Back when I was in school, I viewed my teachers as individuals with a wealth of specialized knowledge which they were tasked with sharing with us unruly students. Teaching was the profession of imparting knowledge diligently acquired over many years of study, knowledge that in itself was timeless.
Today, the profession no longer carries that connotation, nor the respect. Rather I believe that the teaching profession can now better be equated with the terms curation and showmanship.
Teacher as Curator
As a teacher at the university level, the knowledge to be imparted is no longer in my head or even in my possession; the knowledge is out there, primarily on the Internet but also recent research papers and popular paperback books. The classic textbook is outdated the moment it is published. Thus, rather than teach, it is my job to point students toward the right collection of resources I’ve filtered out between fact and fiction, trustworthy and speculation.
Teachers are now like museum curators, first evaluating pieces of art for authenticity, then carefully making a selection that will capture the attention of our audience while positioning them, displaying them in a way to guide curious souls along a journey of our creation. And, hopefully they will leave with an imprint of that art on their mind and heart as they leave the gallery into the sunlight.
Teacher as Showman/Showwoman
In a world where an endless stream of digital notifications reign supreme, teachers are tasked with holding the attention of a disinterested & distracted generation for 50 minutes at at time. I’m usually content with 10–15.
And even that requires a level of pizzazz and showmanship that used to be the exclusive purview of trained thespians and sleight-of-hand magicians. Wave with one hand toward the whiteboard, pen in hand, while making a rabbit (or at least a joke to make them laugh) appear in the other, and maybe they’ll give you another 5 minutes of their time. Constantly be telling engaging stories, anecdotes, and high tales to elicit a couple laughs, or at least get them to put their phones down.
As teachers, we have to be well-versed in the newest technological gadgets, imbued with the ability to draw engaging figures on blank canvas, and even be able to bust a couple moves on the dance floor while hitting the high notes. We are competing heads-on with Snapchat, Youtube, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Tinder and every other time of instant gratification engine of the digital universe. It’s a losing game, but the show must go on.
I’m usually content if I see one student take notes.
So what does this mean for the future of education?
1) Textbooks need to change.
If knowledge is dynamic, than rather than having physical books crammed with unassailable facts, teachers should be provided with constantly updated, specifically curated lists of resources they can share with their students. Those resources should be verified for authenticity and checked with their prospective audience. We can ask teachers to be more engaging and up-to-date without giving them the resources to do so.
2) Teachers need to change.
We want students to experience knowledge-in-action; subsequently, we should first engage teachers in those experiences. Teachers should be shadowing business executives, attending seminars at hospitals, having spirited discussions with musicians and then bringing those insights, stories, and words of wisdom back to the classroom. And this should be a part of their job description and connected with their performance. The deeper the well of relevant experiences, the richer the classroom experience will be.
3) Classrooms need to change.
For the past 100 years, a classroom is a room with four walls, or a larger auditorium in the case of universities. All we’ve added is a projector or maybe even a “smartboard”. If education is about curation and storytelling, then the environment needs to reflect that. I’m not suggesting we get more digital; sometimes I feel more technology actually subtracts rather than adds. There should be more paper, more scissors, more glue and colored pencils. Students of all ages and all disciplines need to learn how to draw again. And the classroom needs to be filled with “toys” that engage the imagination of students while driving their experiential learning.
4) I need to change.
I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. — Jimmy Dean