10 Things That Haven’t Changed for Teachers in 10 Years

It’s been ten years since I spent an August prepping a classroom for a new influx of students. Ten years since I spent hours labeling folders, organizing book bins and drafting lesson plans. Ten years since I penned a Back to School parent newsletter. Ten years since I sat through the required “bloodborne pathogens” speech during the annual Staff PD Day. It’s been ten years since I was a teacher, and there’s a certain reality check that comes with that.

To say that a lot has changed in those ten years is an enormous understatement. My posse of “first five year” peers are now seasoned veterans (feature image). Ten years ago I was tech-savvy because I signed up my kids for 30 minutes a week in the computer lab, could run the overhead projector like a boss and forked over my own the money to buy the expensive design program so I could make beautiful weekly newsletters on my desktop computer. Most parent communication was still done by sheets of scrap paper slipped into backpacks, and many parents didn’t have email addresses (let alone phones without unlimited data plans for easy text-messaging).

But just like second graders today still long for the day they can read Harry Potter like mine did ten years ago, there are some things about my past as a classroom teacher that just won’t change – no matter how many years pass.

Good teachers know how to personalize instruction. Even Plato knew how to personalize learning, and all good teachers do some version of personalization. What’s new is the potential of technology to make personalization less time-consuming for teachers. (More on personalized learning here.)

There’s always “the next big thing.” Teachers can spot a fad a mile away. They won’t believe claims about the virtues of the latest trend in teaching and learning without evidence about why it’s worth their time and energy and examples that demonstrate how other teachers are putting it into practice. (More on getting beyond fads in education here.)

Teachers trust teachers. Teachers learn more from each other than from any other source. There are still too few opportunities for teachers to collaborate with one another in traditional settings, which explains partly why so many teachers flock to online professional learning communities. (Where was Pinterest when I needed it ten years ago?!) (More on the teaching profession here.)

“The big test” as the measure of everything still stinks. Teachers know that there’s more to a student than one score, one number or one metric. (More on the end of the big test here.)

Teachers are ready to move beyond building a vision and a ready to make that vision a reality. Even if it’s one small step toward a larger goal, teachers want actionable resources that they can implement right away as well as the necessary support needed to cultivate action. (More on teachers as catalysts for change here.)

Parents and families still matter. A lot. Parents are key partners. They know their own kids better than anyone and can be real allies in keeping teachers informed. The best teachers value the perspectives of family members and seek ways to engage them early and often. (More on parents and teachers as partners in student-centered learning here.)

Prep and PD are still lacking. I’ve never met a teacher who walked into his/her classroom for the first time feeling totally and completely prepared for the realities of teaching. Similarly, it’s still extremely rare to experience professional development opportunities that truly impact classroom practices. While there are some good examples of next gen professional learning, they are still the exception rather than the rule. (More on the next generation of prep and PD here.)

Teaching is still exhausting. Teachers have to be “on” 24/7  and almost always either with their students or thinking about their students. Teaching is not only physically exhausting but also mentally and emotionally taxing. Just like teachers rely on one another for sharing new ideas and resources, teachers also rely on each other for professional and personal support. (More on Professional Learning Communities here.)

Teachers are the original design thinkers. Good teachers are in a constant state of discovery, experimentation and evolution in service of their students. Classrooms and schools are some of the most dynamic working environments on the planet. When class begins, there’s no telling exactly what might happen. Lessons fail and get tossed midstream. There are the days when nothing goes right and the days when everything flows beautifully. Good teachers are in a constant state of learning, because they know how to embrace these opportunities to improve their practice. (More on design thinking in education here.)

Teaching is still rewarding. At the end of the day, everything comes back to the students. Whether it’s the second grader who needs the extra hug or the eleventh grader who needs the extra motivation, the best teachers keep a keen ear and sharp eye on the learners in their care and feel the greatest rewards from their students. (More on relationships here.)

So even though my former second grade students are now working full-time jobs, or in college, or married, or parents, I’ll always proudly identify as myself as a “former teacher.” I might not fully appreciate what it’s like to be a teacher in 2015, but I will always appreciate what it means to be a teacher.

What about you? What would you add to this list? What characteristics of teaching will stand the test of time?

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Lembit Ruutelmann

What a well-written article with many keen observations. As a math teacher heading into his 25th year of teaching, reflections like these are refreshing!


Thanks so much for the kind words Lembit. Have a great school year!


An article about teachers that is so poorly edited...



I retired in June after 27 years as an elementary school teacher. All your points are valid and could be commented on at length. There is one terrible gap. We in the U.S. have been touted as the preeminent purveyors of the classic business management model. We in the U.S. should be ashamed of this model. School administrators have been schooled on this model to the detriment of the schools they serve, the parents they answer to, and to the teachers and workers that must adhere to those policies set by school districts nationwide.
There are, in fact, many administrators who are great thinkers and promote good public relations and good relations with their employees. And, then, there are those that want to place their personal stamp or personal stomp on the education of children. Of all the years that I taught I did not meet an educator that did not have the goodness of the children at heart. I never met a really bad teacher. I've met and I was one, many harassed teachers. Harassed in that something was not of the liking of the principal. Ninety-nine point ninety nine percent of the time, the issue was so miniscule, so likely imperceptible to others as to make the issue highly suspect.
Let administrators manage bathrooms, cafeterias, parking lots, and "parent night". Their usual capricious actions hurt teaching, learning and progress. No administrator should attend the Wharton School of Management....big mistake.

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