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Conversations Needed in the Teaching Profession

Jordan Catapano

While we may constantly talk about our pedagogy in the teaching profession, there are certain topics that are difficult to discuss. No matter the reason for these topics being challenging, it’s important to recognize how central some of these topics are to what we are doing every day with our students in the teaching profession.

It’s easy to focus on how we’re going to engage students, how we’re going to assess work or organize our curriculum, but it’s far more daunting to dive into bigger picture questions that pose the potential of reshaping our methodology. Nevertheless, the more we delay important discussions about education, the more likely we are to miss big opportunities and perhaps let our students down.

Here are some areas where teachers aren’t having dialogue in the teaching profession.

Vertical Teaming in the Teaching Profession

“Vertical” teaming refers to aligning curriculums across the years. For example, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers get together and discuss how what students learn one year will naturally feed into what students will learn the next. Similarly, a high school English department will organize skills and context expectations for students in grades 9-12, creating a clear picture of the progression of learning students should be expected to engage in.

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Vertical teaming provides two major advantages. First, it reduces unnecessary duplication. Teachers know what students have already covered, and can progressively build off of it rather than accidentally repeat themselves. Secondly, it helps provide a natural increase in skill and content building. Teachers in earlier years can lay foundations upon which subsequent teachers may build. This is what we expect learning to look like, but vertical teaming helps teams of teachers work together to ensure this intentional progression of learning year after year.

The Changing Marketplace

There are many reasons for education, but one of them is to prepare students to be successful participants in the marketplace. So what does the marketplace want? In ages past, many jobs valued employees who were compliant and could work in an assembly line-like setting (and some argue schools were structured to encourage this mentality in future employees).

But what do employers want nowadays? And are we organizing our learning environment to empower students to have these qualities? There is a range of hard skills – such as data analysis and software engineering – and even more soft skills – such as leadership, collaboration, and problem solving – that is growing in demand in the job market.

So we should be asking ourselves, Does our teaching reflect this? Have our methods and focuses changed with the times and are they adequately preparing students for what lies ahead?

What Students Need to Know Vs. What Tech Can Do for Them

Remember when you used to know your friends’ phone numbers, or when you had to sift through a library to find an answer to a question? Now we have “Outsourced” these tasks to our technology, allowing our phones to remember numbers for us and simply Googling a question and letting the search engine do the sifting. There has been a shift in what we should expect to do for ourselves and what we can now safely allow our tech to do for us. But where do we draw the line?

As educators, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some things that must appropriately update with the new technology integrated into our world. The classroom where learning is tech-less may be effective in some senses, but in other senses feels ignorant and disconnected from the world around us. Are we having this discussion with one another about where we can appropriately lean on technology and where we should avoid it?

For example, now that so much information is available on demand through the Internet, many argue that content-driven instruction is an outdated mode of education. Content is accessible nearly anywhere, anytime, so shouldn’t we be focusing on a variety of skills associated with what to do with that content instead?

Artificial Intelligence

One great big looming question for all of mankind is, “What role will artificial intelligence play in the years to come?” Many teachers have invited Siri, Google, or Alexa into their classrooms and are reaping the benefits of this entry-level computer device that can understand our voices and assist with our requests. But much more is to come.

Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIEd) is already being discussed, but to what extent amongst teachers who will be heavily impacted by its implications? Professor Rose Luckin, leading research scientist and world expert in AIEd at University College London, envisions a future where either AI takes control over education and dictates what ought to be learned based on data analysis about each learner, or a more idealized vision where the learner is in control and the AI supplements the interests of each learner. She states openly that the technology “Is here and we need teachers to engage with it.”

What is the Learning For?

Ever wonder what school is really for? We could answer it with the first thoughts that come to mind, like “It’s for learning,” or “It’s to help students eventually get a job.” But there’s much, much more to education than these off-the-cuff responses.

Seth Godin, author and business guru, ponders this question and shares, “Seems like a simple question, but given how much time and money we spend on it, it has a wide range of answers, many unexplored, some contradictory.” He offers a starter list of answers, but the wider point is more alarming. In the day-to-day instruction we’re leading students through, we’re might be missing the bigger picture of what it is we’re actually working toward.

Our Students Are Changing …

Each generation has its own quirks, culture, and influences. Every community is subject to ever-shifting needs and demographics. It’s likely that the students who are attending your school now are very different from the students ten years ago.

It’s important as a school community to recognize these changes and understand what the unique needs and motivations of each wave of students are. If your methods worked a decade ago, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll still work today. It’s essential that colleagues regularly reassess who they’re teaching and make sure their instruction, goals, and school culture are reflective of the students currently in the seats.

Why We Aren’t Talking About These

When we consider some of the topics above, we have to say to ourselves, “Those do seem like important topics. Why aren’t we talking about them more?” There are a few reasons, and it’s worthwhile to see what obstacles are lying in our way to considering how these elements are impacting education.

  1. Lack of Time. This is probably the first reason you thought of. Between all of the day-to-day work, plus our current school initiatives and personal objectives, where do we find the time to engage in rich dialogues about big topics?
  2. Lack of Knowledge. We might just not know enough about these to engage with them. When was the last time you researched artificial intelligence or examined the needs of the 21st-century marketplace? It’s difficult to engage in such discussions if we feel inadequately prepared to do so.
  3. Fear. Each of the topics, and many others like them, suggest some degree of change or uncertainty. They may call into question what we’re currently doing and may force us to get well outside our comfort zone.
  4. Discord. When we are getting along and seeing eye-to-eye with everyone else, things feel good. But we may shy away from big topics that pose the potential to make us feel uncomfortable and sow disagreement.

How to Engage in These Topics

If we acknowledge that there are discussions worth having, then it’s important to figure out a healthy way to have them. Despite the obstacles listed above, the stakes are too high for our students to ignore the big-picture topics and attempt to maintain the status quo. The future will speak for itself one way or another, and we owe it to our students to empower them to confront their futures with skill and knowledge.

I have a few suggestions for how to start digging into areas such as these and begin having the conversations we aren’t having enough of.

First, leverage social media. Even if we aren’t talking enough about these topics, people are still talking. Find the participants online via Twitter and blogs, and start learning from the ideas that are already out there. Social media use can be customized around your preferences and schedule, which makes it a prime tool for you to tap into to connect with educators around the world and begin listening in on the conversations that are happening. You can even begin leveraging your own voice as well.

Also, as you gain knowledge and begin forging your own perspectives on these issues, engage your colleagues. No one is as likely to be as big of a partner alongside you as the people you’re working with every day. Remember that your colleagues may not agree with you, at least initially, but find ways to reach a common ground and strategically construct your curriculums. Spend time with your school leaders to hear their perspectives on these issues, or raise the issues to their attention.

As you explore, consider sharing links you’ve found valuable, posing questions of your own to others to see what they’re thinking, and experiment with new ideas and share your results. Just because people are not having these conversations enough doesn’t mean we can’t have them, it just means no one has brought it. Maybe that person could be you.

Do you agree with the list of topics above that teachers aren’t discussing enough in the teaching profession? What other issues would you add to this list? Let’s get the conversation going by sharing your thoughts in a comment below!


Jordan Catapano taught English for 12 years in a Chicago suburban high school, where he is now an Assistant Principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.