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Phoenix Forward magazine

How has modern education changed teaching?

Modern education

When you think of K–12 teaching, if you visualize a teacher standing in front of a class presenting lessons while students sit quietly at their desks, think again, says Kimberly Smerkers-Bass, campus college chair for the College of Education and an instructor in the teaching program at the University of Phoenix® Northern Nevada Campus.

Because of ongoing reforms to the public education system, such as Common Core State Standards and new teacher-evaluation methods, “the field of teaching looks very different than it did five years ago and requires a different mindset in order to be successful,” explains Smerkers-Bass, who holds a doctorate in education.

Here’s what she says you need to do to be successful in teaching today:


Figure out how to reach each student.

Most teachers are now evaluated based on their students’ achievement data. “If you’re teaching in one of the 40 states [or Washington, D.C.] that has adopted ‘teaching accountability’ requirements, you will be rated annually based on how much each student in your classroom improves over the course of the year,” Smerkers-Bass says.

These new evaluations put pressure on teachers to ensure that their students perform well, and force teachers to be creative to engage all students in the classroom.

“Where teachers used to teach to the middle skill level of the class, now they have to find new ways to reach children at all ends of the learning spectrum,” notes Smerkers-Bass, a former elementary school principal.

Methods include breaking the class into small learning groups and encouraging students to work collaboratively, or having some kids watch video instruction while more advanced students help their schoolmates grasp difficult concepts.

Learn to be a facilitator.

Classrooms are more interactive now, with kids doing a lot more of the talking. “Teachers have become more like facilitators in the classroom, encouraging discussion and learning,” Smerkers-Bass says. Students are responsible for more presenting and sharing of ideas.

“Teacher talk [can be] cut in half from what it used to be because there isn’t as much emphasis on delivering a single lesson to the entire class,” she explains.

In this new environment, she adds, “teachers have to constantly assess which students know the material and which students don’t. If [teachers are] doing a lot of lecturing, they won’t know which kids are ready to move on” and which ones might need extra help or time to absorb the material.

Collaborate with other teachers.

In the past, it was common for teachers to meet within their grade levels to discuss basics, such as field trips and special projects. Now, teachers regularly collaborate on teaching styles and ways to engage students.

For instance, Smerkers-Bass says, instead of just having your one classroom of kids, you share lesson plans with other teachers, visit each other’s classrooms, help determine ways to work with hard-to-reach students and solve difficult problems together.

Keep current on legislative and educational news.

Because of continuous changes in the education field, it’s important for teachers to keep abreast of professional and legal developments that may affect them.

For example, in Illinois, public schools with preschool programs must offer bilingual education to children ages 3 and 4 if they don’t speak English. The law also requires teachers to be certified to teach bilingual classes or English as a second language.

Knowing what lawmakers have approved, Smerkers-Bass says, can help new teachers or even seasoned professionals living in the state determine whether they need to broaden their skills to expand their career opportunities.