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Teaching in a Changing World

Posted by Robin Vitucci on February 12, 2014 at 9:36 am

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama said:

Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.  Some of this change is hard.  It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.  But it’s worth it – and it’s working. 

President Obama made clear that his political agenda is focused on bringing students into this new economy, and teachers must be prepared to support those efforts.  Historically, this has not been a reality for many school children in this country.

Growing up in Houston, TX, my public K-12 schooling was not focused on becoming a citizen of the world or participating in a global economy.  We spent a great deal of time learning about Texas history but I was not taught how many provinces are in Canada, did not have an opportunity to learn Chinese, nor had much time to discuss what was going on in the rest of the world.  International elements were relegated to a couple of world history courses, two years of either Spanish or French, and a high school world geography class.  At the time computers were still used mainly for word processing, not so much for research or communication.  Most of my classmates stayed in state for college, and we were content to remain in our inclusive bubble.

While Texas might have a reputation for being insular and state-centric, my upbringing was not lacking in diversity or awareness of others.  Rather, my schooling was likely similar to that of many others students across the country in its limited focus on state and national issues.  Technology, populations, and economies have all changed rapidly across the world in the past few decades.  As President Obama illustrated in his State of the Union speech, we need to respond, therefore internationalization has become an important element in K-12 education, and thus in teacher education. 

I currently work at the American Federation of Teachers in the Educational Issues department, focusing on teacher quality issues.  I work at the union at a national level researching and analyzing laws and policies that impact teachers, and I work with that information to help support and inform our local unions in teacher development and reform efforts.  I had the opportunity to be a part of the team that wrote Raising the Bar, a report aimed at improving the teaching profession through alignment of systems and elevated teacher preparation.  Most of my work at the AFT is with K-12 institutions, but through my work on this report I saw how interconnected what teaching candidates learn in preparation programs is (or should be) with what they ultimately teach in schools.  Teachers and teacher educators alike expressed the need for more training on teaching diverse learners and in understanding cultural differences.  Teachers can no longer use the same strategies to teach this changing student population in a changing society.

As a PhD student at George Mason University, I have focused on education policy and teacher policies in particular.  Because of the nature of my work at the AFT, I am interested in research surrounding the distribution of quality teachers.  This necessarily means understanding what a “quality” teacher is, and in turn how to prepare and develop teachers to be of high quality.  So many of our current policies are targeted at evaluating teachers and identifying their level of quality.  More research on those policies, as well as an understanding of international education systems, will help inform the United States on what more can be done to improve teaching and learning in this country and to ensure students are prepared for this new world.

An internship at Global Teacher Education will allow me to build upon my background knowledge in new and exciting ways, hopefully helping inform the community on how to better prepare teachers for a connected society.  The student population is changing to meet the changes in technology and economy, and teacher preparation must keep up in order to ensure our teachers are ready to teach these students. I plan to spend time at GTE looking at what other countries are doing to prepare teachers and what lessons the United States might take from them, as well as other issues relating to teacher preparation.

I look forward to working with GTE and engaging you in conversations and discussions about teachers and teaching.