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May 1, 2010
Vol. 67
No. 8

The Teachers of 2030

How will the teaching profession change in the next 20 years? Teacher leaders describe their vision of the future.

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At the end of the new millennium's first decade, the fate of the teaching profession still appears to be up for grabs. Debates rage over whether teachers need more pedagogical preparation or less, whether they should receive higher pay for increasing their students' standardized test scores, and whether tenure should be abolished. These long-standing debates are intensified by the 24-hour news cycle and the omnipresent blogosphere.
Rarely, however, are the voices of our best teachers included in these discussions. Policymakers seldom ask successful classroom educators for their ideas about creating a modern teaching profession that will give all students the education they deserve.
Bringing teachers' voices from the margins to the center of policymaking is the goal of the Teacher Leaders Network (www.teacherleaders.org), a virtual community of expert classroom practitioners established by the Center for Teaching Quality. For the past year, with support from the MetLife Foundation, the network has sponsored the TeacherSolutions 2030 team—12 accomplished teacher leaders who have worked together to imagine a brighter future for students and the teaching profession.
Our team includes educators who teach in diverse settings, from the inner cities of Brooklyn, Oakland, and Chicago, to the rural towns of the Mississippi Delta, to the virtual spaces occupied by Iowa Learning Online. Using virtual tools such as webinars and online discussions, we have explored the best thinking of policy pundits, researchers, reformers, demographers, and futurists. Although we're not soothsayers, after more than a year of study we are confident that we can identify present realities, consider experts' predictions of future trends, and apply our own understandings to describe what reforms will likely work—and what will be needed—in the schools of tomorrow. Here, then, is our vision of how the teaching profession might look in the year 2030.

More Personalized Learning

The connective power of the Internet is breaking down the traditional locus of control in the school–learner relationship, and students will soon have endless learning options. This trend presents both opportunities and challenges.
Because students will have easy access to information, the education delivery systems of the future will demand intensely individualized learning. The scarcest commodity will be attention, and successful educators will be those who can attract and hold students' interest while helping students develop the habits of mind and the digital facility they need to process and evaluate relevant information. Teachers who can customize learning experiences and facilitate them in both physical and virtual environments will be highly sought after.
Schools will also need to help students deal with the flood of information that often seems overwhelming. Even in 2010, with more than 4,000 new books published each day (you can publish your own for a few hundred dollars), no one can keep pace with the flow of new ideas. As this effect multiplies over the next two decades, teachers will need to become both curators—who can find, sort, select, recommend, and teach high-quality content—and facilitators—who can identify and respond to students' individual learning needs.

Accountability for Individual Student Growth

Our team firmly believes that today's top-down accountability, driven by narrow, standardized, multiple-choice tests, will never provide a sufficient framework to determine teaching effectiveness. Like many of our teacher colleagues across the United States, we feel trapped in a logical inconsistency: We are held accountable for raising student scores on standardized tests but simultaneously exhorted to tailor our teaching to individual students' needs. This inconsistency becomes an absurdity when local districts and schools, operating on sheer survival instinct, micromanage our curriculum and teaching methods in a desperate effort to meet regressive high-stakes testing benchmarks.
In response, committed teachers are often forced to assume renegade status and defy certain policies to make a positive difference. "If I am the single most important factor in the learning of my students, then I need to do what enables me to be the best teacher I can be," says team member Ariel Sacks, a Brooklyn middle school teacher.
We believe that schools need to embrace the rebels and turn them into leaders of reform. As our Richmond, Virginia, colleague John M. Holland, a National Board–certified early childhood teacher, says, "It is the creativity, passion and commitment of expert teachers who know what and how to teach students at any given moment that makes students successful."
Because the quality of our teaching should be assessed on the basis of our ability to help every student grow and learn, future assessments should measure how effective we are at making the right learning decisions for each student we teach.
Between now and 2030, we predict that advances in learning theory and new metric tools that can capture nuanced information about student achievement gains will finally make this kind of accountability possible. With the support of voice-driven PDAs and "killer apps," teacher leaders will keep a running record of students' academic progress using a range of data and will continually analyze what works and what does not. These assessments—driven by real-world learning tasks, such as designing a school building or developing a community garden and implementing a business plan to sustain local food sources—will be linked to an array of more sophisticated standardized tests that teachers create with psychometricians and researchers.

Learning from Far and Near

The Internet's infinite capacity for connectivity is exploding the millennia-old single-teacher paradigm. By 2030, the old concept of "classes" will have morphed into dynamic study groups; integrated courses will be the norm; and expert teachers will engage students in interactive global learning communities using 3D Web environments, augmented reality, and mobile devices that we can only begin to imagine today. If we are wise about our social investments over the next two decades, ubiquitous cross-community learning platforms will emerge, reducing the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic isolation of many neighborhoods while providing the conduit needed to preserve and celebrate our multicultural heritage in a digital age.
At the same time, brick-and-mortar schools may become even more important, especially in high-poverty settings. As more teachers provide instruction online, the schoolhouse will need to become a greater force in providing community-based, whole-child education that involves parents and families. Teachers working in these communities may be among the best-paid experts—educators who not only know how to teach reading, algebra, or avatar-based business applications, but who can also serve as club leaders, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, multilingual interpreters, and community organizers who help ensure that students and families have the essential services they need.

