Learn More

40 Hour Workweek

Education Trends, Podcast Articles   |   May 26, 2024

Where do we go from here? Trends, predictions, and hope for the future of teaching

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Where do we go from here? Trends, predictions, and hope for the future of teaching

By Angela Watson

As the school year comes to a close, we’re taking a step back from practical strategies, and looking at the big picture of K-12 education.

Until summer, there’s not a lot of time or mental bandwidth to consider questions like, “What are the larger factors impacting our work? How are other schools handling these challenges? How do we proactively prepare for what’s next and create a vision for where we’re heading, instead of just trying to put out fires all the time?”  

In an era of student disengagement and teacher disillusionment, it’s crucial for us to envision a better way of doing school and collectively work to make that vision a reality.

So, in this episode, I’m sharing the statistics around teacher vacancies, student enrollment declines, and budget forecasts, along with the implications for schools.

I’ll then analyze the trends and focuses that we’ll be seeing more of in education in the coming years. Topics covered include:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Student safety and mental health
  • Rationalizing and consolidating curriculum
  • Hybrid learning and multi-classroom models
  • The 4-day school week
  • Vocational-technical training and non-college prep
  • Microschools and “schools within a school”

You’ll be invited to reflect on what else might be possible for schools and use your expertise as a teacher to help shape the future of education. Together, we can change the narrative around the profession and find the overlap between what’s best for teachers and what’s best for kids.

Sponsored by Understood Explains

One of the most interesting aspects of my work as an instructional coach and educational consultant is getting to observe and interact with educators all over the country, and sometimes even internationally. Teaching can be an isolating profession in which you don’t really know if what’s happening in your classroom is also happening to the teacher next door, or the school down the road, much less the folks across the state or country. And most schools operate in a bit of a silo: they’re so busy trying to meet the needs of their own community that there’s not a lot of time or mental bandwidth to take a step back and ask, “What are the larger factors impacting our work? How are other schools handling these challenges?” and just as importantly, “How do we proactively prepare for what’s next and create a vision for where we’re heading, instead of just trying to put out fires all the time?”

I have the privilege of being able to do that kind of work, and I want to share it with you today. If you enjoy this podcast format, please let me know, and I’ll do these periodically, maybe once or twice a year, to keep you in the loop.

So, I’m going to share the statistics around teacher vacancies, student enrollment, and budget forecasts, along with the implications for schools. I’ll then analyze the trends and focuses that we’ll be seeing more of in education in the coming years.

I’m going to give you the more depressing news first, but don’t worry, we’re not going to stay there, and I’m going to spend a good portion of our time talking about things that make me hopeful.

And I want you to know that my choice of wording in the title of this episode — the future of teaching — was very deliberate. I intentionally did not choose to frame this as the future of schooling, the future of learning, or the future of education.

Certainly, we’ll talk about that. But my focus really is on the future of teaching. Because I feel like that gets lost so much in the message around “everything is for the kids.” Obviously, the purpose of school is to educate children, and they matter. But there are millions of dedicated adults who have chosen teaching as a career. And they matter, too.

The people doing this work of teaching matter, and finding ways to support, attract, and retain teachers is important. And so, that’s what I really want to center on here. My advocacy is always centered around teachers.

I try to find the overlap between what’s best for kids and what’s best for teachers. I don’t think these two things are diametrically opposed. And I don’t think that it is negligent on behalf of students to focus on what their teachers need and what is the future of this career.

If we don’t see teaching as a valid career choice that is worthy of funding, support, and resources…if we don’t really consider who teachers are and their well-being and their work-life balance, then the profession crumbles, and that affects kids. So, we need to get real about what’s happening, and we do need to center teachers in the conversation sometimes.

The people who are doing this work in schools are super, super important. So, that’s why we’re looking at the future of teaching.

And one quick note for our international listeners: this is a very American-centric episode. To try to do this for international trends would be like a whole other can of worms, though I do have an episode coming out in June with Pernille Ripp about work/life balance in Danish schools. Check out episode 303 when that’s out.

So, let’s get into staffing, budgets, and enrollment, and start by investigating the chatter about so-called teacher shortages.

