Monday, March 30, 2015

Brave New World of Teaching

One of the teachers at my school recently sent the following post to members of our staff:

Whenever a college student asks me, a veteran high-school English educator, about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, 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.

I tell this college student that in each classroom, there will be a local teacher-facilitator (called a "tech") to make sure that the equipment works and the students behave. Since the "tech" won’t require the extensive education and training of today’s teachers, the teacher’s union will fall apart, and that "tech" will earn about $15 an hour to facilitate a class of what could include over 50 students. This new progressive system will be justified and supported by the American public for several reasons: Each lesson will be among the most interesting and efficient lessons in the world; millions of dollars will be saved in reduced teacher salaries; the "techs" can specialize in classroom management; performance data will be standardized and immediately produced (and therefore "individualized"); and the country will finally achieve equity in its public school system.

"So if you want to be a teacher," I tell the college student, "you better be a super-teacher."

I'm not a Luddite, but neither do I see the imminent replacement of flesh-and-blood teachers.  Thomas Edison thought that the movie projector would revolutionize education because it would allow every student to have the best teachers in the world...does that sound at all like what we're hearing about the internet?

I don't think teachers are going away, and I don't hold this position not from a romantic point of view but from a practical one.  Yes, humans are social animals and yes, it's much easier to learn in an interactive environment than from a video screen (as someone earning a master's degree online, I state that last point categorically).  Teachers will remain in large part because of those two points (and I would wager that the classroom of 50 years from now won't look all that different from the way it looks today).  Do you really think Edison's position will finally hold sway because of the internet?  A large proportion of the planet has access to Harvard, Yale, and MIT professors and lectures entirely free, and yet...

The other concern at the linked article was the pendulum swing from the teacher as "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side".  That pendulum will always swing, there's no reason to believe that the teacher will ever permanently become a mere facilitator of curriculum--again, my own experience reinforces that belief.

I'm far more worried that the state teachers' retirement system is going to go broke before I retire than I am that the teaching profession itself will disappear.


Ellen K said...

I believe that the sinking test scores since we moved to using computers to teach reading point to the need for a human touch in learning.

maxutils said...

I'm sorry, but if you're using the terms 'contact expert' and 'curriculum facilitator', even with implied sarcasm air quotes … you're already too far gone. And, I don't care how good a virtual class is -- it's not as good as being there, and it assumes all students are highly motivated … which is why it's been working for you, Darren.