The obsolete teacher

For a teacher to become obsolete in the classroom is an idealistic goal to strive for. If achieved this means the students have the ability to constructively criticise and assess their own work. Constructively means they can analyse and build on what they have learnt as opposed to destructively where very little learning takes place. When the student can constructively criticise their own work they can also determine what extra research or effort needs to be done to bring their work to a fruition they can be proud of.

The best learning relies on students asking questions of themselves and arriving at sensible constructive answers. The ability to ask questions would be one of the most important aspects of education. People only get good answers to questions that are insightful and searching. Just think, with some question asked of Google often it takes many times to get the appropriate answers, In today’s education learning to ask good questions takes on new meaning and is also extremely important as this can often be an indicator that the person is ready to learn something specific. “In time learning” is very powerful and is often the learning that is remembered with the most clarity. Research also shows that the sooner the question is answered the better the retention of the knowledge. (The first thing we learn is the hardest to unlearn so students must get the correct answer as quick as possible). In times gone by the correct answer could take days to find while teachers were waiting for the correct text to be sent from the library or the teacher was relied upon for the knowledge that was sometimes erroneous.

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Questions the students ask are very important at any level, as understanding is formed by the questions students ask of themselves and 'Google' This interaction generated by questioning and discussion of the answers is what creates understanding. For this we don't need teachers to 'teach' but we need people to facilitate learning. When the teacher is involved they should not give the answer too quickly as this shortcuts the learning interaction but they can illicit more questions from the student as very often students know the answers to their own questions, if they don't Google most likely does. In many cases the student simply did not think hard enough as they wanted to be spoon fed the answer. Spoon feeding is a recognised problem in education. Teachers should be letting the students find the solutions and give them the confidence to discuss and guide each other to affective problem solving solutions, not to try and set themselves up as the font of all knowledge. The teacher’s role is changing to that of a facilitator and confidence builder to help the students move forward with an understanding of all the knowledge the internet can give them.

When the teacher has become obsolete it means the student is asking the questions to solve their problems and have started to become an autonomous learner and hopefully a lifelong learner. A very desirable state to achieve as later in life, very rarely is there going to be a teacher waiting on them to answer all their questions. Curriculum design is also a very important aspect in learning in that so many curriculums are based on the models of 30 years ago and new curriculum design should be facilitating the process that eventually makes the teacher obsolete and the student ready for jobs that don't yet exist. A student centred classroom is one of the most important tools to move toward ideal education where the teacher becomes the facilitator but so many teachers walk into their so called student centred classroom and start instructing for long periods of time. Often this is more to try and give themselves a feeling of importance and of being needed rather than being educators.

Finally what is the teachers job then? Do what the boss says. This is often the answer a teacher will give but for professionals involved with teaching many would say their job is to set problems for the students to solve and help them learn the skills to solve the problems not solve the problems for the student.

We must not forget the hierarchy for designing what we put into our curriculum.

  1. What are the government requirements (remember they pay us)
  2. What are the school requirements (these should be aligned but are not always)
  3. What are the department requirements (these also should be aligned but are not always)
  4. Teacher designs a classroom unit around what is left after the above request are fulfilled.

Some of the effective ways of incorporating the educational research into this area is to start by setting a problem for the students to answer.

An aside here is that, there is a common misconception that all learning should be fun. Working on this precept we should be watching movies and playing Facebook and Warcraft instead of Quadratic Equations. The concept we use should not be the concept of fun but that of engaging.

Another important aspect is the same for students and adults. They all like to have some control over their destiny and the most powerful method of setting up classroom pedagogy is to involve the students in the process so they have considerable ownership over their learning process. When this is done the government directives simply become part of a problem to solve. Student Centred classrooms also rely on some student responsibility towards learning and many teachers when faced with this problem simply drop back to teacher centred activities where many don’t feel obsolete. Teachers must remember to teach responsibility you have to also give responsibility and the very nature of many young people will be to let you down but with perseverance and consistency in the approach to the learning process students will nearly always live up to that responsibility.

The teacher may start with;

  • This term we have to learn about “Indian culture”, has anybody any ideas on how they would like to do this.
  • With guidance this would lead the teacher into brainstorming and creating mind maps of what the end goal is and the different way to arrive at this point.
  • Planning in this way gives ownership of the whole process to the students but still within the guidelines specifically stated by the teacher ie This term we have to learn ........ With guided learning the teacher would also try and guide the process to solving problems by doing projects and the students would also start talking about what specific skills they need to learn to complete the project.

The important part of this for the teacher is to have as little input as possible as the process needs to be owned by the students, and not turned around to become the teacher’s project. As hard as it is for some teachers they should be talking less and creating situations that require the student to ask questions, find answers and above all interact with the knowledge they are expecting to learn at many different levels.

When teachers want the students to critically analyse, they simply asks questions as to how are we going to do? Is it still in line with what we have to learn? How much time do we have? What can we do in the time? If you finish early what other exciting things would be good to try? The students should be starting to ask questions of the teacher but mainly of each other and supplying their own answers as much as possible. When a mind-map is used it should be growing to many levels.

Where possible the answers should be the students not the teachers but with carefulnon judgemental questioning the students will own the process and end up where the teacher needs them to be as in fulfilling the above government and school requirements and more importantly the students becoming active learners.

So is the teacher obsolete? Certainly the traditional idea of teaching is not appropriate for today’s rapidly changing society and the traditional teacher does not prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist. The traditional teacher competes against the internet, multimedia, interactive games, and frivolous art activities, where as the modern teaching facilitator is all about processes of learning and understanding in a Student Centred classroom. The modern facilitator uses the tools of multimedia, internet, interactivity and frivolous art activities etc to actively stimulate the whole brain and prepare students abilities to be adaptable to a rapidly ever-changing society, and, talks less in the classroom.

There is only one thing students need to be taught before they leave school on their path through life and that is a desire and love of learning. Sadly our traditional education system with top heavy bureaucratic requirements and testing with teacher centred classroom all too often destroys rather than enhances that desire to learn.

Remember. All comments in a classroom should be positive as opposed to negative. Constructive criticism facilitates learning, if a teacher wants to offer destructive criticism they should become a film critic. Brett Wilkin 2008

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