Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Do We Need Teachers?


There are lots of people that are beginning to flirt with the notion that we don’t need teachers. Now as a teacher, I typically would have a problem with that belief. However, I'm beginning to think that maybe they are onto something.

I had an experience this past weekend that kind of flipped on a light bulb for me about teachers and teaching and even about learning. When I got home from work this past Friday my car started acting funny. It wasn't starting properly and all sorts of engine lights and whatnot where flashing on. Now if you know me, you know that I can put gas in my car and change the tires... if I really need to. Beyond that, I am completely useless as a mechanic in any capacity. With this in mind, as my car was having troubles, I drove it over to a friend’s house because I knew he had way more mechanical knowledge than I. When I got there, both of us looked at the car and what it was doing, scratching our heads, unable to figure out what was wrong. Now the check engine light was on and he had a code reader so we plugged into the car and got the engine code. Using the code and “the Google” we figured out that the camshaft position sensor had gone bad in my car. Now I've seen Tommy Boy and I know about the rotary girders and frankly a camshaft position sensor sounded completely fictional. So, I began to complain and whine about how much this was going to cost me at the mechanic or a dealer to get this problem fixed.


Now, fast-forward to five minutes later when we decided to watch a YouTube video on how to replace the sensor. This led me to the auto parts store where I bought the sensor and within 20 minutes we had it replaced in my garage with the help of my iPad and a few wrenches. This obviously saved me money, but it made me think about the nature of learning and the role of teachers. Now, I have written before about the idea of information parity and how we live in a day and age where we can find out how to do just about anything. Yes, I understand there will be times where I will not be able to look up on YouTube sophisticated mechanical procedures to perform on my vehicles. However, for basic skills and simple fixes, I will certainly seek out the answers online in the innumerable resources available to me. I don’t need to know how to do something if I at least know where to go to find out how.

What does this have to do with teachers or education? Well, I see education in many of our schools like the issue with my car. We are teaching kids how to make simple fixes to simple problems and spending all of our time on that. As I have said before, most kids could pass tests in their classes using their smart phone. What does this say about our tests and about our teaching? Should we be teaching kids answers to questions or showing them where to find the answers? If a teacher’s role is focused on filling kids heads with answers in preparation for tests, then frankly we don’t need them. Teachers in that setting are obsolete and should be replaced with a video a packet or even textbook. Yet, if the goal of school is to not just fill our students’ heads full of basic facts and knowledge but in addition to create learners, thinkers, developers, creators and inventors, then maybe a teacher is needed. So, the question still remains, “do we need teachers?” I think the answer all depends on what you value about school, about education and about learning.