21st Century Literacies

Teachers Changing the Way We Read, Write, Think, and Live

Picture this: you are an elementary or high school student of the Digital Generation. You know your technology, you find yourself learning more and more from the interconnected world, and you are excited to engage others in this virtual conversation. You go to class and at the front of the room is the teacher, writing terms on the board or beginning to open a PowerPoint presentation. The teacher begins to lecture you on a topic, bestowing their knowledge upon you. You are confused and ask a question, which the teacher strangely dismisses and continues with the lecture. At this point, you are confused. Aren’t teachers supposed to be the experts? How come the teacher didn’t know the answer to your question? Why did they dismiss you like that? Is the teacher not learning new things? Why don't teachers get up with the times? At this point you stop thinking and fall asleep.

The Problem

The problem here is quite simple: the model that we have in place for teachers is outdated and unnecessary. As Will Richardson states in his blog entry, “Teachers as Learners Part 27”, the model for teaching existed during a time when students did not have constant access to information and relied on an expert to impart it to them. Nowadays, students have access to any form of information they want or need via the internet and have no need for such experts, but rather, they need model learners. Richardson even suggests getting rid of the term “teacher” altogether!

Model learners are not experts or leaders in the field of knowledge, but rather they are followers and interpreters of our constantly changing scholarship. Model learners make errors, learn new things, and demonstrate learning practices to their students while passing information down to them.  Unfortunately, most teachers are not model learners, as explained by this quote from Richardson:

“The problem with teachers when they become teachers is that their definition of what it means to be a teacher is based on the teachers they had growing up.”

The Solution

When I moved on from high school to college, one of the first professors I ever had was a white haired but lively man who taught European and World History. His class was about Witchcraft and Early Modern Europe, a fascinating topic to a sheltered rural teenager like myself. The very first day of class, the professor said outright that he was still learning about the topic and was anxious to learn more. That that was part of the reason why he assigned us research papers. Richardson states that the problem with teaching stems from that fact that many education programs teach teachers to teach, but do not teach them to learn. In his experience, very few teachers are practicing learners in their classrooms. Granted, this changes at the college level, where many professors make it clear and open that they are still learning and researching new things, but it is lacking still at the high school and elementary levels, where teachers are still considered supreme educators.

To solve the problems with education in the 21st century, teachers must become learners and embrace that status, stepping down from their original pedestal as experts. Richardson wonders how many people would still go on to become teachers if the definition came to be changed to “one who learns with her students”, but the idea is very appealing to me. The journey to a destination is more enlightening, informative, and fun than the actual arrival, and the arrival at the end of the journey of training to become a teacher is commonly seen as a high point. It is time to change this. It is time to extend the journey of learning and encourage teachers to become lifelong learners in order to teach the Digital Generation more effectively.

Views: 26

Comment by Ben Pisani on November 20, 2013 at 6:28pm

I can't tell you how many teachers I've had stand in front of the classroom and act as a totalitarian dictator when it comes to the content.  I had a teacher, (all the way in college) give me points off on a final exam because she didn't think that such a thing happened (it was a historical paper).  I knew it happened, I wrote about it in a previous class.  Instead of this teacher going to the books to find out if I was off base or correct, she assumed direct control and as dictator, assumed I was spewing garbage.  This made me mad.  Teachers are more likely to have a better rapport with students if they assume the mantle of learner instead of teacher.  It levels the playing field, but only a bit.

Comment by Kerri Valesey on November 21, 2013 at 4:59pm

I love the way you problematize the role of the teacher in this blog.  I really worry for my own practice, how I will approach educating my students, but I can definitely picture a more engaged classroom in which I am continually challenged to learn new and exciting things in order to "keep up with the times."  I've always been afraid of technology, inhibited by a fear of failing and embarrassing myself, but I have been learning to let that go.  I believe that all teachers are inherently similar in our quest for knowledge, but that one of the pitfalls of teaching others is the potential to forget the importance of our own learning. Excellent, and thought provoking!

Comment by Courtney Brown on November 24, 2013 at 11:08pm

Rebecca, I really like how you shaped your blog.  It was not only easy to follow you in your thought process but you really set the stage for your argument.  I read the chapter entitled Unlearning Teaching and I felt that Will Richardson poses many great ways in which educators can continue to learn and create a school setting which promotes co-learning.  I enjoy learning with my students and love when they teach me, so much of our relationship is built when we are co-learning.  

Comment by John Brewer on December 5, 2013 at 4:01pm

I think an essential element of deconstructing what is is to teach includes proving that you are indeed human, and fallible to mistakes and imperfections.  Students don't want or need robots or machines at the front of the classroom that try to impress them with the vast amount of knowledge.  They have computers, smartphone and tablets for that.  Teachers need to become human again, admit to their mistakes and shortcomings, but more importantly, they need to model or set examples for students as to how they go about improving upon these shortcomings. Nice post.


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