, because now education and instruction are focusing on what students are learning rather than what is taught.
With most states now defining student proficiency equally, the prospect for meaningful collaboration between school districts in other states is an excellent opportunity to improve education processes even more. Moreover, schools and instruction are changing to embrace 21st century knowledge and in many classrooms, students are removed from rows of desks and being compliant learners to now engaging in collaborative knowledge building, evaluating, and arguing their conjectures against real world situations. Students are becoming stewards of their educational careers instead of being told how to learn and what to do. Being an educator in these classrooms is an exhilarating, life-changing experience that is as empowering as it is enthralling.
Even more so, our profession is ready for an infusion of teaching professionals who, with a collective voice, can enact changes to institute changes in modernizing the teaching profession. Fellowships such as America Achieves and organizations such as TeachStrong assist educators in being strong advocates for sound education policy at local, state, and national levels. Stories abound of educators challenging “business as usual” ideas and achieving remarkable results with incredible student learning. Our educational system is not in demise, it is in a foundational building time that, when complete, will have an astounding impact on our K-12 framework for generations.
Albert Einstein stated that in every difficulty lies opportunities, and I submit that now is that time for prospective educators to enter the profession bravely with bold ideas and passionate zeal for educating students while, at the same time, being the dynamism for change of the teaching profession.
Terry Jones is a middle grades mathematics educator earning his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. He is a Colorado Educator Voice Fellow, a TeachStrong Ambassador, previous Teacher of the Year, and sound advocate for inquiry-based learning and teachers as the driving force for creating educational policy and modernizing the teaching profession.