The definition of teacher is important to name as we wade into less anchored times where the idea of teacher is being challenged as being necessary. Consider for example, Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) who offer this vision of learning:
In the new culture of learning, people learn through their interaction and participation with one another in fluid relationships that are the result of shared interests and opportunity. In this environment, the participants all stand on equal ground—no one is assigned to the traditional role of teacher or student. Instead, anyone who has particular knowledge of, or experience with, a given subject may take on the role of mentor at any time. Mentors provide a sense of structure to guide learning, which they may do by listening empathically and by reinforcing intrinsic motivation to help the student discover a voice, a calling, or a passion. Once a particular passion or interest is unleashed, constant interaction among group members, with their varying skills and talents, functions as a kind of peer amplifier, providing numerous outlets, resources, and aids to further an individual’s learning (Kindle Location 587-593).I appreciate the bold ideas Thomas and Brown offer in A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, but think their vision does not capture well the idea of teacher. I believe that much will be lost if we abandon the role of teacher in lieu of peer to peer learning or community-based mentorship. Now to be clear, I believe both peer-based learning and community mentors are very important correlates to learning and are under used in our current realization of school.
When we say that we are educating someone, we are introducing that person, young or old, to ways of being and acting in the world that are new to his or her experience (p. 17).To introduce learners to ways of being and acting in a world new to the learner's experience requires the teacher to act as bricoleur: one who cobbles together materials at hand to serve new uses. The teacher as bricoleur (I've written about this here) is the master teacher as s/he is able to anticipate, occasion, deepen, and complicate learning. Teaching well isn't singularly following a learner's passion and supporting it, however worthy such art and craft might be. Teaching well also means leading the learner into ways of being and acting that are foreign to their experience and as such not yet a passion. Teaching well means occasioning a learner's intellectual frustration and scaffolding such experiences so that learners come to know the power of ambiguity, uncertainty, loss, and joy.
I have been thinking about this for several reasons: I have been taught by such teachers, have worked alongside such teachers, have married such a teacher, and have friends who are such teachers. I know via these relationships what it means to be in the company of teachers and would not want that denied to learners regardless of how personalized an education we might be able to offer students. There is something to be said for the unimagined, impossible to plan, and random learning that happens in the company of fine teachers.
So what does this all mean? Teachers matter. Their brilliance, tentativeness, failures, kindness and courage matter. I want to say, America, we would be fools to abandon such importance.
A point of illustration: Earlier today I was reading Michael Doyle's (@BHS_Doyle) latest post, Natural World. He's a teacher who teaches high school biology in NJ. He writes:
My goal is for kids to know less by June than they knew in September, a whole lot less. Good science can be as tenuous as the wisp of a shrew's breath.
Until they know this, and it's easier to grasp when entropy takes its toll over the years, as knowledge of your inevitable path creeps into cerebral shadows, I fear I am wasting their time.
Until they know this, maybe pushing them outside, a copy of Seamus Heany's Human Chain in one hand, a cheap plastic magnifying glass in the other, is enough science for a period, for a lifetime.
Nonetheless, the guide I'd most want to walk alongside is a teacher.
Grumet, Madeline. 1995. The curriculum: What are the basics and are we teaching them? In J.L. Kinchoe & S.R. Steinberg. Thirteen questions: Reframing education's conversation. 2nd edition (pp. 15-21). New York: Peter Lang.
Thomas, Douglas (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (Kindle Locations 587-593). CreateSpace. Kindle Edition.