The state of K-12 staffing, budgets, and enrollment

Patchy, less-widespread teacher vacancies

I’m always hesitant to use the term teacher shortage because I think there’s less of a teacher shortage as much as a shortage of people willing to sign up for the high demands of the job at the current salary level and with so few resources and support. I think teacher vacancies is probably more accurate.

Nevertheless, yes, we continue to see fewer college students enrolling in teaching certification programs. The decline decades ago was partially due to more career options being available to women for the first time. More recently, college students are pursuing business degrees and careers in STEM which are some of the most profitable fields to work in. The decline in interest has led schools like Harvard and New Jersey City University to close their undergrad teaching programs. The University of South Florida had planned the same in 2020 due to budget cuts but reversed its decision in 2021 after pushback. (Per this article.)


So there are fewer prospective teachers entering the field; the data on that is pretty clear.

This has contributed — though of course it’s not the sole cause — to the high level of teacher vacancies. There are many unfilled teaching positions, and that’s been the case for several years. This is particularly true in high-poverty communities and urban schools, and in special education, science, math, and engineering.

Will it stay that way? Tuan Nguyen, the lead researcher of a multi-year study on teacher vacancies, says that’s hard to predict:

“This is one of the things that we are continuing to work on. Forecasting the teacher turnover, as we’re learning, is very, very hard. We think that teacher turnover is going to peak either last year or this year, and over the next couple years, we think it’s going to decrease…From ‘21-22 to ‘22-23, we did see a substantial increase in vacant positions, but it’s unclear to me whether or not that’s going to continue — in part because turnover might decrease, but also because some districts are using ESSER funds to hire teachers, and that’s going to run out [in September].”

Expected budget shortfalls 

The last round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds is wrapping up soon, and that’s going to have a big impact financially on schools.

If you’re not familiar with this, during the pandemic, federal lawmakers gave a lot of extra money to K-12 schools through the ESSER Fund. This money came from three laws: the CARES Act of 2020 (ESSER I), the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (ESSER II), and the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (ESSER III). In total, schools got nearly $200 billion extra during the pandemic. The first two rounds of funds have already been used up, but the last round, ESSER III, needs to be committed by September 2024.

These funds were a big help for schools dealing with reopening challenges, supporting students’ mental health, and making up for learning lost during the pandemic. They were given out based on the same formula as federal Title I funding, which gives more money to districts with lots of low-income families.

The ESSER III funds were flexible, meaning schools could use them in lots of different ways. In the states that reported data, about half of the ESSER III money went to paying employees. This included hiring new teachers, counselors, office workers, and specialists, as well as giving raises to retain staff. But if states don’t find other money to keep paying these new workers, they might end up getting laid off. This could be a bigger problem for new staff who are people of color, as they’re often the first to go when there are layoffs.

Schools also hired counselors to help with students’ mental health, added programs to help with social and emotional learning, made the school day longer or added more days to the year to make up for “lost learning time”, and spent money on training, technology, and teaching materials.

As school systems transition to more normal cash flows, school leaders have to decide whether to pare back on programs or supplies, lay off teachers, or a combination of these.  They need to find ways to replace the ESSER funds that were going toward learning and mental health initiatives so those can be preserved.

When the ESSER funds run out, it’s going to create a so-called financial cliff for school districts. This is especially true considering other financial problems like state tax cuts, diverting resources to school vouchers, and general economic uncertainty.

Many Republican-governed states have broadened voucher programs over the last few years, allowing parents to send their kids to private schools using tax dollars, which means less money flowing to public schools. This has led to a renaissance of sorts for private schools, many of which have been seeing spikes in enrollment since 2020, and are finally getting the tuition dollars they need.

This could lead to tough choices in public schools like laying off teachers, shutting down schools, or cutting important programs for students.

Declining rates of enrollment in public schools

A large number of parents pulled their kids out of public schools in 2020 and 2021, and to a lesser extent over the past few years. Initially, the COVID restrictions were a big driver of this: if a local public school was continuing remote learning at a time when a local private school had chosen to reopen, many parents chose to switch to the private school. Homeschooling has had a big surge in popularity during that time and has continued.

