Thursday, December 29, 2011

We Need Good Teachers Now More Than Ever

Technology is everywhere. Answers are everywhere. Curriculum is everywhere. Yet, we need good teachers now more than ever. Why?

The role of the teacher is shifting. Teaching is not simply providing students with information so that they can cram it in their brains, memorize it, and then regurgitate it on a multiple choice test. Teaching is not simply asking questions that have right and wrong answers. Teaching is not simply dictating what, how and when a student learns. Teaching is about learning, guiding, creating, collaborating, respecting, navigating, inspiring, challenging, understanding, questioning, empowering, and listening. This shift will not make teachers disappear; this shift creates the need for good teachers to appear front and center, to step up, and to lead with passion.

As the role of the teacher evolves, so does the role of the student. Students are being asked to think and create, some, for the first time. Sometimes students are stumped and frustrated, and say, "Just tell me what to do, write, say, etc." Students have to rethink learning just as teachers have to rethink teaching. We must do this together. Technology allows students to publish, become experts, collaborate, share, revise, connect with, and teach others. As these roles become fluid, intertwined, reversed, both are inspired, both are important, and both learn from each other.

Recently, I have been thinking a great deal about curriculum. Curriculum is everywhere. I can find a free course through MIT or Stanford, lesson plans on any number of topics, project ideas, how to videos, etc. Why do we need good teachers if  our students have access to all of this? Well, because our students have access to all of this! It is overwhelming. What is credible? What is valid? We must teach our students to be detectives, to dig, to explore, and to not only find their way, but to create their own path. Good teachers can help do this.

What else can good teachers do? They can inspire students to learn about the things they themselves are passionate about. I ask students all the time to look at bias, perspective, persuasion, rhetorical devices, connotation, and more, when it comes to the world around them, even my own teaching. What I include and leave out says a lot about me. They explore the question, "No matter what we write about, are we writing about ourselves?" Well, when it comes to curriculum, we all have our own opinions. This is the beauty of collaboration, of discussion, of respect, of critical thinking, of learning.

What should we teach our students? Who should determine this? Should there be some curriculum that is set, standards that all students are exposed to and expected to learn? Good teachers are needed now more than ever as we grapple with these ideas of curriculum and learning, choice, passion, credibility, standards, digital footprints, and helping students find their way in this big, connected world. Just as parents parent differently, teachers teach differently. It is good for students to learn from different styles and perspectives. We need good teachers to determine curriculum for their students, with their students- discovering their own individual learning paths, and empowering them to decide if this is something they would like to learn more about.

A colleague of mine recently posted a link to "The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011" on his facebook page. Another colleague commented that he wished there were time in our current English classes for creative writing, because he used to use powerful images as those in the link as writing prompts. My response was, "Make time." Teachers must allow their passions and strengths to guide their work with kids. Our students deserve to learn from inspired teachers. We do not need good teachers to ask questions that can easily be answered by searching online, looking in the back of a textbook, or by copying an older brother's paper from a few years before. We need good teachers to stay current with technology, encourage students to step out of their comfort zones, and guide students towards learning and understanding that is unique for them. Kids are smart! They know when school is not about them, when teachers are not teaching from the heart, and when what they are learning is not really as important as the teacher says it is, especially if the main reason for learning is, "because it is going to be on the test."

As we continue to provide our students with foundations, and allow them to explore what they want to know more about, good teachers become irreplaceable, significant, purposeful, noble, and even more necessary than ever before.