“Are teachers going the way of local bookstores?”

In my new situation of retired educator (or semi-retired educator. I can’t really decide), I find myself paying less attention to Twitter and more to friends and relatives on Facebook.  But this morning, when I started my computer and Twitteriffic flashed up, I scanned through the most recent tweets from my long-time and famous educator friends – and my eye landed on one by Doug Peterson  actually a retweet of Miguel Guhlin’s,

The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher is a March 25 article in The Atlantic written by Michael Godsey, a “veteran high-school English educator.”  Asked by a college student about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, he writes,

I never think it’s enough to say that the role is shifting from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator.” Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.

To that, I say, “poppycock!” How’s that for post-career reflection and rejection of the ideals that I seemingly promoted for the last 20+ years? But the fact is that I never promoted such a future for the classroom and find the arrangement to be personally revolting and counter-productive to what I believe the purpose of education to be.

It’s an interesting question and one that many of us have challenged ourselves and each other with, “What is the purpose of school.” Here’s a good answer, in my opinion – Why School by Will Richardson and what is described in Invent To Learn, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  But here is my ready answer that is short and to the point.

The purpose of school is to prepare our children for adult life during the next 70 to 80 years.

Life doesn’t happen on a video screen and it can’t be simulated with a game.  Goddey’s “fantastic computer screen” will help as will the games and video clips from top thinkers on TED.  In fact, they are essential.  But the fallacy is the assumption and fear that technology replaces the teacher.

To be sure, nobody in education, but those in the darkest recesses of denial, believes that the role of the teacher is not changing.  The shift from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator” is certainly happening – and it should.  But NOTHING, my most loyal readers, IS EVER THAT SIMPLE.

A phrase like “sage on the stage to guide on the side” is intended as an idiom to focus the attention of experienced professional educators who already grasp the changing conditions that are reshaping school.  It is not an all-encompassing description of the future of classroom instruction.  Frankly, while reading Godsey’s advice to his student, I saw no need for classrooms at all – and that’s the last thing I’d want to see for my grandchildren and their children.

We have to acknowledge that there is a powerful cabal that desires and promotes just the scenario described by Mr. Godsey.  They fancy an education system that spends its billions on their videos, games, tutorials and assessment products, instead of unionized public school teachers.  Products, whose service can be measured (test scores), can be marketed.

In my mind the most preposterous statement in the whole article is the advice of a superintendent, aired on NPR, “If you can Google it, why teach it?”  ..and this gets back to the question, “What is the purpose of school?”  If education’s objective is to equip our children with facts that they can recall on state test day, then I would agree with the superintendent’s statement.  But if its purpose is to prepare our children for adult life, then the job of the teacher is to help learners to understand what they’ve Googled and develop the essential literacy skills and habits of questioning, analyzing and assigning context to the Googled information.

What we can predict about life in the next 70 to 80 years is almost nothing, beyond the timeless practices of responsibility, compassion and providing value to the community.  It will continue to be a time of rapid change, inventions that redefine how we accomplish our goals and discoveries that challenge our beliefs and philosophies.

The common core subject of every classroom today should be learning to learn.

And this brings us back around to Michael Godsey’s apparent fear that his college earned knowledge of literature has become obsolete.  Our classrooms still require experts.  But experts today are no longer known for knowing all there is to know about a subject.

Today’s experts are known for being highly skilled at learning and relearning the ever growing and often changing knowledge about their subject.

This is the notion of expertise that teachers need to model and that students need to see every day, the essential and constant practice of contextual learning-skills / learning-literacies.

Adult life is about learning.



11 thoughts on ““Are teachers going the way of local bookstores?””

  1. I like to split the difference between “sage” and “guide.” A teacher obviously is not only a content specialist nor is she or he a dumb terminal of pedagogy.

    An idea I like is to think of the teacher as the “curator” in the classroom. A curator has great experience both with the subject and with creating experiences where the public will learn, sometimes with curator beside them, and sometimes on their own.

    I don’t recall if I heard this somewhere or if it is original, but it resonates with me beyond many of the other metaphors.
    Unfortunately “Curator” doesn’t rhyme with anything, so I see little future in the slogan department!

  2. I feel that no “technology” can replace a teacher in classroom. They need that interaction. Our students need to go to school to “learn” and teachers help accomplish that goal. They help students with questioning, using of technology, and literacy skills. Technology is changing, and so is the ways we teach our students. Teachers need to be “continual learners” as well.

  3. Excellent points, David. As an educator myself, I see the zeal for future technology that some educators have and it makes me wonder if they have truly thought through their iedas about the future of ecuation. Sure, we have and will have amazing tchnology to aid educators in their goal of reaching all students, but they will not be and are not a panacea.
    Speaking of which, it is surprising that some of the techno-cators want to create what seems to be a one size fits all solution (or delivery system). I think most educators would agree that differentiation is not only ideal but necessary when trying to reach the minds of such a diverse world.

