You Gotta Specialize

The Texas Tribune reported last week on a teacher shortage in West Texas that’s resulting in schools turning to virtual teachers.

The company providing the services is called Proximity Learning, and it’s based in Austin, Texas.  Based on a quick look at their LinkedIn hiring trends, it looks like this organization is growing fast.

Companies and non-profits that can find, screen, and provide the tech platforms for high-quality remote teachers will only continue to become larger and more sophisticated.  By offering subjects that students in some areas would not otherwise be able to access, this growth will represent a huge win for students.

But it’s also a huge win for teachers.  A quick look at Proximity Learning’s teacher job descriptions makes it clear that the game is about to change.  Up until basically yesterday, teachers had to commit to an all-or-nothing model in which it was assumed that someone who has skill in teaching a particular subject is also willing to show up at 6:45 a.m. for carpool duty, work through lunch supervising the cafeteria, and stay after school for coaching and other duties as assigned.

These custodial duties are vitally important – they may be the most important thing.  Because of the lack of specialization in the field of K12 education, we’ve seen mediocrity both in establishing strong student cultures and in academic achievement.

Instead of giving people who are strongly gifted in nurturing, relationship-building, and coaching an opportunity to shine in those domains, we’ve insisted they get degrees in education and teaching certificates.  Instead of giving people who have a passion for and talent in teaching specialized topics a chance to hone those skills and inspire more students, we’ve expected them to be Mary Poppins, too.

Some teachers can and do excel in both domains, and their skills will become even more valuable as parents who are not looking for video-based classes find schools that offer a boutique, in-person experience.  You can imagine hybrids of all of these options, even within one school building.

Teachers should be embracing these technological changes, and with them, the opportunity to live more fulfilling lives even as they become better at their craft.




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