An interesting dichotomy exists in our society between how teachers are represented within traditional forms of media. Film/TV have typically depicted teachers as walking on holy ground having earned the respect and admiration of students particularly those on the margins. Think of To Sir with Love, Dead Poets Society or Goodbye Mr Chips. Then there are the tabloid newspapers that blame teachers for lacklustre NAPLAN results and the decline in educational standards.
I suspect for most students, their experience of teachers lies somewhere in between the two extremes. In a particular year or subject they end up hitting the jackpot, and in other years or subjects, not so lucky. It is often evident which teachers are having a positive impact on student learning. These are the ones who inspire a love of learning; who can challenge students while maintaining their enthusiasm to persevere and succeed.
As one parent asked recently, ‘Why don’t all teachers have that X-factor?’ It’s difficult to answer because no matter how good teachers are at their craft, there is always so much more to learn (about students, themselves, their practice etc). I believe there is an intellectual arrogance that is deeply embedded in the teaching profession. This equates to the belief that once teachers step into classrooms they know everything there is to know.
I believe the X-factor relates to curiosity and a willingness to innovate to achieve the best outcomes for each learner. This means assuming greater professional responsibility and accountability for teachers’ own and their students’ learning. It is reflected in an openness to embrace change and to continuously transform one’s self, one’s practice and in the process, one’s students.
Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard argued that Christians should never think of themselves as ‘being’ but rather ‘becoming’. The same argument applies to teaching. The work is never complete; we must always be in the process of ‘becoming’ a teacher.
The best script teachers write is the one in which students see learning as essentially humanising and teachers are as open to learning as they are to teaching. In an age where artificial intelligence (AI) will have an impact on almost every profession as we know it, the real X-factor may be that great teachers are irreplaceable.