21st Century Teaching

The surprising ways teaching is changing in the 21st century

The landscape of education is evolving, and there has never been a better time to join the teaching profession.

Author: Lynne Lavelle

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Originally published on Popsugar.

If it feels like your teacher friends sometimes can't stop talking about their jobs, consider that maybe they have a reason to be that passionate. While many of us complain about the mundane, repetitive elements of our 9-to-5s, teachers enter the classroom as leaders and have the opportunity to leverage their unique skills and creativity to oh, you know, change the world.

The classroom is undergoing a transformation—and that transformation is being led from the front of the class. That’s why would-be teachers are finding value in organizations that illuminate how the teaching profession is changing, and provide personalized resources and support, such as counseling, ways to explore whether teaching is right for them, and connections to certifications. To find out why teachers are so excited to share their work stories, we caught up with a couple of them to chat about life in the modern classroom. Pay attention, please...

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Students choose their own adventures

Student in front of board

Gone are the days when an equally bored teacher would deliver the same old lesson to an audience of yawning students; the future is giving students a more active role through inquiry- and project-based learning. Real life doesn't just hand us the answers or the questions, so teachers don't either. Instead, they are triggering curiosity by presenting students with problems and scenarios that they then have to solve.

Inquiry-based learning is the best thing to happen to education.

"Inquiry-based learning is the best thing to happen to education," says Spiro Gouras, a third-grade teacher in New York. "Our curriculum puts the access of knowledge in the hands of the student. The teacher does not simply deliver; rather, she focuses on the essential questions. The movement within a unit of work is guided by the students' questions and learning style. It works wonders."

Project-based learning takes this concept even further, with students working for extended periods of time to solve real-world problems and challenges. Best of all, their theses can take just about any form. "For example, I am teaching a Shakespearean play," says Chelsea Fricker, a sixth-year English teacher in Virginia. "A music-loving student can make a soundtrack based off of the main character to demonstrate his conceptual knowledge of the curriculum. It will also give him the skills and knowledge to adapt, which is arguably one of the most important lessons someone can learn."

Tech in the classroom

Students with devices

Today's teachers utilize a full menu of tech resources in the classroom, including data tools to keep track of students' progress. With them, however, comes a new set of teaching responsibilities, from equipping students with the ability to tell fact from fiction on the internet, and how to learn in a world where the answers are one click away, to understanding when it's time to step away from the computer screen. Teachers are becoming increasingly intentional about when to use technology—and when the more valuable lesson is in powering down.

"We are backing away from having technology in the classroom just to say that we have technology in the classroom," says Spiro. "I'm seeing more parents be impressed if I mention how many hours their children will not be in front of a screen. We are moving toward using technology where it is applicable, as in when we're learning how to code or learning how to use an app to make a dictionary resource."

Teachers are a community

It takes confidence to stand in front of a class, never mind leverage the freedom, creativity, and increasing autonomy that teaching offers. But teaching comes with a strong sense of community, both inside schools and across the profession at large. That community is growing stronger, bringing new meaning to, "If you're stuck, ask the teacher!"

Just like teaching a child requires a village, as the saying goes, so does the institution of education.

"Just like teaching a child requires a village, as the saying goes, so does the institution of education," says Chelsea. "We need to go to more than just our principal for questions. Maybe a certain teacher has a lot of experience on a subject that I don't. In order to be a good teacher, you need to keep learning. And asking your colleagues for help will improve you." 

More and more schools are formalizing this process through professional learning communities, where teachers learn from each other's areas of expertise. But there's no need to stay within the school walls to learn, listen, or share experiences. "We are seeing the rise of critical friends' groups where we solve dilemmas that our schools and districts have as a community," says Spiro. "We work with children all day and sometimes forget that we could use guidance from our peers."

Teacher career ladders

Student science in garden

The word "teacher" has never encompassed so much, nor have there ever been so many avenues for professional development. While there is no typical career path, staying in one role for a decade is all but obsolete, with options from junior teacher through lead teacher, department chair, mentorships, coaching, curriculum design, and research. And who says you have to stay in the classroom? These days, the opportunities within district-wide professional development, as well as district-wide, state-wide, and nation-wide education policy, are vast. And these are just a few of the dozens of roles and pathways that teachers are pursuing to continually challenge themselves, grow, and lead in different ways.

This is why your teacher friend can't stop talking—and why you should join the conversation.

Join the conversation

If you've thought about becoming a teacher—even if you don't know where to start—check out our roadmap quiz. It's an easy way to see if the profession might be right for you.

Still not sure? Find out why teachers have better work stories. You just might change your mind.

With a TEACH.org account, you'll have access to resources, experiences and connections to real teachers so you can discover what makes the career challenging, how it's changing, and how to navigate to success as a professional educator.