The (Un)changing Role of Teachers

I happened upon this article today from The Atlantic titled The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher. Here is a highlight from the article:

The relatively recent emergence of the Internet, and the ever-increasing ease of access to web, has unmistakably usurped the teacher from the former role as dictator of subject content. These days, teachers are expected to concentrate on the “facilitation” of factual knowledge that is suddenly widely accessible.

This line of reasoning inevitably comes up in my conversations with those that don’t teach, including those that have children currently in the system. What is the role of the teacher in today’s classroom?

My response usually pays lip-service to the idea that the role of teachers is certainly changing in response to the presence of technology. I think it’s obvious that is the case. I don’t believe that most of us are turning our classrooms into rows of students doing computerized lessons because of their effectiveness – that certainly isn’t he case either. My arguments for there being a place for teachers in the classroom surround the social situation that exists in having learners together in one place. In the best classrooms, historically, it has never really been about transferring knowledge from the front to the back.  It has instead always been about the community.

Here are my main ideas on this concept:

  • Making the social network of the classroom into a learning resource requires careful planning and experience in managing the process.
  • Students need to learn that it is normal to make mistakes along the road to understanding. This isn’t easy when done in isolation.
  • Making big picture connections is done best in conversation with others having a diversity of experiences and understandings.
  • Some skills are learned best in context with someone knowledgable in their use. 
  • Asking a question of a source you know and trust is easier than taking a shot in the dark on an online forum or through a chat window.

I’m not saying these processes can’t be completed online. Our students certainly have experience communicating through online channels. They need our guidance as teachers in using these networks for learning, however, and the classroom is a great place to give them that guidance. In light of the social, emotional, and finally academic needs of teenagers, I think we will be needed for a while yet before computers can fully take over the classroom for good.

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