We also saw many familiar people temporarily or permanently relocate in 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic restrictions. Urban public schools lost up to 20% of their enrollment in some places as families fled to less dense areas where the health risks were perceived as lower (if their primary concern was avoiding COVID) or where the pandemic restrictions were looser (if their primary concern was getting their kids back to normal in school.) Urban school enrollment around the country has largely not bounced back since then, which mirrors the population loss as a whole that most large American cities have been experiencing lately.

All of this has led to a decline in student enrollment in many areas of the country. Another factor is the declining birth rates in the US since 2012. In some places, this is offset by the number of immigrant families who are coming to the US and enrolling their children in public schools, but the numbers are very uneven. Some communities have received huge influxes of migrant and/or refugee families, but this is not creating a huge public school enrollment increase nationwide.



We don’t have a lot of clear and current data on that, but one conclusion I think it’s fair to draw is that the number of children immigrating to the US right now is rising, and there are more immigrant children in public schools than in previous years. However, the total number of students enrolled in public schools is down in a large number of communities, including those with large immigrant populations. It’s difficult to make predictions on how all of this will affect the needs of schools, school budgets, and teacher vacancies, other than to say that the need for teachers to be culturally informed and trained/supported in working with ESL students is increasingly important.


Another interesting angle of the decline of students in public schools is chronic absenteeism. Students have to show up to school in order for schools to get funding for them, and a number of students have simply disappeared since the pandemic.

So in terms of what to expect, some states may need to let teachers go due to declining student enrollment and may see teachers being surplused. Other districts are going to continue to have large numbers of vacancies. And these changes are likely to be very localized. Your school may have vacancies, but another just a few miles away may be laying off teachers.

What we may see over the next couple of years is a sort of leveling off and shifting around of teachers. There may be fewer folks entering the profession and more teachers leaving, but that could be offset by declining enrollment. The schools that typically have a lot of vacancies may have fewer, as teachers are surplus or laid off from other schools.

K-12 education trends and focuses for the 2024-2025 school year

So that’s a look at the state of education as a whole right now in terms of staffing and enrollment. Now let’s move into what’s trending in K-12 education in the US, and I’ll share what’s making me optimistic for the future of schools.

Student safety

Ensuring student safety remains a top priority, with schools and states investing significant resources into enhancing security measures, preventing school shootings, and addressing issues like substance abuse and mental health among students.

However, progress in creating safe and inclusive environments faces challenges, with some proposed solutions encountering resistance and concerns about their effectiveness. Student safety is unfortunately a politicized issue which makes it harder for communities to reach a consensus about what to do. However, I think we’ll continue to see significant percentages of school budgets allocated toward student safety. I’d like to see a focus on educator safety as well, but that’s a topic for another day.

Student mental health 

Addressing students’ mental health remains a top priority for many American schools, despite budget constraints and staffing shortages. While progress has been made in reducing the student-to-counselor ratio, ensuring adequate support for students’ emotional well-being remains a significant challenge in almost every school.

Compounding the issue is our escalating culture wars, of course. Schools find themselves embroiled in controversies surrounding curriculum censorship and civil rights. Legal battles over restrictions on LGBTQ+ and race-related content underscore the delicate balance schools are trying to strike between compliance with state laws and upholding constitutional and federal mandates.

The outcomes of ongoing legal battles and policy decisions will shape the trajectory of education policy and practice in the years ahead, for sure.

Post-pandemic academic recovery

Yes, we’re STILL talking about this. Although 2023 saw disappointing academic outcomes in some areas, I think there’s a growing sense of cautious optimism regarding post-pandemic academic recovery efforts. If you will allow me to shift from data to vibes, it feels like maybe the worst of the upheaval is behind us, and we’re settling into the next new normal.

Some states have reported slight improvements in test scores compared to the previous year, which is encouraging. However, persistent challenges remain, such as fluctuating enrollment levels and concerns over chronic absenteeism. What are the implications there? How does that impact trends and innovations?

Artificial intelligence and data privacy 

These are definitely two big issues in the ed tech space. Federal initiatives aimed at enhancing K-12 cybersecurity highlight the seriousness of this issue, as schools try to safeguard sensitive information.

