Educating the Educators: The Role Professional Development Plays for Today's Teachers

In many industries, professional development has grown from a nice to have on the side of the employer to a must have for workers. In this blog, we’ll use teachers as a case study to explore how mandated professional development isn’t the answer, and how individuals need to be investing in themselves and the skill of adaptation, written from the perspective of a student in a remote learning setting.

In 2020 the world of education shifted. The ability to teach and learn in person was no longer an option. Students and teachers were faced with the challenge of remote learning. This presented a learning curve for most. It also revealed an unpopular opinion: There is a lack of depth and adaptation in [specifically high school] teachers today that can lead to a students’ failure.

For over a year I struggled with remote learning. Not because of the content or the structure; in fact, I received better grades and learned more during the first semester of my sophomore year because of the lack of distractions in-person school requires. As the year progressed, it became abundantly clear to all of my fellow students that some teachers adapted well and made classes feel comforting and appropriately challenging. On the flip side, many other teachers did not adapt well and their priorities shifted from the student to filling the space with content that didn’t require students’ participation. Technology-focused learning proved to be more of a barrier to learning than an asset for these teachers. This is not because it is less efficient, more complicated, or too distracting. It is because teachers aren’t able to balance technology and teaching. Prior to remote learning, I witnessed teachers being outright confused by the new applications students and schools use, choosing to work around the technology and instead using paper and pens. Now that so much is online, including the students themselves, there is no way around it anymore; teachers must increase their technological skills in order to effectively teach their students.

As a student who has had many teachers blatantly refuse to adapt, I suggest that school districts, instead of just trying to “get by” in the technological age, should develop programs to teach their staff what they need in order to educate their students effectively. This could be done through a summer class, a series of meetings, or a set of videos. It should cover the basics of navigating the nitty gritty, such as the platform, discuss alternative teaching methods that are applicable to remote learning, and address the crucial yet simple requirements such as appropriate response time and how to have a professional attitude.

Often schools require career professional development; it is required as continuing education. Recent events make me wonder what our teachers are learning given the significant challenges and limitations that were revealed by COVID-19. One part of the puzzle is the employer. Employers will require development but won’t provide time and opportunity for it, instead relying on their employees to figure it out. Expecting employees to spend their personal time on professional development with little to no guidance is often unrealistic, and results in very little progress. Instead of working teachers from sunrise to sunset, we need to reorganize the education and teaching process to be more holistic, taking into account the time teachers need to educate themselves in an ever changing, fast paced environment.

At the same time, however, teachers cannot rely on only what the schools offer. Teachers need to put in the time and effort on their own, or else they will not be able to teach sufficiently. They need to actively try to learn how the applications work, how best to communicate with their students, etc.. Figuring out how to start a meeting and send out assignments is not enough. Anyone in a position of leadership where students are affected have to adapt and that’s where professional development comes in.

There is a lot to be said on this topic, and frankly, I’m not qualified to cover it all. But as a student, I can say that I have watched some teachers take the challenge of digital learning head-on and succeed in doing the best they can for their students. Learning new things in such a short amount of time is difficult, and I commend those who are trying. I also want to thank the teachers who did not make me feel like a burden because they were seeing me through a screen.