Are teachers college and career-ready?

In the 28 years my mother has worked at Lockheed Martin, I can remember the company opening their doors to the families of employees only twice.  So when Lockheed sponsored another Family Day this fall, I gathered my clan and drove home to Orlando to check it out.

The display of technological prowess astounded me.  Robotics demonstrations.  Flight simulators.  Lasers.  A futuristic military exoskeleton called HULC.

The visit to Lockheed revealed a problem worth solving in American schools.  I’m no longer sure our students will graduate with the technical skills they need to compete, and what’s worse, I don’t have enough of those skills to help them.  Although I teach English, I still need to know more about developing digitally literate young adults.

We ask students to become more versatile with their skill sets to fill tomorrow’s jobs, yet too many teachers lack these same skills.  I asked managers at Lockheed what they’re looking for in applicants.  They want workers who can absorb technical training easily, who can solve complex problems analytically and creatively.  They can’t just use technology; they must develop it.  Lockheed Martin is only one example.  But I’m willing to bet on a similar response from many innovative, high-paying companies.  If I had to jump into today’s economy armed with only my English degree, I’d be in big trouble.  What do I actually know how to do?

How can we possibly engage this generation of learners in the ways of the past, crammed into factory-style classrooms of bells, seat time, and outdated curricula without access to the latest tools?

I’m talking about engaging teachers as learners too.  We need to change both the methods and the content we learn if we expect students to do the same.

I contacted Karen Lien, Director of Imagine K-12, an incubator of edtech startups.  I hoped to learn how to blur the line between teacher and developer.  She connected me with some great young companies.  One of them, CodeHS, has allowed my students to be beta testers of their product, an interactive online course in computer programming.  The difference between CodeHS and the other open courses like my iTunesU favorites and my other guilty pleasure, Codecademy?  Online tutoring and grading of student work.  The kids are getting advice from Stanford University grads and company founders Zach Galant and Jeremy Keeshin.  Several students competing with me to complete lessons, and I love that a couple of them are beating me.

I talked to several others in the same cohort – SmarterCookie, Tryumph, StudyRoom, and DigitWhiz. The inspiring chats lead me to believe there’s a need here for stronger relationships between teachers and the edtech world.  Many companies are happy to collaborate with educators if we just ask.

Some may criticize this interest.  Diane Ravitch said of hedge funds and edtech investors in this Reuters piece, “The bottom line is they’re seeking profit first.”

Perhaps we’re picking the wrong battle in criticizing companies for seeking a market in education.  Let’s stop and ask ourselves as educators, do we know enough to help guide their efforts so the word profit also equals student learning?  Are we willing to evolve our skill sets in order to advance the teaching profession and the college-and-career readiness of our students?

I’m allowing myself to dream of one way – a blended, project-based program I call Teach Tech (TEaCH).  It would be designed specifically for teachers to develop technical skills and turn them into solutions for students.  It would include training in mobile app and web development, game design, learning management systems (LMS), as well as social media marketing and business management.  Unlike many of our university programs, this one would tailor specifically to individual teachers and would be rooted in partnerships between the public and private sector.

Are more teachers willing to evolve so our students can actually meet and exceed these Common Core State Standards?  If so, think about how you can improve your own technical skills.  If you were a recent grad trying to make your way in this economy, what would you have to offer?  I’d love to hear your ideas about how to make us more valuable.

If your answer is no, then what will you have to say when businesses and entrepreneurs evolve for us, without us?