Quite a bit of professional development training in schools and amongst school leaders is centered around AI and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

I believe we’ll see a continued emphasis on artificial intelligence in education, with AI tools becoming increasingly integrated into lesson planning and student assessment. My opening keynote for the elementary summit talks more about the pros and cons of this and my general feeling about AI.

Suffice it to say that it’s really hard to predict at this point whether AI will be a net positive for society or for schools, but it’s here to stay and having a big impact. I am optimistic about the potential for AI to ease the unsustainable burden on teachers to personalize and individualize learning. What’s being asked of teachers right now in terms of simultaneously differentiating for every student’s individual learning preferences, interests, skill levels, etc. is just not possible for one person. And yet it’s a worthwhile goal. Rather than go back in time and depersonalize learning, or continue to expect teachers to somehow work miracles and berate them when they don’t.

And I am optimistic about the potential for AI to ease the unsustainable burden on teachers to personalize and individualize learning. What is being asked of teachers right now in terms of simultaneously differentiating for every student’s individual learning preferences, interests, skill levels, and so on, it is just not possible for one person. And yet, it is a worthwhile goal.

Over the next few years, AI will transform every aspect of the way schools operate, and it’s imperative for educators to get out ahead of the trends, and ensure the changes are what’s best for teachers and kids.

We don’t need tech CEOs making decisions about AI in education: we need informed classroom teachers (who understand pedagogy and their students) to be the leaders of change.

If you want to have a voice in how AI is used in your school, feel informed about new developments, and use AI in ways that make your teaching more effective and efficient, 40 Hour AI can help.

I want to tell you about an affordable program that’s available starting summer 2024 for educators who want to stay current with AI. It’s part of my 40 Hour Workweek courses — there’s the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, 40 Hour Leadership, and 40 Hour Instructional Coaches, so I’m calling this one 40 Hour AI. Like the other 40 Hour offerings, it’s designed to help you maximize your contractual hours so you’re not working endlessly on nights and weekends.

40 Hour AI is a collection of short video trainings that you can watch anytime. There’s one for folks who are brand new to AI and want to get a clear of understanding of how it works, and a training about ethics to help you create a customized plan for using AI that fits your specific teaching context and makes you feel empowered. There’s also a training on habits with AI: how to integrate AI into your daily teaching practices so it’s like a personal teaching assistant in lesson planning, grading, differentiation, mundane tasks, email, and more.

These lay the groundwork so you can start using AI to streamline your workload right away, with new 5-minute trainings added on a monthly basis so you can stay current and see what’s working for other teachers. These will help you discover new AI tools and uses that have been vetted by knowledgeable educators so you don’t have to spend hours on trial-and-error or hunt around elsewhere for up-to-date info.

So if you see the potential with AI but don’t have time to experiment with all the different tools and uses yourself, and you want someone you trust to guide you through the rapidly-changing world of artificial intelligence, 40 Hour AI is for you. I’ve been in education since 1999 and supporting teachers online through my website since 2003–trust me, I’ve seen it all, and I’m ready for this next big challenge.

“The great rationalization and consolidation” of instructional methods

This is the phrasing of Jeremy Cowdrey, CEO of Discovery Education. As Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) money runs out and budgets tighten, K-12 leaders need to prioritize their spending in programs that have proven to drive engagement and personalize learning. This means trimming down the multitude of edtech resources used during the pandemic to focus on the ones that are most effective.

In 2020 and 2021, we were all just sort of throwing things at the wall to see what stuck. It’s like, “Let’s try this”, “Let’s implement this”, and “Let’s purchase this tech program”. And now this is what Jeremy Cowdrey calls the great rationalization and consolidation of instructional materials. So the COVID purchases and the COVID curriculum, what’s left from that is part of this.

But it’s also going to look like a continued emphasis on the science of reading as we have seen throughout this past year. That has been a huge focus not just in schools but the general public has really, had their interest piqued in what we know about how the brain learns to read. Many schools have switched reading curriculums recently and many more will continue to. We will also see an emphasis on proven programs for math as a way to address so called learning loss during the pandemic. For instance, Alabama is setting up an Office of Mathematics Improvement to oversee assessments and provide additional support for K-5 students.

