I attended a dinner last night for a man I greatly respect. He was my Principal when I was a middle school teacher and now he is being elevated to the Superintendent’s position, a move that should have been made years ago. There were a great many educators in attendance spanning several generations. This man, as a person, educator, and administrator, is very popular with people he has worked with, now and in the past, because he gets it. Whatever “it” is, he definitely gets it. I think “it” is a balanced combination of intelligence, understanding, passion, compassion, fairness, and leadership. This is a rare combination of skills for most, which limits further the number of educational leaders who get it.
The gathering of teachers celebrating the occasion included a great many who had already retired over the years. Reminiscence was the main course of the evening. Stories, experiences, and sharing made up the side dishes. The ages of educators ranged from the very early 20’s to the autumn years of 70’s. It spanned 50 years of teaching. What struck me for reflection was the fact that many of the experiences of the older generation of educators had little to do with the role of educators today. Of course it still involved adults teaching kids, but the position of teacher seems to have evolved to a different level.
Back in the day, the teacher was the center of information. The teacher was the Hunter, gatherer, and provider of content. (That description always brings to mind visions from Lord of the Flies.) The teacher was the expert. The teacher was the “go-to person” for the information within the subject he or she was licensed to teach. The teacher maintained the position at the front of the classroom in order to dispense or provide the information to the class.
If the teacher did not have an answer, there were books and sources to help hunt down the information. Teachers would gather information over a period of years to provide to their students. The most experienced teachers had the largest collection of file cabinets in their rooms. When it came time to retire, they would dole out their dittos and files like hoarded treasure to the up-and-coming, fledgling teachers. Those younger teachers became the new controllers of content. It was control of information that was the power of education.
Today, there has been a shift in the acquisition of information. There is too much information for most people to be experts. Information is exponentially accumulating minute by minute. Publishing is instantaneous. Content that was non-existent this morning is available online by this afternoon. Teachers can no longer be the sole hunters, because there is too much to hunt. They can no longer be the sole gatherers because there are not enough file cabinets or rooms to house them. Without the ability to hunt and gather with focus and purpose, how can the teacher be the provider?
The strategy for teachers today has to be different from what it was. Teachers still need to be content experts, but that becomes the starting point and not the end of the process. No longer are they the hunters, but the leaders and guides for the hunting parties. Teachers need to send out the hunting parties with clear direction and finely honed hunting skills to capture the content. They then need to gather the content from each of the groups to share with all of the other groups.
We have shifted from mastering the content, to mastering how to master the content. We no longer hunt it down, but teach that skill to our students. We need not provide content directly to our students, but rather provide the skills for them to present and cooperate and collaborate with others for the purpose of mastering the skills to learn information and provide it to others.
As educators, our task should no longer be to teach content, but rather how to find, access, analyze, understand, and create content. This should be the role of teachers today. It is probably one of the few things that teachers can directly affect in the way of educational reform. “Give a man (woman) a fish and he (she) eats for a day. Teach him (her) how to fish and he (she) eats for a lifetime.” (Sentences were so much easier when they were sexist.) This is an oldie, but a goody. This is not a place where many educators live, but it is a place where many should begin to move. If we support reforming an education system that does not seem to be working to the satisfaction of those who support it, more educators need to change the things they have control over.