When I look back at my teacher education, I would say that 80% of what I was taught was essentially how to be a good instructor. As Phil Schlecty says, we used to see teacher and instructor as synonymous. Being a good instructor today is much less important than it was in 1988. It’s still a part of a teacher’s role but to a much lesser degree. Not only is our role shifting to designer and guide but the need to address emotional and personal needs have increased as well.
Public education used to have an unwritten agreement: Parents take care of emotional and social needs, schools look after academics. Occasionally these roles overlapped and when they did, parties often felt like they were going above and beyond the call of duty. In 2015 this is not the case.
Schools have not only taken on a broader role in educating children not only out of necessity and perhaps lack of support from home but also because we realize that social and emotional well-being is deeply intertwined with academic success. In addition, schools are beginning to see that student success and well-being is much more than grades. (Although, in many cases, actions do not suggest this but certainly conversations are occurring at a much greater rate.)
With this in mind, I would argue that today we need different teachers. Yes, we need teachers who take on fundamentally different roles. They need to be expert designers, expert guides and expert connectors. This alone is a monumental shift for many of our current educators and I’m not convinced colleges of education are providing this approach to a great degree.
But almost more than this is the need for caring teachers. I think it was possible 30 years ago to teach and have a minimal relationship with students. Teachers spent most of their class time doing the talking, directing learning and had little time or need to connect with their students on a personal level. Personal issues of any consequence were passed along to administrators or specialists who dealt with significant behaviour and learning challenges outside of the regular classroom. Teachers could focus on instruction. As this era comes to an end, it’s more than asking teachers to change. We know many teachers who have always taken an interest in their students beyond the curriculum, but in general, teachers weren’t expected to do so. I know many teachers who are great instructors but have a difficult time connecting emotionally with their students. That doesn’t make them bad people it just wasn’t what they signed up for when they began. They are often the teachers who are most tired and frustrated and I don’t blame them. They are in the midst of the biggest change in education in history and in many cases are cut out for the task at hand and I’ll reiterate, it’s not necessarily their fault.
Today we need teachers who not only care about children, but care for children. As Chris Lehman says, there’s a big difference. I don’t think it’s possible today to be an effective teacher, let alone a great one, without a deep commitment to care. That’s certainly not the only trait but without it, I don’t see much chance of success or fulfilment. Looking at this list, it seems very clear that the qualities of a great teacher lean heavily toward the heart. The teachers I know who love their job care deeply for children. They have also shifted or have always been great designers of learning and are now fully embraced as guides to instruction and learning. Not guides on the side but entrenched with the learning.
I think this means that we need to be looking for a different breed of teacher moving forward. Our education programs need to expose teacher candidates to the realities of the classroom that go way beyond learning challenges. They need to be comfortable with a greater commitment to caring for children. We also need to help teachers find a balance that will keep them in it for the long haul. The needs of classrooms have changed pretty significantly over the past 30+ years. Partly due to technology and access to information and partly due to the realization that we have a responsibility to educate the whole child. With this in mind, we need a new kind of teacher. Many are in place already but moving forward it’s time to consider
The needs of classrooms have changed pretty significantly over the past 30+ years. Partly due to technology and access to information and partly due to the realization that we have a responsibility to educate the whole child. With this in mind, we need a new kind of teacher. Many are in place already but moving forward it’s time to consider new college programs and new hiring practices that get our students the teachers they need.