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The problem here is quite simple: the model that we have in place for teachers is outdated and unnecessary.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.”
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.