  4. This brings up a lot of really interesting points about learning and the role of the teacher (and student) in the classroom. What’s so ironic to me is that Godsey’s description of the future of education is so very reliant on the idea that students are uniform “dumping grounds” for information – a notion that for decades has been the subject of a heated debate. Godsey doesn’t seem to recognize that his predicted model is in fact a trussed-up version of the traditional, industrialized classroom, only with a computer instead of a teacher. Not very forward-thinking at all, although I’m sure he thinks he’s quite on the mark.
    Another thing I found really problematic is that his expectation reflects an extremely old-fashioned concept that children all learn the same way, that all 20 or 30 children in that classroom will get the exact same benefits and skills from sitting and watching a computer screen tell them what they “need” to know. (And what are the blind/deaf/differently-abled students supposed to do? How exactly are they supposed to engage with that material?) What I see in Godsey’s prediction are a lot of outdated assumptions and false equivalencies. Veteran educator, my foot.

  5. I agree with you Mr. David on your comment about the superintendent. It is sad that a person in that position would even say something like that. Because of that mindset, we have many adult learners that cannot critically analyze anything and are struggling to accomplish something as simple as writing a paper (with a pencil).

  6. Amanda Duarte

    David, I agree that there is no replacement for the important role that a teacher plays within the classroom. I would like to add the importance of teachers establishing the culture and climate of the classroom and the myriad of benefits this has for students, especially those coming from impoverished homes. Children living in poverty need to feel safe in order to learn and I do not believe that a virtual teacher from a projector screen would provide them with the same comfort that they need. In addition, for those students that are English language learners a virtual learning environment would not be conducive to second language acquisition because of the computers inability to make an ELL student feel comfortable enough to lower their affective filter and produce language. Working in a high poverty school has opened my eyes to the large role teachers play in a student’s life. Often times, the only adult interaction that students receive during the day is from the teachers and support staff at the school. Their parents are off to work before they get home and do not return home until late at night. This creates high levels of stress and anxiety in children and puts them in a constant fight or flight mode. As such, teachers have the ability to lower students’ stress levels during their school day and not only provide them with an education, but with the reassurances of consistency and structure. Eric Jensen explains how poverty impacts children and how teachers can be a positive influence in their lives in the book Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What being poor does to kids’ brains and what schools can do about it. Jensen said “A brain that is susceptible to adverse environmental effects is equally susceptible to the positive effects of rich, balanced learning environments and caring relationships that build students’ resilience, self-esteem, and character”. Our underprivileged and culturally and linguistically diverse students and their needs must be considered in terms of classroom learning environment and the impact on academic success.

  7. Your definition of “the purpose of schools is to prepare our
    children for adult like during the next 70 to 80 years,” is so true. The roles
    of the teacher are changing. Once upon a time the focus was on Reading Writing and Arithmetic. Now, our society has many technological tools to
    utilize, and schools should teach students how to use the resources, right
    after the basics. One of the goals of education is to prepare students for life beyond school, and students need math to balance a check book, to make sure their paycheck is not short, to have a budget. History is needed so we can learn from the past mistakes, and not recreate.

    As an education student, I want the opportunity to guide
    and influence; to be a part of the foundation that creates not only a student who wants to learn but one day a productive member of society.

  8. Thank you Mr. David

    Each year I tell my students the same thing, there are four days out of the year in which the state has asked that we test you. The remaining days, my goal is to prepare you for a life of learning and preparation for the real world. In order for me to do my job, I have to be just as prepared as you. They often laugh when I try and take them back to my 1988 technology class or lack of it. After they spend countless moments smiling and laughing in my face, they seem to understand that each year there is a change in our society. I have to change my teaching in order to instruct them the way they learn. I won’t completely give up my tools from the past,but I do know those tools have to be regularly recharged. The education system will continue go through its changes, but the teacher in the room has to make sure they are just as prepared for those changes as the kids.
    I strongly believe teachers need to grow with the times. However, there has to be an interaction in the classroom that helps to provoke engaging conversations, critical thinking skills and above all positive purposeful relationships that can help students learn. I doubt that can come from a computer-driven classroom.

  9. I completely agree with your statement regarding the purpose of schools. As educators, we are not here to relay information they can receive elsewhere (Google) , reiterate facts, or teach how to choose the right bubble. We are professional educators because we provide students with skills. Skills of analyzing, synthesizing, questioning, challenging, problem solving, and persistence. Skills to challenge facts, change facts, understand facts, unravel facts, or understand facts. Educators are still and always will be needed. Educators teach more than curriculum. They teach students how to learn for themselves while simultaneously teaching necessary human skills. Students need teachers. They need us to teach them ethical skills, social skills, and personal skills. As I think back on some of my favorite teachers, I remember the life lessons they taught me more so than the content. I remember them challenging me, holding me accountable, teaching me how to apologize and correct my behavior, teaching me responsibility, and the unchallenged personal relationships. I learned more than standards from them. I learned from their personalities, their devotion, their love, their examples in being great humans. These personal relationships cannot be taught with a fantastic computer screen or interactive games.

  10. Many educators feel like we do, that our careers are based off the few days in a year that our students
    aren’t ours and sit in silence for hours. I try to relate everything I do
    or say in class to a life skill to survive and be successful outside of my
    classroom. Often the kids ask will this be on the test, and of course I
    tell them of course. I do not like the fact that our children are
    brainwashed to stress of this test rather than being life long learners to
    maintain growth and mature in leaders of our community.

  11. I agree that the purpose of school is to prepare children for the adult life. However, I do not believe the best way to prepare them is mainly technology. In order for students to learn, they need the teacher. The teacher does not have full control. He or she simply guides the students.

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