10 Issues in Education Beginning Teachers Should Learn About

A few weeks ago, we explored on episode 10 of Make It ‘Til Friday ten issues that beginning teachers in the United States should be aware of as they enter the new world of education. Here’s a quick blog that summarizes some of what we discussed.

Before we get going, let’s note a couple of things. First, none of these challenges supersede one another-- in many cases, they cannot exist outside the context of one another. For example, school funding isn’t separate from racially segregated schools, and neither is one more important than another. Second, these issues affect everyone involved in the educational process--students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Literally, everyone. And lastly, these challenges aren’t necessarily negative. In many cases, they’re opportunities for change that are desperately needed.

10) Increasing Student Diversity in Schools
This has supposed to been happening the Brown vs. Board decision in 1954, which declared segregated public schools inherently unequal. But, we have to be careful about how we quantify increases in diversity. By 2025, experts predict minority students will make up a majority of us high school graduates. This is why, for example, the National Center for Education Statistics predicts that “enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools is projected to: decrease 6 percent
between 2011 and 2022 for students who are White; be 2 percent higher in 2022 than in 2011 for students who are Black; and increase 33 percent between 2011 and 2022 for students who are Hispanic.

However, beginning educators don’t just need to be equipped to be culturally competent. Diversity also includes developing pedagogies to assist students with 504 plans, English Language Learners, IEP’s, trauma-affected individuals. Simply stated: we need to be aware that are classrooms are more complicated than on the surface and that they will continue to become so.

Check out some helpful resources on this topic at:

9) Trauma-Informed/Responsive Pedagogy
Trauma is a relatively new topic in the field of education, but an incredible important and complex one. Trauma can be caused by a wide variety of factors, but without going into too much detail, trauma can stem from issues as wide ranging as abuse to addiction. Nearly every student is affected by trauma or knows someone who is-- in my current school, we estimate that ½ of them have experienced some form of trauma which affects their education. It’s a serious topic that deserves serious examination, even as a first-year teacher.

Be looking for upcoming episodes of Make It Til Friday on this topic in particular.

Check out some helpful resources on this topic at:

8) The Integration of Technology in Education
Our co-author of Don’t Ditch That Tech, Matt Miller, says that “there’s no playbook for teaching in today’s classrooms.” And with technology, that’s definitely the case.

We get asked every once in awhile by school districts, “So we’re thinking about going 1:1. What are your recommendations for doing that?” Our answer generally is: there’s no turnkey solution. It’s lots of big & little things done together.

Let’s explain: School districts all the way down to the individual student in a classroom have a say-- or will develop their own-- as to how to use edtech. As a beginning teacher, it’s a good idea to get immediately familiar with your district’s, school’s, parents’, and students’ expectations with using technology in the classroom, and then add your own expectations into the fray.

The key is going to come to being okay with change. It’s the only constant with edtech. If it seems that any player (from admin to parents to yourself) has figured everything out, that's probably not the case. There will be some new app, or some new need, or some modification that will have to be made. Edtech is always--and should be--in flux. Be ready.

Check out some more helpful resources on this topic at:

Check out some helpful resources on this topic at:

7) Work/Life Balance for Teachers
As my mom, my wife and I are teachers, this is an issue we are all too well familiar with. It’s really important to say “hey, my plate is full”, or “let me think about it--still trying to find my balance”.

In some ways, teachers are both capable of being “on the clock” and “off the clock” than ever before. It’s really hard to tune out of teaching with things like Remind, social media, and email. On the other hand, because there’s a relative shortage of teachers in certain areas (special education, STEM, etc), we’re in more of a position to advocate for our needs.

At the end of the day, just remember: you can’t pour from an empty cup. Be on the lookout for a new episode of Make It ‘Til Friday on this topic too!

6) Teacher Pay
I have to imagine that if I polled every teacher in the United States right now, teacher pay would  show up somewhere in a top 5 list of concerns. In my home state of Indiana, it’s mostly the result of two things: 1) an ongoing attempt to de-professionalize the teaching profession and 2) the start of state-mandated property tax caps in the early 2000’s.

