COVID-19 has turned the education industry on its head. Since stay-at-home orders and social distancing became standard practice earlier this year, teachers have rapidly pivoted to online instruction. Meanwhile, administrators at every level were forced to adapt to evolving demands, and many had to assume new responsibilities along the way.
Needless to say, some careers in education look different now than they did just a few months ago. Whether you're interested in working in K-12 or higher education, be prepared to join schools as they navigate unprecedented challenges. However, you'll also have the chance to take advantage of unique opportunities.
Here's an overview of what aspiring teachers and administrators should know about education careers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools Need All Hands on Deck
Hard skills are just as important as ever. Teachers need to complete proper training, and administrators must have a relevant background and/or meet the education requirements for their positions.
However, the pandemic has emphasized the importance of soft skills. Schools are finalizing their plans for reopening in the fall, but by now it's understood that plans can change as coronavirus cases surge and fall. Therefore, you can help yourself become a more attractive job candidate by promoting your flexibility and nimbleness. The ability to wear different hats and adapt to changing circumstances holds tremendous value (and may save you from personal frustration).
Hone Your Communication Skills
No matter your role, communication has become critical. Most institutions have begun to solidify strategies and contingency plans for the near future, but no one is exactly sure how it will all go.
As a result, you need to be a resource of information. For example, K-12 administrators whose jobs had previously been relegated to in-office duties may have to pivot to communicating with parents. You might also need to report more frequently to your principal, or if you're working in higher education, senior leadership.
Additionally, with less in-class oversight, students need more virtual check-ins with teachers to make sure they're not falling behind — especially in K-12 schools. It can be challenging to assess student understanding in an online environment, so consistent communication with students is key.
In higher education, administrators face their own unique communication challenges. In particular, the Admission and Recruitment departments have to ensure that prospective students understand their university's plans for the fall. This requires updated messaging, webinars and one-on-one (virtual) consultations.
Be Ready to Collaborate Virtually
Whether you're a teacher or work behind the scenes, you will likely have to learn to collaborate in novel ways. While many schools are planning for a hybrid reopening with an at least partial return to campus, expect a healthy dose of online collaboration with your colleagues and students.
If you don't already use online tools like Zoom or Google Docs, familiarize yourself with them. They don't have the immediate impact of communicating in person, but they can still be an effective way to share information, generate ideas and be productive.
There May Be a Hiring Freeze (Which Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing)
Schools are facing serious financial challenges. In the coming years, K-12 institutions will likely see budget cuts. Universities may also struggle to cover abundant pandemic-related costs. In this case, schools may temporarily slow or freeze hiring.
However, this may be your chance to make a long-term investment in your career by earning a graduate degree. You can also avoid the difficulty of entering a weak job market. Plus, if you want to work in higher education, you will likely need a master's in enrollment management or administration to advance in the field anyway. (Note: masters degrees are available for teachers, but they aren't required by most K-12 schools.)
You Have a Chance to Shine
Teachers play a vital role in normal circumstances, assisting in students' intellectual and emotional development. Administrators ensure students receive the support they need. Now, in a time when students face increasing isolation and unpredictability, there's an even greater need for individuals who can advance their education and minimize disruption.
Don't underestimate the challenges of starting your career in education now — but also recognize your opportunity to make a significant impact. The education industry is changing as schools race to rethink standards, processes and curriculum. There's a bit of an experiment happening, and you can play an important role in shaping the results.
About the writer: Brian Soika is a digital content writer for the USC Rossier School of Education.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!