November 17, 2018

The One Thing Teachers Want That No One is Talking About

This post was last updated on November 19th, 2018 at 07:55 pm

Ask any teacher what is one thing they wish they had that would make their job better. For most the answer is time. 

The solutions to this problem are complex and in many cases outside the purview of educators but there is one increasingly growing aspect that no one seems to be talking much about. Time spent looking for stuff. 

“Stuff” is more or less content. While many jurisdictions are understanding that content may not be as important as developing skills, content is still important and necessary for learning even if your focus is on skills. 

The most progressive curriculum I know is in British Columbia. Teachers are free to focus on big ideas and core competencies and student agency is the goal. Yet as excited as educators are to embrace this, many I’ve worked with and spoken to are struggling to find content. The curriculum is less concerned with content and yet without something to build upon, analyze, create with, the efforts to develop skills and competencies fail.

School Has a Content Problem. It doesn’t seem to want any. ….But try as we might to think of reading or mathing as a skill, we cannot divorce any of it from specific content in the classroom. These aren’t Subjects that can be studied or mastered in any manner divorced from content, which is infinite in possibility and purpose and audience. ‘Content’ and ‘Skill’ are not equal partners, because skill is universal while content is specific. You cannot learn a skill without the content, but the content requires the skill no matter what it is.

https://medium.com/@berniebleske/school-has-a-content-problem-b7b299461f15

In other jurisdictions where standards are more focused on content, teachers are dissatisfied with textbooks and formulaic approaches. Their print-based world often seems outdated and lacking engagement. They know there is better stuff out there. 

So in both cases, teachers turn to “the google”. I’ve witnessed this first hand as my wife worked endless hours at night exploring possibilitites for her grade 2 classroom. I tried to do my own research to see if this was indeed widespread so I reached out to Twitter and asked a simple question:

While not scientific, my hunch is the results are fairly accurate. I believe this is something new. I recall as a young teacher prior to the Internet that I spend very little time culling for resources. I might spend time at the beginning of a unit at the local library but I exhausted my search relatively fast. The other resource I had was a teacher librarian who would also alleviate some of this work. The majority of my time at home was spent planning what my students would do with the content.  I’d say on average I spent 25% of my time finding and culling content and 75% of my time on what the instruction would be. Today I’d say for most teachers that’s reversed. Today’s educator is both blessed and cursed with infinite access to content. While there are many ways to find content and tips to better curate, it still takes time. A lot of time.  I also think much of this time is wasted.  Like going into a giant mall when all you need is a basic pair of socks, what should be a 5-minute job suddenly becomes hours. Yes, there are times when that’s part of the experience but doing this on a daily basis is costing many hours. Most of us can already admit to wasting more time online that we’d like, we don’t need to be adding to the problem. It seems that teachers and administrators are okay with this or maybe they just haven’t thought about it very much. I have. 

I don’t often mention on my blog that I work for Discovery Education. Over the past 7 years, I’ve been grateful to work with so many forward-thinking districts, leaders and teachers. While we offer a whole lot more, we are best known for our content. When I first began, our team would often highlight the fact that we offered 300,000+ resources from video, text, images, audio, interactives and more. We don’t talk about that much anymore. Instead, we might say that our services offer a handful of multi-modal, quality and vetted resources for nearly every grade, subject and standard. Teachers don’t want/need more stuff, they want/need good stuff and they want/need it easily accessible. When we do our job, we help teachers and leaders see how our products and services save time. We want to shift teachers time to allow them to focus on differentiating instruction, addressing the needs of individual students without having to spend a whole bunch of time finding just the right content. 

The reality is, the internet and youtube provide great content. The trouble is you have to find it. While there are many teachers who are willing to spend the time to find that content, it’s not fair to expect teachers to spend hours each night searching for stuff when they could be spending that time on instruction or better yet, resting. 

I don’t mean for this to sound like a pitch for Discovery but I’m simply surprised by how little anyone is paying attention to this growing problem. With growing stress among teachers, giving them the one thing they really need seems like something we all need to be paying more attention to.

To quote my friend Bill Ferriter, Is any of this making sense? Is this true for you? Do you see this as a problem Anyone you know addressing this?