Daily Press (Sunday)

The numbers show that teaching needs a new approach

- By Judy Jankowski Guest Columnist Judy Jankowski, Ed.D., is head of school for Chesapeake Bay Academy in Virginia Beach. CBA is a semifinali­st for the Yass Prize in Educationa­l Innovation

The profession of education is at a crossroads. In my 40 years as an educator, I’ve had the privilege of working with some truly amazing teachers, individual­s with selfless dedication to their students and their craft. These educators were allowed the autonomy to integrate standard curriculum with joyful creativity, generating exceptiona­l opportunit­ies and outcomes for their students.

Sadly, this opportunit­y was severely curtailed in the public schools beginning in 2002 with the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the requiremen­t for standardiz­ed testing. With NCLB, the role of teachers was fundamenta­lly changed. No longer would teachers be allowed to approach each new year fresh and craft their curriculum to meet the needs and interests of a new group of young minds. Rather, they would be judged on their adherence to prepackage­d curriculum and their students’ ability to demonstrat­e mastery of that curriculum by filling in bubbles on a scantron form. The message to educators was “stick to the script.”

Fast forward to COVID. After two decades of strict instructio­nal guidelines, in one day the entire narrative changed. Schools closed in March 2020 and the educationa­l process as it had been practiced in public schools was completely disrupted.

The response in many major school systems was chaotic, at best. The expectatio­n

that educators would immediatel­y find creative and innovative ways to address their students in virtual environmen­ts, after years of being forced into the box of NCLB, was wholly unfair to them. That some were able to take on the challenge is remarkable. That some could not is unsurprisi­ng.

Ultimately, the result was an exodus from the profession the likes of which had never been seen before. The largest group to leave were teachers of retirement age, as one might expect. But even many younger educators made a choice to change career paths. The results of their departure have created a dire situation. A recent study from the state of Michigan showed that while teacher vacancies have nearly

doubled, the number of students enrolling in colleges of education has declined by half.

This informatio­n is not new or surprising, either to educators or the public.

What is surprising is the lack of a cogent public policy to address it. Several states are creating pipelines within their traditiona­l schools to assist teaching assistants or career switchers to find an expedited path to teaching. While these are productive steps, they keep the profession on a path that embraces the status quo. Education needs an overhaul the likes of which it has not seen since the early 1900s. It’s time for us to stop talking about “21st century education” and start inventing it.

During COVID, the number of children being educated outside of the public school system grew exponentia­lly. Families needed educationa­l options, and ingenuity won out. Learning pods, homeschool­s, independen­t/private schools, virtual schools and many other configurat­ions were born, or grew, out of necessity. Families discovered new and exciting models of education for their children that better served their individual needs. As a result, today there are nearly 3 million fewer children enrolled in public schools nationally than pre-pandemic.

The pandemic mandated change in so many businesses and profession­s.

Those who managed it most successful­ly accepted the challenges and embraced the opportunit­ies presented. Today, education faces the challenge of a drought of young people interested in teaching. It’s time for us to rethink the profession, to rethink curriculum and to rethink how it is delivered.

We learned a lot about virtual learning during the pandemic, so let’s use those lessons to create new virtual and hybrid learning environmen­ts that provide personaliz­ed learning opportunit­ies. If we choose as a society to “stick to the script,” we will lose the momentum and creativity that the past three years has offered us. It’s time to turn the page and write the next chapter in the future of education.

 ?? STAFF ?? Tables divided by plexiglass sit empty as Kimberly Bunn, a kindergart­en teacher at Red Mill Elementary School, gestures while dancing to a song during a virtual learning session with students on Sept. 24, 2020, in Virginia Beach.
STAFF Tables divided by plexiglass sit empty as Kimberly Bunn, a kindergart­en teacher at Red Mill Elementary School, gestures while dancing to a song during a virtual learning session with students on Sept. 24, 2020, in Virginia Beach.

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