The whole integrating technology discussion that many have been chronicling of late has been sticking in my craw for a couple of reasons. First, a couple of weeks ago I had a bad teacher day while I was doing some training, the kind that really gets me pessimistic about how difficult a road this is going to be.
With this particular group, it was made clear that the only reason they were in attendance was that they were getting paid for the day, that any teacher who came in during the summer and wasn’t getting paid was ruining it for everyone else, that the technology wouldn’t work in their classrooms anyway, that they didn’t have time to practice what they were learning, that, well, fill in the blank. It was one of those days, and they don’t occur very often, but it was one of those days when I walked out of the room thinking “Thank god my kids don’t go to this school.”
Depressing, to say the least.
The second reason is that it’s becoming exceedingly clear that we have an outdated perception of what teachers need to be. Like David, more and more I think there is a “T” word that we should stop using, only mine isn’t technology. It’s teaching. And let me say up front that this is one of those “I’m blogging this so people will help me figure out what it is I think” posts as my thoughts are still somewhat murky. But here goes.
When we say “teacher,” what we are really saying is “the person in the classroom to whom students look for knowledge” or something like that. In the traditional classroom that almost all of us grew up in, the teacher was the focal point, the decision maker, the director, the assessor. Teachers, well, teach, or try to. We hire teachers based on how well they know their subject matter and how well we think they can deliver it to students. Teaching, the way most of us see it, is all about imparting knowledge in a planned, controlled way.
In a world where knowledge is scarce (and I know I’m using that phrase an awful lot these days), I can see why we needed teachers to be, well, teachers. But here’s what I’m wondering: in a world where knowledge is abundant, is that still the case? In a world where, if we have access, we can find what we need to know, doesn’t a teacher’s role fundamentally change? Isn’t it more important that the adults we put into the rooms with our kids be learners first? Real, continual learners? Real models for the practice of learning? People who make learning transparent and really become a part of the community?
I hesitate to make blanket statements about teachers because a) they are seldom appropriate (the statements, that is) and b) they get me in trouble. But when I ask myself what percentage of the thousands of teachers I’ve worked with over the past two years are practicing learners, I have a hard time convincing myself that it’s more than half. Maybe even one-third.
I’m not saying this is necessarily their fault. We teach teachers to teach, we don’t teach teachers to learn. Even in professional development, we teach them stuff they need to be better teachers, but do we give them the skills they need to be better learners? Do we evaluate them on what they’ve been reading? On what they’ve been writing? On their reflectiveness?
There is a section in Henry Jenkins’ book that somewhat goes to this titled “Collective Intelligence and the Expert Paradigm.” I’m going to blog about it in this context when I next get a chance (which might not be for a few days.)
But for now, I’ll keep trying to think it through. What if we hired learners first?