Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.
– Colleen Wilcox
If I hear another keynoter say today’s teachers should really think of themselves as facilitators, I might retch.
If another peer in my grad class writes about giving his students the opportunity to learn, I might ask him to step whatever the online equivalent is of outside.
If I have to sit through another inane argument about what constitutes 21st Century Skills, someone’s losing a pinkie.
Let me be clear.
You see, I’m a teacher.
While there is an element of facilitation in what I do, I’m not setting up shop in the ballroom of the local Holiday Inn to help my students unlock the power within and encouraging them to buy my book and accompanying keychain on the coffee break.
This is serious work, let’s not side-step it in order to pick up the cross of the semantic argument.
Yes, I’ve seen the inspiring videos telling me “counselor,” “parent,” “coach,” and “listener” are all words for teacher.
“Teacher” pretty much takes care of it.
Yes, it’s a noble profession. I’m proud to do what I do each day. Let’s not cheapen it by pretending the word’s not enough.
What truly is not enough is giving students the opportunity to learn.
Having a school in their neighborhood gives them the opportunity to learn. Being born gave them the opportunity to learn. Stubbing their toes gives them the opportunity to learn.
I give my kids and education and I do it by teaching.
Calling it something else make it sound soft. It makes it somehow less than.
“What do you do?”
“Me? Oh, I give opportunities.”
“What are you Willy Wonka?”
“What do you do?”
As much as a lesson will include student choice, it will also include moments where following the instructions means doing work that is mentally uncomfortable. I ask them to do things they do not want to do because I do know more about some things than they do.
I’m not so ridiculous to believe I know more about them or their lives than they do. But, I do know more. My knowledge is of value, and I work to find the best ways to teach it. Their knowledge is valuable, and I work to find the best ways to learn it.
Some people call the best ways “21st Century Skills.”
For a while there, I was all wound up in the whole 21st Century Skills rhetoric. It’s a sexy turn of phrase. Once every hundred years, the global community looks into the future of the next 100 years and divines the skills that will prove most valuable.
I’ll have what she’s having.
When I was in high school, I watched my stepfather and uncles build a house because they wanted to see if they could. They’d never done such a thing before. They read, they researched, they asked around. They tried and errored and tried something new.
The thing is, they did this all in the 20th century.
Wait, there’s more.
If they had attempted to build a house in, say, 1905, some of those skills would have been the same, but some would have been remarkably different.
Same century, different skills.
Mind = Blown
This is all to say those who believe in the importance of teaching our students to ask the right questions and construct the right plans for uncovering the information they need using the tools available today lose more than a little control of the argument when they timestamp what they’re talking about.
“21st Century Skills” offers up a flimsy rhetorical piñata.
“Problem solving” lives in a lockbox even Al Gore would find amazing.