As a beginning teacher, there’s a few things you can do:
Be transparent about how much you make with your colleagues. Although it seems taboo, one of my favorite episodes of the TV show Adam Ruins Everything goes into depth about why employees need to share their salaries publicly and what effect it can have. Here’s a preview (be aware it’s got some choice language). So to practice what I preach, I’ll tell you that this is my 6th year teaching and I still make the same amount as a first-year teacher in my district.
Listen to your state representatives and state senators. Know who they are and let them know how you feel about your salaries. All it sometimes takes is just five minutes to send them a quick note.

Check out some helpful resources on this topic at:

5) The Evaluation of Schools
You may not be super familiar with high-stakes testing and graduation pathways (the latter is an Indiana thing), but the teaching profession has been dramatically shaped since 2001 when the No Child Left Behind Act snuck in after the events of 9/11. I’ll give you an example: thanks to this act, and a few subsequent ones, over 50/180 days of instruction in my school are in some way now dedicated to testing. The big thing here: be aware that you’re teaching never occurs in a vacuum. Somewhere, somehow, there’s a national, state, or local act outside of property taxes that’s putting pressure on administrators, parents, teachers, or students and likely affects funding.

4) School Funding
Most states rely upon property taxes to fund their public schools. However, inside of those property taxes, school funding formulas can drastically affect the amount of dollars that each student in a school is relatively worth. For schools, gaining/losing even one hundred from  students can equate to massive budgetary shifts.

If you’re considering working at a particular school, it may not be a bad idea to do some research to ascertain their current and future financial strength. You could possibly even ask this in the interviewing process itself, but it’s something you’ll have to be careful about doing. However, it’s important to know because if a district is struggling, you might be at risk for only being there for the short term because typically, the most recently hired teachers are the first to be let go.

3) US Schools Are Increasingly Segregated
This is going to sound odd in conjunction with #10 above, but despite our student populations becoming more diverse, our schools are actually becoming more racially segregated. For instance, in 2011, African-American enrollment in majority white schools in the South fell to 23% after peaking at 43% in 1988. And it’s not just trend in the South: In Washington DC, 90% of African-American students attended students with populations of less than 10% white students. In New York City, nearly 82% of African American students attended similarly segregated schools. See the data here.

What’s even more damaging is that typically minority-majority schools will have access to fewer resources, whether that be monetary, technological, or infrastructure-based.

It’s a good idea as a pre-service teacher and as you’re interviewing for your first teaching jobs to be very intentional and aware about the kind of school you want to work in. Even if you end up working--or currently do--in a heavily segregated district, try to set up opportunities for minority students that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience, or, make extra attempts to feature the cultural uniqueness and gifts they already possess.

Extracurriculars and clubs are a great way to start. For instance, I recently went to a fantastic conference session with Jim O’Hagan who talked about his use of esports to promote student inclusivity in his school. It really can start with something as new as that.

2) Teacher Recruitment and Retention
Even when you’re struggling or worn out, be the model of the profession that you want your students to see.

We live in glass houses as teachers. The best way to recruit for your profession is the be amazing at it--even if you don’t feel like it.

Recommend outstanding students from your classroom to become teachers. There’s a desparate need especially for males of color in the classroom--more broadly, for people who come from non-white majority, non-affluent backgrounds. Take the time to celebrate and support those individuals who are interested in possibly teaching.

1) The Phrase “That’s The Way It’s Always Been Done”

As teachers, we stand on the shoulders of giants. But sometimes, even those giants need to shift too.

The trick is to balance the culture, history, and tremendously effective practices & theories that have gone before you with the new understandings constructed today. It can be really hard, even as a young teacher, to approach and shift your pedagogy. But, it may be what’s best for your students.

At the end of the day, it comes down to praxis: a constant cycle of practice and reflection. And praxis shouldn’t just a personal journey--it’s got to be a systemic one too.


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