Similarly, Florida and Louisiana are implementing interventions and professional learning programs to bolster math education for struggling students and teachers. So we’re going to see districts rationalizing what they’re using, really deciding, Is this proven? Is this working? And consolidating. Cutting out the stuff that isn’t most effective to save money and also because we’ve just been adding so much lately. So my hope is that we can do fewer things better. My hope is that we can find what matters, focus on that, do it well.

Hybrid learning for hard-to-hire subject areas

That may be a term you thought (or hoped) we left back in 2021, but teacher shortages may necessitate it. There’s a charter network in San Jose, California, which was struggling to find qualified math and science teachers. They have now shifted all math and science classes to virtual learning taught via Zoom. The classes are being taught by teachers from different parts of the country.

Having a larger applicant pool that isn’t limited to the school’s local area can help address the teacher shortage in these hard-to-hire subject areas. It’s also appealing for teachers who want to work remotely or can only commit to teaching part-time.

Personally, I like this as a solution. I think it offers students the opportunity to learn from high-quality teachers from around the nation, and prevents them from languishing with long-term subs in really critical subject areas. Also, online learning is preferred by some kids for a variety of reasons, and offering students options is a good thing.

So they’re actually in the school and they’re, you know, with their classmates. There is an adult in the room with them, but there is an instructor who is, who is coming in via Zoom. Related, we are also seeing multi-class remodels, and this is where highly experienced teachers lead lessons across several classrooms virtually. In other words, if your school can’t find a strong physics teacher locally, let’s say, you can hire one who lives three states away to teach remotely and share the cost with two other schools who are also projecting the instruction live for their students.

I am obviously a bit more skeptical about this approach because it is challenging enough to teach one class remotely, much less several simultaneously. However, I actually did this with my own third graders. There was a special, music integration into social studies program, and five third-grade classes were all taught at once. And, the teachers stayed in the room, so I was in the room with my class and helping to facilitate engagement, and it worked. It was something novel and interesting for the kids.

I do think that it would get old after a while, and there’s certainly less accountability. It’s harder to assess what they’re learning. You know, there are definitely challenges there. But, again, if the alternative is a long-term sub who doesn’t have any background in the subject area, I would prefer a multi-classroom virtual teacher as a stopgap.

The 4-day school week

A growing number of districts have switched to this model as a budgetary savings, especially in rural areas. With the bus driver shortage and the cost of heating or cooling schools, only bringing students into the building Monday-Thursday can save schools a lot of money. It’s also a good approach for attracting and retaining teachers.

The initial data on student outcomes is promising, but of course, a 4-day workweek needs to be approached through a “fewer things better” lens. You can’t try to cram five days’ worth of work into four; you have to figure out what’s making the biggest impact on student learning and do only those things, and do them well. Schools that have taken this approach are seeing achievement rates that match or exceed how students were performing during a traditional 5-day workweek.

And to be clear: when this is done well, it does not involve a pay cut. Hourly support staff who were making $25/hour for a 5-day workweek should be making $32/hour for a 4-day workweek. That’s how you increase morale and retain employees. Also, when this is done well, teachers don’t have their Fridays full of meetings and busy work. In some cases, teachers are also only working 4 days, but if they are expected to work on Fridays, remote work should be an option, and the day should be mostly free for them to plan, collaborate, and assess. The 4-day workweek may involve extending the school day or year, but again — if we’re doing fewer things better, that should be minimized.

I’m not a big fan of this, particularly extending the school day because it’s already hard enough for kids to sit and focus and be engaged for six hours a day. Extending it to seven is not likely to be helpful, especially if that extra hour requires kids to cram in another hour of test prep. I mean, who does their best learning from 3 PM to 4 PM after you’ve been in school all day? Like, it just it just doesn’t make sense. It does not fit with what we know about the science of learning.

Extending the school year, I would prefer that to extending the school day, but I think that you have negative impacts on teacher morale, particularly for the teachers who have to work jobs in the summer to make ends meet. If you have extended the school year, now they can’t do that. So a big part of moving to a 4-day work week is to attract and retain staff. So if we could still fit in those into the regular calendar year without stretching it out even more, I think that’s really ideal. So I predict we will see more school districts trying out this model in the coming years.

