For years, we’ve been reading much about teacher shortages. Fewer individuals see teaching as a career pathway of choice, leaving schools and school districts with slim pickings in terms of instructional staffing. This problem becomes all the more concerning when you consider booming student populations, with large special needs subpopulations, including English language learners.
Let’s be honest, teaching is not the most glamorous job option out there. This is true for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the limited financial opportunity that it offers most practitioners. Some are put off by the absence of growth opportunities, the glass ceiling that keeps many locked into a narrow pathway for years on end. Others lament the growing demands for accountability, data collection and the shift to common core.
But while some may view the educational glass as half empty, I think that there are many reasons to be more optimistic than ever about the future of education. More research continues to be conducted to understand learning and educational best practices. Technology allows us to substitute quality for quantity (at least in part) as we conceive ways of blending and flipping learning, reducing the need for earlier staffing levels. There’s also the growing impact of social media.
Social media has helped teachers engage their students in a more robust fashion. Using digital dialogue and sharing, teachers and students can broaden their horizons and explore new ways to think and construct meaning. They can gain inspiration from observing others’ work, and motivate others to do more than they ever thought possible. Posting pictures of learning, field trips and exciting projects make the instructional time come to life and builds positivity amongst students, staff, parents and the educational community at large.
Social media offers teachers more than new ideas and new information. It provides for them a community, a group of like-minded people with whom to converse, share and get feedback. You are likely familiar with the unflattering adage that teaching (or dare I say educational administration) is the loneliest profession in the world. Much of that, of course, relates to our primary engagement with students rather than peers, hiding behind closed doors and operating almost exclusively within our small universes. Social media has brought educators together virtually, giving us a deeper connection to the educational world in which we operate.
Teacher seclusion is also the product of having few engagement partners. Whether we work in small schools or even larger ones with multiple sections per grade, there’s a certain sense amongst many in the tribe that no one really gets me or shares my situation. I am certainly not inclined to expose my weaknesses and shortcomings to others, at the risk of less job security.
In the vast realms of cyberspace, however, we can find all sorts of educators, people who are good for ideas, feedback, curriculum and advice. We can safely observe others experiment and encourage one another for successful projects. We can cheer on Facebook much more than we can in the teacher lounge and we can chat on Twitter without having to schedule a meeting. News is shared quickly and broadly about educational conferences, TED talks and other educational videos, funding opportunities and the like.
Without a doubt, the challenges facing education are significant. We must do more to raise the standard as well as the way that education is viewed both within and without the field. But we also have much to celebrate, thanks largely to Web 2.0. And while social media and other technologies may be no match for the deep, personal connection that comes with face-to-face engagement, the breath, exuberance and promotive nature of social media gives us all much to be thankful for as 21st century learning continues to define itself.