Why am I still a teacher?

Will Richardson asks us, as educators, to consider this video and ask what questions pop up for us.

The question that popped up for me was quite simple.

Why am I still a teacher?

Part of me means this facetiously.  I love being a teacher and I love being a part of the community of a school.

At the same time, though, Sugata Mitra is suggesting an end to teaching as we know it.  Because let’s see what he’s proposing.  First of all, he’s saying we’re going to have a “grandma cloud” of networked elderly people who are going to be encouraging and positive and generally helpful, but who aren’t responsible for grades.  Then we’re going to have workstations for group-based, interest-driven education in a variety of fields — biochemistry to English literature to Hindu theology (is theology the right word? Gotta google that).  And we’re going to leave it up to the kids to self-educate in the fields that interest them, to the degree they wish to be educated.

Oh, and the material that they learn in small groups, reading over one another’s shoulders, explaining to each other, communicating with each other, and writing an answer to… wait, why do they have to write an answer? Why does anyone have to write an answer?

This past week, I’ve been helping students refine their Google technique.  I’ve helped them scrounge up historical resources related to the Pilgrims who survived the winter of 1620 and made it to the land and cattle distributions of 1623 and 1627.  Did you know that all their wills, property inventories, and letters are online at the Pilgrim Museum?  And that there’s a bunch more stuff at over at the Mayflower History site? Sure, the men are much better represented in documentation than the women.  There are far fewer of these folks, too, than the mythical Typical American Classroom… which means you can’t assign one per kid, they have to work in groups.

But Mitra says kids need to work in groups, anyway.  So now kids are learning to read primary sources — last wills and sixteenth century letters, and sixteenth century sermons, and … Isn’t this what college professors wanted us to be doing with high schoolers to get them ready for college?

One of my kids said to me today, “I don’t like I like William Bradford very much any more.”  But, I thought, he was one of the heroes!  He’s one of the men that made this country! Yet when she explained her point of view, I found I rather agreed with her.  She’d read a number of the documents, considered his legacy, researched some secondary literature, and reached her conclusion (You’ll have to read for yourself to decide if it’s the right conclusion, but I can’t deny that it’s hers).

There’s a kind of mythmaking in the discipline of history where we, as teachers, are expected to present the major, mainstream version of the story.  Thaddeus Russell recently did the opposite.  And in a related news-flash, guess what? — the “greats” of history don’t look so great under a teenage microscope, either.

But I find it odd that Sugata Mitra’s research suggests that teachers should be cheerleaders and coaches and guides — posers of questions, not deliverers of answers; presenters of technique and strategy, not deliverers of content.

It’s a total revamping of what teachers do, away from rigid definitions of content toward more open ended definitions of study and learning.  And all of that makes me realize that teaching is not going to be a very stable career for very much longer, and that I may get edged out in the shuffle.  Which raises the far more complex question, What will my next career be?

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