Public education is a beautiful concept: all children, everywhere, have the grand opportunity to learn, discover and grow, regardless of gender, family background, economic dis/advantages, or dis/ability. It is, in my opinion, the cornerstone to any democracy (not that democracy is the best, just the best we have right now). In the last fifteen years, in North America at least, there seems to be a growing change around public sentiment and discourse on public education and, in particular, public education teachers.
With adages like “those that can’t, teach”, respect for what a teacher does in his/her classroom has been diminished to seem to be one of a glorified babysitter.
“Look after my child from 8:30 to 3:30, and be glad you have the opportunity, as you wouldn’t be able to get a job anywhere else”
Now, if you asked parents what they think of their child’s teacher, a different set of responses would be revealed: parents support their own teacher, but lump the teaching profession into negative light.
This disconnect between their personal experiences with teachers and the global portrayal of teachers has been building for years. Governments and unions debate in public to sway opinion during contract talks. The result is a disenfranchised public that end up having negative views on both politicians and educators. This demoralizes teachers and slowly destroys all the relationships and community that has taken many years to build.
When I first started teaching in last century, teachers were seen as the gatekeepers of knowledge. Their skills and art of teaching allowed them to give students opportunities to learn content that would be hidden to them. Once the internet opened up the content knowledge (or as I like to call it, the world wide interthingy), teachers’ roles changed. Classrooms became places where not only content knowledge was important but also social emotional learning , cultures of learning, individual education plans, critical thinking.
When the perceived role of a teacher is to provide the content knowledge only, big business can step in and provide options. Knowledge content that is mobile, accessible and free (to start, at least) means that issues of class size and composition become irrelevant in this view of education. This reduces the role of the teacher back to that belief of babysitter.
Yet without the teacher, critical thinking and the ability to synthesize the content, cannot be done. We end up with students who have google knowledge, but no ability to fully comprehend complex issues or situations. In this new model, our new good teachers will not want to enter a system where they feel discounted. They will not become our next group of great teachers for all students, not just a privileged few.
Technology has enabled many to extend the role of learning in society from a small, local act to a shared, global act. As we look towards the future and wonder what the classroom in ten years might look like, it is important to remember that teaching is more than opening the book of knowledge to our students, but giving them the tools to write their own stories of success.