Improved Teacher Preparation

The proliferation of alternative routes to teacher certification will present continuing challenges in the coming decades. Teachers emerging from truncated preparation programs will be most effective under the supervision of highly expert teacher leaders. In our vision of the future, perhaps 10 percent of the teaching force—drawn from a pool of the most accomplished educators—will assume hybrid roles as lead teachers supervising novices who enter the profession with various levels of preparation and content expertise. This approach will ensure that all students have access to a stable team of teachers who are organized and supported in ways that make the best use of their collective skills and energy.
The ultimate goal is to develop a profession that talented people can enter, advance in, and exit via multiple paths. One such path is Chicago's highly acclaimed Academy for Urban School Leadership, where team member Carrie Kamm is a resident coach. The academy prepares effective teachers for high-needs schools through a carefully structured apprenticeship rooted in authentic urban classrooms. Apprenticeship is "a natural way to learn, because it makes thinking visible," Kamm says.
Unlike some policy pundits today, our team is convinced that the teachers of 2030 will require more pedagogical training, not less. Twenty-eight-year-old teacher Jose Vilson, who teaches middle grades math on New York City's Lower East Side, commented in a Teacher Leaders Network online discussion,
No matter what technological advancements we experience as a society, educators will still need to concentrate on pedagogy, shaping our teaching around the needs of each child. Whether future technologies help or hurt that effort will determine whether those of us at the ground level can make the ground shift.
By the year 2030, we hope to see a teaching profession driven by more teachers who emerge from yearlong teacher residency programs, fully funded by the federal government and supported by robust partnerships among education schools, school districts, nonprofits, and community-based organizations.

Connections for Professional Learning

In the next two decades, drive-by professional development will be trumped by new technologies that spread teacher expertise. Already, teachers are increasingly turning to one another to expand both professional knowledge and teacher voice. Using such Web tools as Ning, they are building professional networks (for example, http://englishcompanion.ning.com) and orchestrating their own professional development conferences (for example, http://k12onlineconference.org). Team member Emily Vickery, a school-based 21st century learning specialist in Pensacola, Florida, believes that these trends will accelerate over the next two decades:
The world's teachers will learn of other great teachers through their own networking. They will have a range of options in hanging out their real and virtual shingles advertising their talent, knowledge, and abilities. They may offer their services as a solo venture or band together forming collectives.

Teacherpreneurism

Unlike other comparably prepared professionals, individual teachers today are seldom able to negotiate their own "deliverables." We believe that this will change in the not-too-distant future as expressions like teacherpreneurism enter the lexicon of school reform. Team member Ariel Sacks envisions these new professional identities:
Depending on the needs of my school and any other clients who pay me, these roles could include developing curriculum materials for my school, mentoring teachers, or creating partnerships between my school and other organizations. I could also participate in policy work outside my school and/or be a freelance writer, in a user network or in my community, where only half of my salary would be paid by a school.The beauty of a hybrid role is that I would always maintain a classroom teaching practice. Teaching is the soul of my work in education. If I lose that, I'd feel disconnected from my purpose and passion. We must create pathways for effective teachers to take on a variety of leadership roles in the profession without giving up teaching.

New Compensation Structures

Like everything in U.S. education, teacher compensation has been time-based. Although schools and districts have made periodic attempts to base compensation on performance, these efforts have run up against the barrier of inadequate teacher evaluation. But we see signs that some researchers and policymakers are moving toward redesigned professional compensation that could be a powerful lever for accelerating student and teacher learning.
Updating compensation starts by reconceptualizing teacher assessment, says team member Renee Moore, former Mississippi Teacher of the Year: "Evaluations should be carried out by our most expert teachers, not underprepared and overworked administrators."
Structures that recognize flexible teacher roles will also expedite more authentic and comprehensive teacher compensation. For example, schools may give special recognition and compensation to educators who work effectively with English language learners and special needs learners, those who solve significant problems and spread their expertise to others, and those who can lead both inside and outside their schools. The data models used for performance-based teacher compensation will far exceed what is measured on a single student test. Compensation models will be driven by an accumulation of evidence over time and will be used to improve teaching and learning.
As more nuanced, credible forms of teacher evaluation and compensation emerge, the age-old debates about tenure will wither away. Guiding these reforms will be unions matured into professional guilds that differentiate membership on the basis of levels of expertise.

From Vision to Reality

Our work is just beginning. The TeacherSolutions 2030 team is preparing to publish an extended version of our vision for the future of teaching later this year. Through social networking and multimedia tools, we will invite our fellow teachers and a broad range of other stakeholders to join our conversation.
The global economy and the Internet revolution demand that we rethink our traditional models of teacher recruitment, preparation, and development. In the future already rushing toward us, student success will depend on our capacity to produce the most adaptable and effective teaching force possible—one that can capture the attention and engage the minds of every learner in an atmosphere of unrelenting change.
We realize that our vision for 2030 will require reengineering, but we will never create what we do not dare to imagine. A number of levers of change will need to be in place to advance a 21st century teaching profession—including new models for financing our public schools; collaboration with higher education and other social service agencies; a teacher education, licensing, and pay system that values different pathways into teaching as well as the identification of effective teachers and the spread of expertise; and working conditions that make high-need schools easier to staff.
One thing is certain: Getting there will require that policymakers, administrators, researchers, teacher union leaders, and expert teachers work together to create the education system our students need and deserve.
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