These past 10 years have been a whirlwind for the teaching profession. The policy pendulum has swung back and forth, and there has been a growing number of demands put on teachers’ plates.
“There’s an increasing amount of responsibility and accountability,” said Freeda Pirillis, a long-time teacher who is now the coordinator for an International Baccalaureate program in Chicago. “It’s almost become so burdensome and distracting to doing the job that’s important.”
As the 2010s draw to a close, Education Week spoke to teachers about some of the biggest shifts in the teaching profession over the past decade. Teachers said they’re hopeful about what’s next for the profession in the decade ahead, but their plates have never been more full.
From an increase in teacher activism to a decline in the number of people who want to be teachers, here are 10 of the biggest shifts in the profession.
1. States have adopted tougher academic standards. The Common Core State Standards were released in 2010, and the Next Generation Science Standards were released in 2013. With the rigorous standards came new curricula and new teaching methods. But implementation was rife with political and logistical challenges, and in the early days, many teachers were left scrambling to put together their own curriculum. There was also more of an emphasis on math and reading tests associated with the standards, teachers said, often at the expense of other subjects.
Originally, 46 states adopted the common core. Since then, more than 20 states have revised or renamed the standards to back away from some of the controversy.
Some teachers say that teaching now feels more prescriptive, and there’s less room for creativity.
2. Teacher-evaluation systems began incorporating student-test scores. Thanks to federal incentives at the beginning of the decade, most states toughened the way they grade their teachers, incorporating student test scores into educators’ ratings. Under some systems, a bad rating put teachers at risk for dismissal.
These efforts were unpopular among many teachers and their unions, and in some cases, failed to make a difference in student achievement. (In other cases, like in the District of Columbia, the high-stakes evaluation system has led to gains in student learning.)
Since the federal incentives have ended, many states walked back one or more of their evaluation refoms. Even so, teachers still say they feel an increased pressure to make sure their students are growing from year to year.
“I think the change came for teaching when we made the success of the students the teachers’ responsibility instead of helping the students simply succeed,” said Frances Spielhagen, a professor of education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. “Once you make a person’s livelihood dependent on the success of someone she’s trying to help succeed, it changes the focus of what you’re trying to do.”
3. The influx of new technology and social media has transformed teaching. Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, said the technology has opened up new doors in her classroom. Her students have immediate access to research, and can connect with people on the other side of the country or even the world.
But there are downsides. A recent national survey found that 15 percent of students aged 12-18 were bullied online or through text messages during the 2016-17 school year. That’s higher than in past years. And the internet can be a distraction for students.
“It’s created a call to action for me,” Wessling said. “It’s really forced me to think more carefully about what engagement actually looks like in the classroom.”
4. Teen depression and suicide is on the rise. Federal data show that suicide rates for teens between the ages of 15 and 19 increased by 76 percent between 2007 and 2017. And the suicide rate for 10- to 14-year-olds nearly tripled over that same time period.
Depression has also become increasingly common among teenagers, especially girls. Researchers are considering the rise of smartphone and social media use, as well as the prevalence of bullying, as possible reasons for increasing mental health issues.
“I’m sure teachers bare the brunt of this, and they may or may not be qualified to respond to this, but they are to whom this falls,” said Jonna Perrillo, an education historian and an associate professor of English education at the University of Texas at El Paso.
5. The increasingly divisive rhetoric in politics has made its way into classrooms. The 2016 presidential campaign was notable for how it inflamed racial and ethnic tensions. Many teachers said they have never before had such a difficult time remaining neutral, since many felt like they had to condemn some of President Donald Trump’s more controversial remarks.
Education Week examined nearly 500 incidents of hate that took place in schools between January 2015 and December 2017, and found that most targeted black and Latino students, as well as those who are Jewish or Muslim.
And the impact of some of Trump’s policies as president can also be felt in classrooms. Justin Minkel, a 2nd grade teacher in an Arkansas elementary school with high numbers of Latino students, said the crackdown on immigration has “created some negative, psychological stress” among his young students.
6. Two horrific school shootings made safety a top-of-mind issue for teachers, students, and policymakers. The deadliest school shootings, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., both happened this decade, leading to intense debates on how to make schools feel safer.
School shootings are still rare—Education Week has counted 24 school shootings this year, with seven deaths (five of whom were children). There are more than 132,000 schools across the United States, with about 50 million students. Even so, active-shooter drills have become ubiquitous in schools, and teachers have said lockdown drills increasingly feel more real.
“We have a heightened sense of the real threats that exist,” said Pirillis of Chicago.
In response to these threats, some policymakers (including Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) have advocated for allowing teachers to carry guns at work. This idea is often met with resistance from educators, but a handful of states allow educators to carry guns on school grounds.
7. Fewer people are enrolling in teacher-preparation programs. Across the country, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has dropped by one-third over the past decade. Program completion has declined as well.
Enrollment numbers can be a “proxy for interest in the teaching profession,” said Lisette Partelow, the senior director of K-12 strategic initiatives at the Center for American Progress, who analyzed this data. Some of these declines, she added, are “quite worrying.”
In fact, in 2018, less than half of Americans said they wanted their child to become a public school teacher—that’s down from 70 percent in 2009.
8. States and school districts have increasingly formalized teacher-leadership roles. Teachers have called for professional opportunities that let them be involved in decision making without leaving the classroom. And this decade has seen a surge of interest in the concept. In 2014, the Education Department launched a national teacher-leadership initiative, and a recent analysis from the NCTQ found that 35 states now have formal teacher-leadership policies.
Even so, only 21 of them give teacher-leaders extra pay or other incentives, like a reduction in course load. Those incentives make teacher leadership sustainable, researchers say.
A 2017 study found that students who go to schools where their teachers have a leadership role in decision making perform significantly better on state tests.
9. Teachers across the country began protesting and leading work stoppages to demand higher pay and more money for schools. In February 2018, West Virginia teachers shut down schools across the state as they went on strike to protest changes to the statewide health insurance plan and to demand a pay raise. They were largely successful, and have been credited with lighting the match for the teacher activism that has spread across the nation like wildfire over the past two years.
The public has been largely supportive of teachers, who have positioned themselves as fighting for what students need. Over the past decade, the public and media have become more sympathetic to teachers.
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago, I never would have expected to see the Red for Ed movement in this context,” said Michelle Pearson, a middle school social studies teacher near Denver. “It wasn’t the time. ... [Now], it’s come to a precipice. It’s a situation where it’s all or nothing. We either move in that direction and bring our voices to the table, or the changes don’t get made.”
10. The conversation on teacher pay has changed. In the first part of the decade, policymakers wanted to pay high-performing teachers more. Several states and districts implemented pay-for-performance policies, and the U.S. Department of Education gave out $437 million in grants to districts that committed to implementing a performance-based pay system for teachers.
But those policies have since largely fallen out of favor. A 2017 evaluation of the Department Education’s grant program found that fewer than half of the districts planned to continue performance-based bonuses. And teachers in Denver went on strike earlier this year over a dispute centered on the district’s once-revolutionary performance-pay model.
Now, policymakers and teachers themselves are mostly advocating for across-the-board pay raises. Many teachers are dissatisfied with their pay, which is less than other similarly educated professionals.
Image via Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.