Friday, September 30, 2011

Should You Be Replaced?

In a recent coaching conversation, a teacher told me that her 12th grade students should be able to just be assigned work with the expectation of completing it. She was tired, she said, of lazy students who didn’t do what they were told and were so disengaged from the learning process that they barely did any assigned work, choosing instead to accept D’s and F’s.

I didn’t agree or disagree with the teacher, but asked what she thought her role was. She told me that she was the one who helped the students learn but was frustrated that they didn’t complete assignments. In the most respectful way possible, I asked the teacher about the possibility of putting all the students in the auditorium, and having someone just assign them tasks. Whether they did them or not, it might help alleviate her frustration.

She asked, “Who would teach the kids?”

I said, respectfully, “Who’s teaching them now?”

I told the teacher that I wasn’t intentionally being snarky, but wanted to drive home the point that assigning tasks and teaching were two different things. Teaching is a skill, a hard one. Assigning tasks is something anyone can do. Assigning tasks is what I imagine early teachers on the prairie would do because they had multiple ages in the same one room schoolhouse. It is not the hallmark of the 21st Century Teacher.

The 21st Century teacher is an expert guide, an expert in questioning techniques, and an expert in designing instruction that meets the needs of the 21st Century learner. Those needs must involve communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving.

I talked with this teacher about transforming her classroom from a place where tasks are assigned to one where problems are solved, where students work together to investigate issues, where exploration and mistakes are valued over rote answers on worksheets. It was a powerful conversation.

It reminded me of the quote that floats around Twitter often, “Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be.” (Arthur C. Clarke) When we take a critical look at our professional practice, and really delve deeply into what we do as educators, what parts of our practice are automated? What parts could be done by anybody? In the 21st Century, how can we adequately prepare our students for college and careers with 20th, and perhaps 19th Century notions about what teaching is?

There’s no denying it. Our students have changed. They live in a new world. It’s not the world we grew up in, but we still have a responsibility to prepare them adequately. Have you considered what you do as an educator that makes you irreplaceable?

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