Getting the role of the teacher right is really, really important.
And getting it wrong leads to all kinds of problems.
One way our education reform movement (and, to be honest, just about everyone else) gets it wrong is imagining teachers’ function to be simply “delivering content.”
This leads to problems in the classroom. Students are treated as passive recipients of content that is then superficially assessed via tests. The students themselves, their lives, the contexts they live in, their aspirations, are not important. What becomes important is the technical question of how to best “deliver content,” and then how to measure our effectiveness in doing so. What matters is content delivery and assessment. This is what I and others label “learnification.”
It is simply bad pedagogy.
Am I overstating this? Read your newspapers, check your local district’s ranking, and get back to me.
In this bad pedagogy, in our current world where technology offers the availability of content “anywhere, anytime at any pace,” the logic says that the teacher is no longer necessary. If delivering content is the task, and if content is always available, the role of the teacher, at best, is greatly diminished.
At its logical trajectory, the teacher is an expensive and unnecessary luxury.
Which leads to bad policy.
One local case in point is Michigan is the Educational Achievement Authority, a fairly recent development that has taken over the bottom 5 % of schools as measured by achievement tests, and has been determined to improve them.
On every level the EAA is a colossal failure.
Its fundamental failure is that it imagines learning as simply the delivery of content.
Which allows the teacher to be replaced by a computer program.
Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter (isn’t it nice to see the word “investigative” in front of the word “reporter”? How refreshing!) for the Metro Times does a great job of pulling back the curtains on the EAA.
In the EAA, the professionalism of teachers making decisions with students has been replaced by a computer program, “Buzz”- an excellent example of learnification.
“Created by a Utah-based company called Agilix Labs, Buzz is education software that provides what its marketing material describes as an individualized learning experience. With the help of $100,000 from the EAA, Buzz was merged with other educational software created by the School Improvement Network [SINET], also based in Utah. Another $250,000 from the EAA would eventually pay for improvements suggested by the teachers, students, and administrators who were using it,…”
And how did it work?
“… in reality, what internal EAA documents reveal is the extent to which teachers and students were, over the course of two school years, used as whetstones to hone a badly flawed product being pitched as cutting-edge technology.”
The article goes on to show the role of inexperienced Teach for America teachers implementing and helping to design the program, and many, many other problems. (The whole article is well worth your time. You find it here.)
And what allowed for this?
Getting the role of the teacher wrong.
If the role of the teacher is to deliver content in a world where content is always available, does teacher experience matter?
No. Send in Teach for America.
If the role of the teachers is to deliver content in a world where content is available any place, does the community that the students exist in matter?
No. Takeover the local, democratically accountable schools and replace with a state wide system run by the governor accountable to no one within the now irrelevant local community.
Do teachers matter?
No. Replace them with a computer program.
You get my point.
So then, what is the role of the teacher?
I love the video below because it succinctly shows why teachers matter. It also puts technology and its function in education in proper relationship.
The speaker gets to a point in the video where he announces, “What limits learning is what happens inside the student’s head.”
Think about that. The student all of a sudden matters. It’s no longer about delivering content. The teacher’s role is to correctly imagine what is happening inside a student’s head. In each student’s head.
A computer can’t do that- only a human can.
And he wraps up by getting the role of the teacher right.
“Well, if you think that the fundamental job of a teacher is to transmit information from their head to the their students, then you are right, they are obsolete…”
“The fundamental role of a teacher is not to deliver information, it is to guide the social process of learning. ..The job of a teacher is to inspire, to challenge, to excite their students to want to learn. The most important thing a teacher does is make every student feel like they are important,to make them feel accountable for doing the work of learning.?”
Computers can’t do that.
It gets the role of the teacher right.
Please watch the whole video here: