I think the biggest demand teachers face today is cultivating a mindset in students in which they will hold themselves accountable in life as citizens and in the pursuit of lifelong learning. As emerging adults, students are soon to be faced with countless responsibilities, but too often long-term thinking takes a back burner. The world will hold them liable for their actions, every thought they happen to post on Twitter, so they must be taught to take their actions more seriously and to understand their ability to impact the world around them.
Teachers are always faced with “molding the minds of the future,” but what if, in the 21st century, it is the mold that needs to be changed? Why teach students how to interact with people in a way that worked 20 years ago when students will be creating information and connecting with others in a whole new way in the next 20 years? Information is now at our fingertips. Anyone has the power to publish ideas and access historical resources and news. This demands a new level of self-awareness that teachers need to foster in students.
It would seem that, with the growth of digital connectivity, students would be more inclined to join together, but the recent trend is separation. As future citizens, students must learn to collaborate, and the burden to show them how to do that also falls on educators.
A good teacher in this day and age, I think, is someone who can teach students how to learn. To teach learning, an English teacher should be someone who does not tell students what a text means, but how to figure out what it means—how it affects them and what it says about the world around them. Teachers like that have the tools and experience to expose their students to new ways of thinking and to broaden their horizons in the least clichéd sense of the phrase. Students should learn to ask questions about what they are learning and, with the new voice afforded to them via the internet, those questions should be shared and discussed.
But how does an educator go about fostering this brand of communal inquiry and deliberation? They themselves have to keep learning, growing, and adapting. The last 20 years have revolutionized the way people interact with one another. The world is changing at a rate that has not been seen since the Industrial Revolution. New things are being created, so why shouldn’t students be involved in creation and innovation? Information is no longer limited to textbooks; real-time responses are now the norm, and as students and future citizens, we should be encouraged to interact and to discover new resources for enhancing knowledge. Teachers should urge that on, to instill habits of citizenship, involvement, and accountability as a world-wide thinker.
Amani Bey is a junior attending Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia who intends to major in political economics. Her interests include singing, reading, and community outreach.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.