Three Steps to Becoming a Professional Teacher for the 21st Century
Teaching – like medicine, engineering, or law – is among the most demanding professions in the world.
To understand why – try this. Get forty ten-year-olds to sit inside a classroom while it is forty degrees centigrade outside. Some children are loud, others quiet, and rest have no interest. You have less than forty minutes to get them all to pay attention and master a tricky concept like adjectives in English, fractions in Math, or buoyancy in Science. Most qualified people would not know where to get started or give up mid-way. Yet millions of teachers do this task day in and out in our schools.
Unfortunately, teachers – unlike doctors, engineers, or lawyers – are not adequately recognized and rewarded for their professional skill. This must change.
Of course, teachers need better compensation and working conditions. However, these are not enough to truly professionalize teaching. What is required first is a clear-cut definition of what an effective teacher needs to know and be able to do. Unfortunately, when people speak of good teaching, they speak only in generalities. No wonder, most teacher training programs don’t work because they focus on abstract theory without emphasizing the specific “how-tos” of teaching in a classroom. This is in sharp contrast to the highly specific skills that are transferred when doctor conduct surgery, engineers write software code, or lawyers argue a case.
So, what does it take to become a professional K-12 teacher in the 21st Century? Ashish Rajpal (Founder & CEO of XSEED Education) decodes three specific skills and mindsets that are ingredients of a modern teaching professional:
First, we need to embrace the importance of the pedagogical process and technique over merely broadcasting content. Embracing technique translates into five critical micro-skills – setting a clear aim for learning, orchestrating a purposeful experience, following up with adequate opportunities for analysis, application, and assessment. 21st-century workplaces demand that children be active creators and problem-solvers, not just passive consumers of information. Therefore, a teacher who can orchestrate a novel learning experience every day equips children with generalized capabilities and the confidence to deal with a complex world.
Second, we must start paying attention to the child. Teachers must be curious about each child. They must give importance to what individual children are thinking, be willing to provide time and space for them to respond, and then adequately deal with their responses. In traditional classrooms, the desire to listen to what children have to say and encourage them to express what they understand is often missing. The 21st-century teacher, like a doctor, should be able to diagnose the learning needs and talents of individual children. This can be achieved by overlaying productive classroom conversations with assessment data and other evidence of learning.
Finally, we need to nurture an investment mindset rather than a returns mindset. An investment mindset implies that we invest today in our teaching capability and not expect immediate returns. It means we take ownership of continuously learning and growing as educators. Such a shift can only happen if we cultivate an optimistic belief that things can get better in the future. We also need to be willing to learn, question our current methodologies, and become better versions of ourselves as professionals. The 21st-century teacher will first and foremost be a life-long learner.
The shift from content to pedagogy, from broadcast to personalized attention, from returns to an investment mindset is not easy. However, our experience of working with close to 75,000 teachers across thousands of schools shows that it takes time, but it is possible. Ordinary individuals can function as extra-ordinary professionals inside the classroom when they are given the right tools, training and support.