I love great teachers. Even with all our great new, quickly advancing technology, our need for great human teachers won’t go away.
This is because in an age of technology, the teacher’s role is NOT to do what technology can now do well — i.e. teach content — but, rather, to do what technology CAN’T do well (or at all) — i.e. provide respect, empathy, acceleration and motivation to students, while encouraging each student in following his or her individual passion.
Here’s what makes the great teachers great — and what any teacher can potentially do:
1. First, great teachers love their kids, far more than their “content” or subject. They love them not collectively, as a “class”, but individually, as people. They ask every one of their students “What are you passionate about?” and care about and use those answers. They get to know, help, and accelerate each kid’s becoming what he or she wants to, and can, be.
2. Second, great teachers understand that while part of their job is preparing kids for the big tests, that that is only a part of their job. Great teachers do that part NOT by “covering” every piece of material in the syllabus, but by challenging their kids in ways that get them to practice and want to do well. Great teachers understand that technology is a huge lever here, so they use and make great programs and apps to prepare the kids. (Just as no one should take the SAT’s wthout a preparation app, the same goes for EVERY test.).
3. Third, great teachers understand that if ALL they do is prepare kids on the current curriculum and standards (based mostly on the past) and the tests — even if the kids do well or OK — they have ony done part of their job, and nowhere near enough to truly help their students. The far more more important job of all teachers today is to prepare kids for the future, so that each kids leaves school with the abilities and skills they need to succeed and thrive in the third millennium world — and NOT in the past world where their teachers grew up, which is disappearing far faster than most think.
Doing the first part requires looking into yourself. If, even though you are a teacher, you don’t love kids — if you don’t find working with them every day the best part of your life — if you don’t make it your business to know and encourage their individual passions — if you don’t always focus on them as individuals, providing them with respect, empathy, and motivation — if you don’t, in sum, rank “people and passions” far above “classes and content” in your teaching, you will never be a great teacher. Period.
But even when that is there, balancing the past (i.e. curriculum, standards, test prep) and the future (i.e. real preparation for the third milennium) is hard, and all teachers I know are struggling with it. It essentially means the teacher today has two jobs — a “past” job and a “future”.job. And the only way to do more of the preparation for the future is to do less of the detail of the past. This is what all teachers struggle with, and what the great teachers manage to do well.
[Next: What the great teachers know and do.]
As always, your comments are welcome.
The opinions expressed in Prensky’s Provocative Ed-Tech Thinking are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.