Much has been said about the death of content, the apocalypse of knowing, the end of teaching. There is, let’s be honest, a lot of smugness coming from the techerati (myself included) that technology will mean that students begin to reject school completely and forge their own paths in learning. Even whole education systems are starting to adopt online, self-paced learning as a legitimate means of progressing through curriculum stages. Unfortunately, a lot of it is not designed with the user in mind (Assassin’s Creed on XBox One is a lot more appealing than Ed Solution Company X new but clunky learning management system). Even professional learning is mainly delivered in a manner that causes teachers to question their choice of career rather than confirm it.
Students are being bombarded with new initiatives, reforms, opportunities and possibilities. Schools are given new platforms and tools to do what they do faster and more easily (making the roll online – woohoo!). Systems roll out new accountability programs which are clearly built for the robustness of the system, not the productive use of time by the user (often an over worked deputy or principal who really doesn’t have time to sit on the phone working through bugs).
The explosion of technology and its adoption by schools has, for many, spelt the end of a once proud tradition of teaching. It signals a “deprofessionalisation” where teachers are reduced to a body in the room, a glorified babysitter (though not as well paid, per child), while the only sound is the tapping of keyboards and the only light is the glow of screen on face.
I propose instead that teachers actually have the opportunity to lead the conversation about what teaching is and should be, for the first time in a long time. We are generating so much data about what we do and how we do it (often publically through channels like blogs or teachmeets). If we can harness this data to make better decisions within our own context, we’ll rapidly accelerate our ability to adapt to changing needs.
Governments will always seek to tell us what they want us to do. Academics will always release papers to indicate what we should be teaching and how. Parents and other stakeholders will always have strong views on what’s best for their children. Our role as educators should be to contextualise the vast ocean of knowledge and opinion and filter and apply the relevant information for those in our charge. This takes a lot of skill, a lot of nuance and a lot of courage.
Ours is a world where more students than ever will go on to university, but fewer than ever will find their qualification guarantees them a job. It’s a world where there are just as many entrepreneurs globally as there are people who are unemployed. It’s a world where economic butterfly effects from one side of the earth to the other are the norm and almost instantaneous in their impact. (100 years ago, you had a few days or even weeks to prepare for the onset of a recession or depression. Not so today!) But it is also a world of outstanding opportunity for teachers: to shrug off the approaches and structures that we used to need and don a new kit for the needs of the future.
There will always be a need for a leading learner to guide and support an apprentice. Whether 1:1 or 1:1000, the qualities of a great teacher (creativity, empathy, passion, and so very much more) will always be needed by those who learn. We need to recognise this, remunerate this and deeply appreciate it so that we don’t lose it.
The end of teaching? No. We’re just evolving. And we need to do so together.