A Role for Teachers: They’re Not Disappearing

On Wednesday, the Education Innovation Summit that I had previously discussed relative to blended learning ended with several presenters, including former Governor Jeb Bush, discussing the need for change.  The role for teachers can change for the better, but only if we make some other critical changes:  harnessing technology, altering teacher education, and accepting a real role for the for-profit sector of the education industry.

One question being addressed was – What will be the role for teachers?  Will demand for teachers decline?  John Katzman, founder of The Princeton Review and Executive Chairman of 2tor, forecast a decline in demand by one-third for teachers in K-12.  This was quickly disputed by Margery Mayer, president of Scholastic Education.  The issue that was being addressed was whether the increased introduction of hybrid models of education, e.g., flipped classrooms or blended learning, would reduce the need for teachers by substituting technology for the human role.

Ms. Mayer has it right.  Demand for teachers will not decline with the introduction of technology, at least not in the foreseeable future.  Mr. Katzman does have it right, however, about what teachers will be able to do with the increased introduction of hybrid technology.  The need for lectures, the presentation for factual material, etc. can decline.  But this decline in certain aspects of teaching with the introduction of concepts like the flipped classroom provides new opportunity for teachers.  It gives them a greater opportunity to interact with students, respond to questions, work with students who need more help, and guide advanced students to more challenging learning opportunities.

The real issue that underlies this discussion is not whether the demand for teachers will change but how the role of teachers will change.  The forecast of a change in the role in teachers has been around for almost two decades, beginning with discussions of technology and the “coach on the side” at least a decade and a half ago.  What is different today is that technology, pedagogy and innovative services have advanced considerably.  Those three elements are making real a very different role for teachers, one, thankfully, more like the classical role for teaching that we have wished for.  And they are coming in great part from the for-profit sector of the education industry.

In remarks on the last day of the Education Innovation Summit, former Governor Jeb Bush made four suggestions for a more successful education system: (1) raise expectations, (2) hold schools accountable, (3) reward great teachers and remove bad ones, and (4) harness the power of technology.  It is this last of his suggestions that is relevant here.  Technology can be harnessed, but only if we change the way teachers teach and change the way we educate teachers as well.  We must also be willing to accept that traditional educational institutions also increasingly need the innovations from the for-profit sector – either in partnership or as consumers of their products and services.

The Governor’s remarks were controversial for some; of particular controversy was his stated disappointment in colleges of education and the potential role that competition can play in changing teacher education.  He pointed to the role that community colleges have taken on as very considerable players in preparing teachers.  Whatever one may think of traditional colleges of education, it is this altered role for teachers that we must nurture – along with a willingness to accept a partnership from traditional education with the growing for-profit sector of the industry.  Together, these three elements –   harnessing technology, altering teacher education, and accepting a real role for the for-profit sector – offer us the potential to enlarge substantially our capacity to improve student learning.


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