Amid the current school funding cyclone, Naplan, international comparisons of our schools performance and students grilling the PM on national television, too often, there has been little discussion on the role of the teacher in today’s world. I believe this discourse is central to school improvement.
I only wish that we could step back and look afresh at the work good teachers need to do in a knowledge age. I hope I’m not alone in believing that we need to re-think the role of the teacher.
Socrates used the metaphor of teacher as the midwife at the birth of knowledge. Is this metaphor still relevant? If so, what happened in the industrial age when instead of overseeing the birth of knowledge, teachers became owners and transmitters of that information?
Or is this more a question of what value we place on information vs knowledge? Have we come full circle from the attainment of knowledge in ancient Greece to the transmission of information in the industrial age to the creation of knowledge in today’s world?
Can the role of a teacher remain the same but the context change? Is everything old somehow new again?
Parker Palmer claims “good teachers are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” This quote resonates with Elmore’s instructional core and the premise that good teaching is the relationship between the teacher, the student and the content.
There are two areas that I see as critical. The first is what is the content and whose content? The real learning lies not just in remembering content but applying and creating it. The concept that students and teacher work together in this process provides a window into how we might see the work of a contemporary teacher. That students can construct their own learning is a bridge too far for some but this should be the end point.
The second is re-conceptualising the work of teaching. It’s time to retire the old descriptors of teacher as sage on the stage, guide on the side, meddler in the middle etc. These do little justice to the complexity of good teaching.
I have begun to think about re-defining teachers as entrepreneurs. In a recent Forbes article on re-defining entrepreneurship, the definition of entrepreneur is seen as the “ innate mindset of a person who sees opportunities and pursues them.” This is what the role of a teacher in today’s world – they are professionals who take calculated risks using good data and research. They understand that being professional means being accountable and responsible. They create networks to build collective knowledge and are willing to share that knowledge with beginning teachers. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features is an inherent understanding that learning and teaching is dynamic – it requires new sets of inter-dependencies and understandings of learners and their technology.
Is this how you see the role of teachers in today’s world?