This is the question that will be asked over and over again in the coming years: do students need teachers? If you look to government funding of education, you might be convinced that the government doesn’t think we’re all that necessary. If you look at the drop-out to poverty to prison pipeline, you might be convinced we need more teachers than ever.
While my simple answer to my own question is yes (I’ll just get that out up front), my more complicated answer is, “Not always.”
I think this was brought more clearly into focus for me after a coupe of recent events. First, Sir Ken Robinson talked about all the heavy lifting learning toddlers do to learn to speak as part of a language formation. Parents may sit in front of their infants an coo, “Say dadda,” or, “Say momma.” But the reality is that while children do learn some of their language by parroting their parents or siblings, they make the great leap from word comprehension to sentence structure and meaningful conversations on their own. And, depending on where they live in the world, they will do this in very different languages. At times, in multiple languages. In fact, most of our learning happens by age 5 or 6 as the brain forms synapses and dendrites to store and carry meaningful information. Curiosity is a great teacher.
Second, I’ve been tinkering with the Enlight app on my iPhone. I like to take pictures with my phone. Yes, I’m one of those that bought the iPhone 7 Plus for the camera. When I’m eating out along, or just sitting around the house, I like to go back to some of those pictures and use an app, or five, to edit them in certain ways. The Enlight app allows me to mix two images together in much the same way that Photoshop does. (I’ve been having a lot of fun using the twins from The Shining). But it is not totally user friendly until you play around with it. In fact, the tutorials offered by the developing company are a bit useless. So, trial and error is the way to go. And that takes determination. What some might call grit today.
These two things, curiosity and determination, are natural parts of the lives of some students. It can be the difference between the student struggling with Algebra 2 and another who takes five AP classes as independent study and scores 5’s on all the exams.
Sometimes it isn’t the teacher. Sometimes it’s the student.
Yes, I am a firm believer that all children can learn. In fact, all children do learn. But some students are happy about it (that was me), and others have to be pushed forward often against their will. In fact, while this isn’t the point of this post, one could easily argue that some students need teachers just to be a positive adult role model in their lives.
Technology has the potential to do a lot of things to help our students learn. Using it for taking tests is not it. But utilizing technology to inspire curiosity could be the game changer.
Technology can also do a lot of the instructional heavy lifting. No longer is it necessary for a teacher to stand in the front of the room and lecture about every thing a student needs to know. That 20 minute lecture can be boiled down to 5 minutes of video with additional resources for the student to explore on her own. And that works great for adults. We’re still experimenting to see how well it works with kids whose frontal lobes are underdeveloped and often lack the critical thinking and logic that says inside their heads, “You have to stop playing this video game now and get back to that lesson.”
Teachers can help with the curiosity part. In fact, they can drive it with great content and delivery. But the drive to succeed is much more difficult to teach.
Do kids need teachers? Yes. But not always.
The tricky part for teachers is to know when you’re needed and when you need to get out of the way and let the learning happen.
It’s kind of like that for parents, too. But that’s an entirely different post.