But I don’t see it becoming standard unless the problem of childcare on Fridays is solved for families. If states provide funding for that, then it may offset the savings of having schools closed. So there’s still lots to be determined in this area, but I’m glad to see this being an experiment because I would like to see everybody work 4 days a week. I would like to see parents also off on Friday and to have a culture in which we’re not all putting in these insanely long hours just to pay the bills. But this is a whole another tangent.

Vo-tech training alternatives to college prep

There’s a growing acknowledgment that the widespread push for every student to attend college hasn’t been effective for everyone. Many students who enter bachelor’s degree programs end up not finishing them, often leaving college students burdened with student debt and facing bleak outcomes.

This has led to a realization that we need to reintroduce career and technical education, but without repeating the mistakes of vocational education, which often perpetuated racial disparities through tracking systems.

I think this is a really positive development, as I mentioned in episode 285 about why boys are struggling in schools. There’s a lot of research to support the idea that more access to education instead of just college prep courses in high school would improve outcomes for young men, both in their career and financial trajectory, and also in improving mental health and reducing so-called “deaths of despair” and drug use.

I’m encouraged by this push to ensure that all students have access to meaningful work-based learning during middle and high school. I think we need to help students explore various career paths, understand their preferences, learn about the requirements and realities of different careers — including the necessary education, time, and financial commitments — and develop social connections that can help them pursue their chosen opportunities. This way, students can make informed decisions about their post-high school paths.

We need blue-collar workers. We need plumbers. We need electricians. We need landscapers. There are so many jobs that, kids used to have the option to train to do. We used to have, shop or woodworking in high schools. Right? There used to be automotive repair. You could learn to do that in school. And we’ve cut back and focused on the skills that are tested on standardized tests. So those programs have been cut due to budgets and boys especially are struggling because of that. So moving back towards vo-tech education is trending and I think that’s a great thing.

Non-traditional models of schools

About two years ago, I did a podcast episode 258 on the future of schools and what makes me hopeful. I mentioned that I don’t think it’s possible to have a one-size-fits-all school anymore. From around the 1930s to the 1980s, as a very loose and generalized timeframe, almost every American family sent their kids to the local public school. Private schools, particularly religious schools, began to rise in popularity around the 1980s and in the decades afterward, we’ve seen more emphasis on “school choice”, with charters, for-profits, religious, and secular schools of all kinds popping up.

My point in the podcast episode is I don’t think it’s possible to have one local public school that meets the needs of every family when our communities are diverse. I also argue that the public schools of, say, the 1950s, weren’t actually meeting the needs of diverse family values, cultures, etc. But today, parents are speaking up about what kind of education they want for their kids and are aware of their options.

Since that episode, microschools have really taken off, and that’s confirmed my belief that the solution to making schooling work for the modern day is to let families choose the kind of learning environment that’s best for their individual kids. I would like to see these options available within public schools because I am an advocate for our local public schools — I think they’re important for our society. I think it’s a net good for our society to have really strong public schools. And microschools are a way to support public schools and support choice.

A microschool can be understood as a small-scale educational establishment that offers personalized learning experiences. Some rely on traditional teaching methods and rote learning is no longer used in public school. More often, they use innovative teaching methods and provide a more intimate, community-oriented learning environment than a larger public school.

There are a growing number of districts, including one in Indiana, in which the microschool approach is being used in public schools. Sometimes this looks like a choice between multiple local public schools, each with its own teaching philosophy. More often it looks like a choice within the school. There might be a wing that’s centered on STEM, or a wing centered on the arts.

I’m still excited about this concept and would love to see it applied even down to the individual teacher level. We all know teachers have different instructional and management styles — rather than try to standardize that and make everyone the same, why not offer that as a benefit? If you want your child to learn in a highly structured environment, you want your child placed with this particular teacher at the school. If you want your child to be doing a lot of hands-on learning, you want this teacher. Parents already have an underground network of communication like this. I’m intrigued by the idea of making the strengths of each classroom teacher more visible so kids can be placed with a teacher who’s a good fit and whose parents are on board with that teacher’s approach.

That would be a game changer for teachers to feel supported by the community If the parents are saying, this teacher has the approach that I think is gonna be best for my student and I support this teacher’s method of discipline, I support this teacher’s method of cell phone management in the classroom or whatever it may be. When you find that kind of alignment, that’s how you build allies with parents. That could be a whole other podcast episode, actually, and if you want it to be, let me know and I’ll make it.

Support for teachers’ wellbeing

Wait, is this actually a trend? Yes, it is, and the fact that this isn’t super apparent to most teachers shows you how far we still have to go, but I digress.

Teacher attrition and burnout have reached levels that are pretty impossible to ignore, and more schools are stepping up efforts to support their teachers more effectively.  I’ve certainly seen this through the administrators who enroll in the 40 Hour Leadership program, which is the version of 40 Hour that’s for school leaders. It’s designed to not only streamline their workload but simplify systems schoolwide, protect teachers’ planning time, reduce paperwork and documentation, cut back on meetings, and otherwise empower teachers to do their best work.

I have definitely seen more interest in the last few years from admins who see the value in retaining talented teachers by creating environments that take care of their mental health and emphasizing work/life balance. It’s taking a while for this to shift, but it’s a slow and steady shift, where the expectation that teachers will just work evenings and weekends all the time is no longer something that most administrators assume is the status quo.

Alongside this, school leaders are also rethinking how school spaces are set up to better meet the needs of teachers. They want to encourage collaboration, spark creativity, and foster a sense of community among staff.

So, lots of work to be done in this area, particularly around making structural changes to teachers’ work days instead of just telling teachers to practice self-care, but I think we’re headed in a positive direction still.

Another thing that makes me really optimistic in terms of the positive shifts that I see are a focus on lively and engaging learning environments.

Lively and engaging learning environments

This is another trend I’m really happy to see. Schools are breaking away from the old-fashioned look of traditional classrooms and making them look more like coffee shops and informal gathering spaces. This has been a trend in schools serving wealthier populations for a number of years, but we’re finally seeing more support and resources for this in less affluent schools. Previously, it was on individual teachers to find, purchase, and explain why they were setting up their classrooms and teaching in this way; now, it’s much more common and often expected and maaaaybe even funded.

Elementary classrooms have been vibrant and colorful spaces for decades, but now more emphasis on the feel of the classroom is happening at the secondary level. These kinds of environments can have a big impact on how students feel and behave, and more secondary schools are tapping into the power of that.

Accessibility and equity

We’re now past the peak of the lofty DEI promises made by schools and organization in 2020 and 2021, and hopefully past the peak of the backlash. In keeping with other trends, I think our schools are trying to figure out the next new normal. The goal for most schools is in how to best meet the needs of diverse student bodies without getting caught up in the culture wars.

Regardless of the politicization of equity, the fact remains that our students represent a broad range of races, ethnicities, genders, religions, values, etc., and public schools need to educate them all well. Doing this in 2024 is tricky business but vitally important.

So despite what feels like steps backward in some places such as Florida and Texas in terms of equity, as a whole, schools are taking more active steps to create inclusive environments that meet the diverse needs of students. This means getting rid of barriers to education so that every student has the same opportunities and quality of education.

I know we don’t all agree on which approaches are best, but we do need to have that equity, that accessibility as a shared goal. Our schools are tasked with educating a greater diversity of students than ever before. These children exist and it’s our job to meet their needs. And this requires us to recognize that all kids don’t have the same needs. They don’t have the same lived experiences. They don’t have the same cultural norms or opportunities. And I see schools really trying to work toward that to stay out of the crossfire, to not make this a controversial thing, and just do what’s best for kids.

Reasons for Optimism

Where do we go from there? And with all the heavy stuff that we’ve talked about, why am I feeling optimistic and hopeful? Well, here’s why. The efforts that schools are making to accommodate diverse learners and English language learners are unprecedented. It has never been attempted before in history.

The amount of personalization and accommodations that are happening for neurodivergent kids, and those who learn differently, those who have special needs, unprecedented, what we’re doing for them. I would argue that schools are actually attempting to do more for kids than ever before, and they’re succeeding a lot more than they’re failing, especially given the restrictions, the budget cuts, and all the other limitations. It is amazing how much schools are accomplishing.

