Untangling the profession of teaching

The Hour of Code website offers this tip for teachers: “It’s okay to respond: ‘I don’t know. Let’s figure this out together.'”

Read that again. “I don’t know. Let’s figure this out together.” How many times did your high school teachers say that?

There is a slowly growing recognition that technology and culture are changing much too quickly for teachers to have all the answers. The answers are typically found on the internet. In contrast, the teacher is there to provide the many other intangibles that are a prerequisite for learning, such as connecting with students on a personal level; nurturing curiosity and integrity; creating a space where students can fail safely along the way to mastery; and many others.

So many aspects of teaching have been intertwined for decades in the single profession of teacher. But software technology is starting to allow a much greater degree of specialization, and the various strands of the profession are gradually being untied and examined individually.

I know many teachers will miss their wide-ranging traditional roles. But specialization is also the best route I can fathom to cope with the increasingly urgent need to update the curriculum to keep up with the times. Code.org is “basically training existing math and science teachers […] to become computer science teachers.” [link] Computer science didn’t exist a few decades ago. Social media studies didn’t exist five years ago. The next world-changing technology is being developed right now. How can teachers keep up?

By not trying to do everything themselves — such as developing their own lesson plans, or knowing all the answers. Fantastic curriculum is increasingly available for free online (often with built-in quizzes and other feedback) — developed by teachers who are specializing in those subject areas. Can classroom teachers take advantage of those resources to focus on other strands like student engagement and motivation?

From another perspective, the teacher without all the answers is practicing a type of “growth mindset.” It’s hard to expect a student to understand the value of lifelong learning if their teachers do not model it. From this perspective, the accelerating pace of technological change has the byproduct of reinforcing the need for lifelong learning across all walks of life. Teachers have the dual challenge of preparing students for this changing world and coping with it themselves.

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