Teacher careers, a 21st-century perspective

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A career as a teacher is becoming increasingly attractive, given the great changes in education – but there is still more that can be done to improve it. Michiel Heijnen of the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences considers the latest developments.

Changing education

The world is changing, and with it European societies. Globalisation, digitalisation and socio-cultural and economic developments create new opportunities, but also impose new demands on people and societies – demands that we cannot yet fully foresee. New industries and professions are emerging and an increasingly diverse and self-conscious workforce has to be prepared.

Therefore, education in the 21st century no longer prepares learners for the old paradigm. Moreover, we see that learning in the formal sense no longer stops in one’s early twenties. Lifelong learning has become the new normal. Education is moving from standardised to personalised learning; from bureaucracy to learners and teachers at the centre of the learning process; from efficiency to quality and innovation; from inequality to equal opportunities; and from formal learning in school to a combination of formal and informal lifelong learning. Learners are no longer just disciplined, but stimulated. Education lets them experiment and fail. It prompts them to produce the future, instead of reproducing the past.

This means that the school is becoming more and more like an innovation campus, with room for new competences, with multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary learning, addressing the questions and personal needs of learners – a place where technology plays a crucial supportive role.

Changing teacher careers

Modern education and the changing role of teachers put a new perspective on their careers. Teachers continuously develop themselves, through professionalisation and by co-creating with colleagues. The teaching profession is becoming more and more dynamic, creative and challenging. This all helps the attractiveness of becoming and staying a teacher.

Despite all these positive developments, it sometimes still proves difficult to find new teachers and retain the active ones. Reasons that are often heard: the lack of career prospects, relatively low salary and high workload. Education is sometimes also seen as a ‘trap’: once you are in it, switching to another profession is difficult.

So, with changes in education and teaching, a career as a teacher is becoming increasingly attractive. But there is more that can help to entice people into the teaching profession:

  • Providing pathways that enable a tailor-made teacher education in which justice is done to previously acquired competences and experiences (thus easing the transition to this career).
  • A professionalisation infrastructure in which there is room for personal choices and an inspiring bottom-up programme.
  • Facilitating learning communities in which beginning and experienced teachers reflect, research and design education together.
  • Investing in schools as learning organisations with an open culture, where new teachers are received with open arms and actively supported.
  • Making it easier to become a hybrid teacher: one who combines his or her teaching career with another job, e.g. as an entrepreneur, policy officer or researcher. After all, this fits the way in which young professionals experience their careers, as fewer and fewer of them choose one job for life.

Change in education leads to change in teachers and their careers. But still, some external support can most definitely speed up the process that leads to sustainable and attractive teacher careers in the 21st century – an absolute prerequisite for good education in this time of change!


Michiel Heijnen is Programme Manager - Educational Innovation, at the Archimedes Institute, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands. He is also a member of the administrative council for the Association for Teacher Education Europe.