Being a teacher is a more complex job than ever before. The challenges and stress of the position require teachers to possess an amazing ability to manage many dynamic factors all at once. One of the best examples for this is the emergency drills that we now partake in during the school day. Years ago, there was a fire drill every month, and possibly another drill depending on where you lived—we have tornado drills in our part of the country, but I know other locations have drills for earthquakes or other natural disasters.
In our state, the legislature recently passed new guidelines requiring many different types of drills to be done. In addition to fire and tornado drills, we are now supposed to perform intruder, shelter-in-place, evacuation, and off-site relocation drills. And although all of these are important for us to know how to do in practice, there is a large amount of complexity with many of these drills. This complexity is both a challenge and a stress for teachers, and it isn’t just in school safety that we see this challenge.
Changes in Student Needs
There are many other areas that have followed a similar pattern of increasing complexity over the past ten to twenty years. Student needs have become more complicated: allergies have increased, the numbers of students learning English for the first time has increased, and students with more dramatic behavioral needs has increased. For a teacher with an average classroom of 20 students, there is likely to be 20 different sets of needs and expectations for the students and for their parents.
Along with changes in who we teach, we have seen a lot of change in what we teach. Options for curriculum were much more straightforward 20 years ago. Districts would adopt a curriculum and have new textbooks and maybe workbooks for the students. Now, a curriculum adoption often includes the traditional textbooks and consumables, but also has a student online component, a teacher online component, assessment tools, strategies for English language learners, and differentiation options through leveled materials. Professional development for a new undertaking like this is important, but it requires significant time because of how complex it has all become.
Technology has also driven an increase in complexity. Teachers not only have to manage their own device, they probably also have student devices in the classroom. That is not to mention the phones that students probably bring to the classroom, along with teachers' classroom social media accounts, online gradebooks, updating the class webpage, and taking part in a Twitter chat in the evening.
How Can We Help Today’s Teachers?
Teaching has always been a tough job, but it has never been more complex than it is today. And what does all of this mean for teachers? Are there options to help simplify this, or is this just the new normal for what is required of teachers? The answer, of course, is complex.
There are some areas that are necessary for teachers: IEP requirements, meeting students’ allergy needs, and federal or state government expectations (such as intruder drills). These do not make a teacher’s job simpler, but they are critically important for a teacher to make sure are occurring when and how they are supposed to. This kind of complexity comes from outside the school and it is very hard to change how it impacts our schools.
But if we take all of the exterior factors out of the equation, what are we left with that we can control and impact? Quite a bit, actually.
As we go through the few items I’ve listed here, for each one, I think more simplicity is very possible. Technology can help teachers to be more efficient and to simplify their lives, but only certain kinds of technology. Teachers stretch themselves very thin with social media postings, so in my opinion, that is a great place to start simplifying by cutting back or posting less. But with other areas of technology, leaning in can actually help in the long run. Teachers who use an automated assessment system to help score assignments and provide feedback find that it makes grading quicker and more efficient. A tool like the MimioVote™ assessment system takes some training up front, but once it is in place, it can make a teacher’s life much easier. Technology can also help teachers to differentiate in the classroom in order to help meet all the different needs of the learners. These are just a few ways that technology can help to simplify the complex job of teaching.
As educators who are themselves part of the system, we need to recognize that this complexity puts a strain on a teacher. Teachers are asked to manage numerous instructional, curriculum, and behavioral issues throughout the day, while they also must consider multiple facets of school safety in order to protect their classroom. It is a lot to handle. Simplifying whenever possible is a great idea, but more than anything, teachers need support from administrators to prioritize and manage their tasks and have the technology they need to make their work simpler and better than ever.
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