And almost every single day, I get messages from teachers who still enjoy their jobs. They still like teaching and they don’t want to switch careers. They have found ways to make the profession sustainable. And crucially, many have landed in schools with administrators who provide the support and resources they need. It is clear to me that teaching is not awful everywhere all the time. There is still a lot of good happening in schools.

As much criticism that public schools have received as an entity in the US, families continue to rate their own local public schools highly.  The latest Gallup poll shows that while just 36% of Americans say they’re satisfied with U.S. education, 76% of parents say they’re completely or somewhat satisfied with their oldest child’s education at their current school. 76% are satisfied with their local public school. This is true even as overall faith in the public school system has eroded and been internationally eroded by those who profit from privatizing education. And it’s not a new phenomenon: Contrasting views about American schools between parents and the broader public has been a long-standing phenomenon, shown since Gallup began polling.

And here’s what I take from that. The general public really doesn’t know what’s going on inside of schools. They see clips on social media. They see stuff on certain broadcast news channels, and it forms an idea in their head. I think they work a lot of times from confirmation bias about what they assume, or they hear one anecdote and think that’s what’s happening everywhere. Parents tend to be more informed because they have their kids there. But a lot of people who are criticizing our schools have no connection to the schools. A lot of people at these protests and PTA meetings and stuff don’t send their kids there.

They don’t even have kids. They don’t have school-age kids. They don’t work there. They’re basing their opinions on something that is completely disconnected from what is actually happening in those classrooms. And the unhappy voices are always the loudest, and that’s true when it comes to parent and community dissatisfaction with schools.

The reality, based on both polling data as well as what I see here anecdotally from thousands of teachers all over the country, is that most parents are satisfied with what’s happening in their child’s classroom. Many of them like their local teachers. They support them. They have good relationships with staff and they try to be as involved as they can. That’s not a minority view.

The majority of parents are like that. So why not focus on what’s good? Why are we always talking about all the things that schools are doing wrong and all the people who are unhappy with them, particularly people who are unhappy and have no connection to schools whatsoever. Why not focus instead on what’s working so we can replicate that in places where it’s not working? We’re always trying to solve problems in education, always a focus on the problem. Why not highlight the awesome things that are already happening so more schools have a model to follow?

And that’s really the heart of my work in this podcast. In a time in which the dominant messages about teaching are so discouraging, it is essential to find what’s working for teachers and kids. There’s so much energy to be gained from surrounding yourself with other educators who are passionate and love their jobs so that you feel supported in loving your job too. My hope, what makes me optimistic about the future of education, is in our shared collective humanity.

My hope is in the work of the teachers who show up every day and do incredible work with and for their kids. There is no one coming to save us. We can be the change that we want to see in the world. What you do every day with kids matters. It’s making a difference.

It’s changing the trajectory. Your daily work is the revolution. You are creating change. You can do this. And remember, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be worth it.

References and further reading

As fewer students seek teaching degrees, universities close undergraduate programs via WFMZ

What Will Teacher Shortages Look Like in 2024 and Beyond? A Researcher Weighs In via Education Week

Mapping the Impact of Immigration on Public Schools via Center for Immigration Studies

Recent Immigrant Children: A Profile of New Arrivals to U.S. Schools via Migration Policy Institute

Are immigrant students disproportionately consuming educational resources? via Brookings

Teacher shortages in the United States

Education in 2024: Partners break down 8 big trends via District Administration

Expiration of Federal K-12 Emergency Funds Could Pose Challenges for States via Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

NEWSExclusive Data: Thousands of schools at risk of closing due to enrollment loss via Youth Today

As Enrollment Declines, Districts Consider Closing Schools via Education Week

Politicians and pundits say parents are furious with schools. Polls say otherwise via Chalkbeat


The Truth for Teachers Podcast

Our weekly audio podcast is one of the top K-12 broadcasts in the world, featuring our writers collective and tons of practical, energizing ideas. Support our work by subscribing in your favorite podcast app–everything is free!

Explore all podcast episodes
Apple Podcasts Logo Spotify Podcasts Logo Google Play Podcasts Logo

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
Browse Articles by Angela

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!