A time of new challenges–and then some

Although my children now are grown and I am no longer either teaching or enrolled as a student, this time of year has always felt like a pivot-point for me.

For most of my life, August has been the time when my family (Mom and Dad were both teachers) and I would shift from a summer of differently-structured time, to plunge back into the challenges of the new school year.

Headed back to school: What should we prepare them for?

My time at the helm of a classroom probably is over, for well or ill. But at this time of year I can’t help thinking about the challenges today’s teachers and students face. Our picture of the future is continually in motion, but the age-old job of teachers is to prepare their students for it as best they can. That’s one of the few things that hasn’t changed!

But what should teachers prepare them for?

Our immediate future contains a massive range of possibilities. Technology that seemed remote only a few years ago now is imminent. From personalized medical care based on an individual’s genome to advances in brain-computer interface technology, our picture of living, working, and learning in the 21st Century is changing rapidly.

We’re beginning to feel the effects of climate change in shifting weather patterns and greater environmental hazards, from more intense storms, more widespread flooding, and hotter, less controllable wildfires.

More intense storms are only one of the environmental hazards kids will increasingly face in the future.

The news tells us the USA has officially recovered from the Great Recession of the last decade–though some of us will never make up the lossesAutomationsome aspects of globalization, and a shifting dominance of industries in the economic sector have taken away some jobs and transformed demand for skilled labor.

Learning new skills throughout life to remain employable is a new feature of the employment scene, a trend that isn’t likely to change in the future.

Our political and social landscape has been changed by economic and demographic shiftsphilosophical polarization, and new social norms about what is and is not acceptable. The so-called “bathroom bills” that have recently targeted transgender students are only one example of the lengths laypersons with no understanding of problems sometimes try to meddle in school affairs.

As if all of that wasn’t enough of a challenge for teachers, consider that there is now literally more history to teach than there was several decades ago, and the best pedagogical standards demand the inclusion of a range of ethnic and socio-economic viewpoints, not just “old dead white guys.”

New scientific knowledge is developed every year, and a quality science education demands that teaching adjust for newly-discovered facts or risk teaching erroneous information (there’s enough of that already).

School breakfast programs provide essential nutrition for millions of kids who otherwise might come to school too distracted by hunger to learn.

Educators also are now expected to accommodate a wider array of needs than they’ve been asked to do in the past, from feeding kids breakfast and lunch so they can be alert in class, to crafting lessons for differentiated learning and individual learning styles, despite often-overcrowded classrooms due to budget shortfalls.

It all adds up to steeper challenges for teachers and school systems every year. I wish them all the best of success, and good luck.

They’re going to need it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Apple Country Living, for the “back to school” bus-and-kids photo; to CNN, for the photo of the Plaza Towers Elementary School, after a massive tornado hit Moore, OK, in 2013; and to the Eau Claire WI Leader-Telegram for the photo of employment seekers at a local job fair. Many thanks are also due to the Kansas City Chiefs for the photo of a “Wake Up” School Breakfast spread they helped promote for National School Breakfast Week at a local middle school (this photo is from their 2016 project).

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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