The Role of the Teacher

I have a very simple question for you: “What is your job as a teacher?”

Is it to teach the kids math formulas, battles dates, English literature, or vocabulary words? They will learn whatever you ask them to…in fact they have to because you are going to test them on it. Is it success if your kids come through your class, do well on every homework and test and make an A, yet have no connection with what you teach? How many of your students walk out of your class after the exam thinking “thank God that’s done!” ? In the same spirit, have you ever had a student who struggled in your class, but loved it and left class every day with a smile?

is math class simply learning formulas?

If you are a math teacher, the reason you are teaching them Algebra is not to prepare them for Algebra 2, it is open up their eyes to the beautiful world of math. If you are a language teacher, the reason you are teaching them French 1 is not so they can enter French 2…it is so they see the beauty of speaking another language, and the culture that surrounds that language. If you are a Computer Science teacher, the reason you teach them for-loops and arrays is not so they can do well on the AP exam, it is so they can create things and turn their ideas into something real on the digital screen in front of them.

If our job as a teacher is simply to tell them what to know, when to know it, and even how to know it, then where in that do we allow learning for learning sake? In fact, if that’s all you do, put it all on handout and just pass it out early in the year and don’t make them come to class. Are state standards what drive your lessons and lesson plans? Where is the passion, both for the teacher and student? “Kids today are not passionate about anything”, you say? Maybe that’s because you’ve never given them a chance to dive into your class. Maybe it’s because in their classes— standards, quizzes, and grades are what drive the class—not passion. How often do students leave you class, even when it’s really hard, thinking “Wow, that was awesome!”

Can they feel the electricity in your classes?

It’s easy for some students. They love your subject area and there is not a bunch you can do to mess that up. You could not show up to class for a week, and they would still love it. But what about that next group below that? What about the kids who have not yet embraced what is so wonderful about your discipline? Do you think the questions at the end of the chapter will seal the deal for your history students? Do you think your popquiz that you gave because you know most kids did not read the homework will really turn them on to English? Do you think having them memorize a huge list of words and definitions for the test will bring out their passion? I am not suggesting we do not bring rigorous content and material into the class…in fact quite the opposite..I am suggesting if your kids are motivated and passionate..they will thirst for more than you ever gave them. They will stay late, come early, and do more than you ask.

Your role as a teacher is not simply to transfer knowledge from your mind into their mind like a dump truck.

Your class has to be much more than a dumping ground of content

It is to help them acquire that knowledge and understanding. And depending on the situation, that may include lecture, group work, demonstration, field trip, speaker, project, homework, video, article, textbook, a phone conversation, a website, heck…even a worksheet if it helped them understand….but not just understand WHAT it is, HOW to do it, or WHEN it was……..the goal of that lesson must also include WHY they are are doing it. I’ll argue that the WHY is more valuable than the WHAT. The HOW will come when they see the WHY. Any teacher striving for excellence knows that application of understanding is the gold standard of learning. If your kids can take what they’ve learned and apply it to a new situation to solve a problem, then they have truly “got it”. That is when you see lightbulbs go on. Great teachers know that the lightbulb will not turn on for every student, and the lightbulb rarely turns on when you, or they, expect it to. Some of those light bulbs are instant on and some take longer to get to full power. That rare “thank you” may show it’s face when a returning students pops into your office years later. And as teachers, if our role is to produce lifelong learners who love what we do and what we teach, that late “thank you” is perfectly timed because our role as a teacher meant that they appreciate and value what they learned in your class LONG AFTER class was over.

There is a different way to approach education. If something I said in this post makes sense to you, please browse my other posts…you will most likely find that we have a tremendous amount in common–in which case we should connect.

About Doug Bergman

Head of Computer Science at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.