Just today, a colleague mentioned the importance of teachers inspiring students in addition to imparting them with knowledge. It seems like such an obvious aspect of the profession. Unfortunately, not all teachers feel this is part of their job descriptions. Some believe their responsibility is merely to present content to students, and it’s up to the learners to figure out what to do with that.
If this is the case, then we educators might as well box up our classrooms and post our credentials to Monster.com, because if this is the case, the teaching profession is obsolete.
Students no longer need us to present them with facts and processes. They’ve got Google and Wikipedia and YouTube for that sort of thing. In reality, schools are no longer integral components of transmitting knowledge and information.
Children can and do learn how to read, write, solve math problems, and conduct science experiments right from the comfort of their own homes. Children learn to play an instrument, speak a foreign language, and integrate healthy eating and exercise regimens into their daily lives without the help of teachers. Children learn about ancient cultures and worldwide governments between breakfast and nap time. Children learn how to build things, paint things, sing things, and disassemble and reconstruct things with just the guidance of their computer screens and TV sets.
If we follow the logic of teachers who don’t believe it is their duty to inspire, then children don’t need us anymore.
Except they do.
What children do not learn entirely on their own is what to do with that knowledge. What children do not learn on their own is how exceptional people other than their family members or neighbors believe they are. What children do not learn on their own is what they’re capable of doing for themselves and others and how to make those capabilities a reality. What children do not learn on their own is how to understand the life experiences of people who are different from them. What children do not learn on their own is how to work and get along with those whom they may not like or believe they have anything in common with. What children do not learn on their own is how to problem solve with others in pursuit of a community goal.
What children CANNOT learn from a website or a television program is the value of human connection, compassion, understanding, interaction, inspiration, motivation, relationships and LOVE as they relate to educational content.
This is why many educators oppose politicians’ attempts to dismantle public education in favor of online schools lacking teacher-and-student contact or charters staffed with unqualified teachers. This is why many educators oppose the use of standardized test scores as sole measures of teacher effectiveness (because if content knowledge and the ability to bubble in Scantrons is all we care about as a society, then Google might as well be nominated for Teacher of the Year). This is why any educator worth her salt knows that teaching is 1 part book smarts, 3 parts educational psychology, and 6 parts zeal.
Recently, my student teacher mentioned feeling inferior to some of her cohorts because they seem so impossibly knowledgeable and specialized in their content. One fellow teacher in training, she told me, has seemingly abandoned leisure time entirely in favor of focusing on her studies and writing a dissertation about how reading Shakespeare impacts the human brain, the results of which guide this future teacher’s educational philosophy statement.
While an interesting and commendable pursuit, I pointed out that having such a narrow view of the knowledge and purpose required to educate is actually a hindrance. Understanding how reading Shakespeare affects human brain processes is just one tiny component of educating the whole child. Basing one’s entire teaching philosophy on a single component of learning is, in my humble opinion, a mistake.
Children don’t merely need a teacher who knows how reading archaic British literature affects their thinking. They also need a teacher who can help them express their feelings about that literature. They need a teacher who can help them make connections to material they have no prior experiences with. They need a teacher who is equipped to help them see why curriculum is relevant and how to apply it to their daily lives and their futures. They need a teacher who can carry on a conversation about pop singers like Justin Bieber or movies like Frozen, who is willing to cheer them on at the football game and give up her Saturday night graduate work to watch them perform in the school play, who knows what it’s like when peer relationships fail and can give advice for moving forward, who can read a student’s apathy or poor behavior and know it for self-consciousness or troubles at home, who is equipped to diffuse confrontations and foster connections, and who knows both his subject and his students.
My colleague is 100% correct in her assessment. Don’t ever forget, educators, that children need teachers who inspire. If you don’t believe it is your commission to encourage and excite, please leave the profession to those of us who do.