Teachers need support as expectations on educators grow, study finds

Policymakers aiming to address an array of stubborn challenges in K-12 education can begin with improving teacher training and preparation; ensuring the equitable distribution of highly qualified, experienced teachers; and taking steps to diversify the educator workforce, according to new research.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that, with all the additional expectations and demands placed on teachers in the past two decades related to everything from shifting curriculum standards to developing a stronger understanding of students’ social and emotional growth, teachers need ongoing support.

Changing Expectations for the K-12 Teacher Workforce: Policies, Preservice Education, Professional Development, and the Workplace is the result of a 15-month collaboration between the Board on Higher Education and Workforce, and the Board on Science Education.

“We need new training and education strategies to help K-12 teachers meet shifting demands and expectations,” Robert E. Floden, chair of the committee that wrote the report and dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, said in a statement. “Asking teachers to do more without giving them new resources will impact our education system for the worse, and we need to address areas of concern to put us on the right track.”

Results show recurring difficulties teachers face

Researchers found that on top of their classroom duties, teachers are more often being called upon to be the bridge in communication between their school and families, and that those communications are expected to happen more quickly and frequently.

At the same time, educators are expected to ensure students develop the ability to apply the content they learn to different problems and situations, prepare students for the workforce and help them develop new competencies, such as leadership skills or self-control.

Adapting to changes in curriculum and corresponding exams without sufficient ongoing professional development has proven difficult, researchers found, as has meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student body. To create a supportive learning environment for children from a broader range of backgrounds and learning needs, researchers noted that teachers must have a deep understanding of their students and the experiences they bring to the classroom.

This can also prove challenging for educators because, as the K-12 student body rapidly becomes more diverse, the teachers workforce has remained relatively stagnant in racial and ethnic composition (approximately 80 percent white nationwide). However, the percentage of teachers who identify as Hispanic has increased from close to 3 percent of the workforce in 1987 to nearly 9 percent in 2016, the report’s authors note.

Priority areas for change

To provide teachers with the best opportunity to meet the above expectations, researchers concluded that having “adequate training, preparation, and learning experiences across their careers is paramount, especially in the workplace.”

Though the report didn’t include specific recommendations, there where a number of priorities highlighted, including:

  • Focusing part of preservice education and professional development on improving teachers’ capabilities to foster inclusive learning environments
  • Reducing barriers to entering the teaching workforce for teachers of color
  • Addressing the financial burden associated with being a teacher, including the cost of higher education
  • Making teaching positions in hard-to-staff schools more desirable by increasing compensation or some other means to ensure equitable distribution.

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