Whenever I think of a teacher, I also think of a scholar. It has always been apparent to me that if one is to be an effective teacher, one must continually learn. Of course that is not always a path that individuals are able follow as a straight line. Often things, or situations get in the way over the course of a lifetime and many stray from that path for the sake of time, money, or most often family. I attended a retirement party recently for some retiring colleagues, and I engaged in several conversations with a number of teachers who were attending the party about various education topics. I was most surprised on the lack of depth of knowledge on the part of most of these teachers about topics they should at least have had at the very least an opinion.
I brought up topics like authentic learning; project based learning, the flipped classroom, and connected educators. Most of the teachers I spoke to, young and old had little idea about what I was asking. More often than not, they would offer reasons why they were not up to speed on these topics: No time, small kids at home, another job, not techy enough to follow stuff on the internet, or just a lack of interest, were all excuses that surfaced in these conversations. These were the reasons these educators were not in on the many conversations taking place with “connected educators”.
I clearly understand that teachers are under attack, both locally and nationally. I clearly understand that morale for educators is at a low point that has never been experienced before. I clearly understand what a pain in the ass it is to try to defend ourselves as educators to anyone who has bought into the mindless and baseless sound bites put out by mindless and baseless attackers. I am under no illusions that education is under attack by large numbers of people. That is why I find it so unbelievable to come across educators, so willingly abandoning any position of defense for education through learning or more precisely, not learning.
As educators, we strive to create life-long learners in our students. Many schools make mention of life-long learning in their mission statements. But why, I ask, does it only apply to students? As teachers, should we not be scholars? Should we not continue to learn in order to maintain relevance as a teacher? Do we not have a responsibility, or more, an obligation, to offer our students the most up-to-date education, adhering to the most up-to-date methodology based on the most up-to-date pedagogy? Should we not base our lessons on the most up-to-date information and employ the most up-to-date methods of acquiring, analyzing, understanding, creating, and communicating this information? Educators did not secure a diploma or a teaching license with all of this etched and updating in their brains. This stuff evolves almost daily. Most educators are not evolving at the same rate. Staying relevant is not a passive endeavor. It takes work, time, and effort.
As educators we must be learners first. If we are to be better educators, we must first be better learners. We may not always have a choice in what we learn. After so long not being involved with learning, many educators do not know how much they do not know. How can they make decisions on what they need to learn, if they are unaware of the existence of many of the things they need to know? If teachers are reluctant to leave their comfort zones, why will they choose to do so, even if leaving that comfort zone would make them better for it? Yes, educators should help decide what they need to learn and take ownership of their learning when possible. There will be times however, when this is not possible. It is also incumbent on districts to make all of this learning or Professional Development a priority. We need educators to be learned people, and that does not end at any point. It is a continuing process and Professional Development must reflect that. It can’t happen once a year in a workshop with a lunch break and discussion to follow. If teaching is to be ongoing, so is learning, both for the teachers and the students.
With technology today teachers can be connected to the information, sources and other educators to maintain relevancy. Before you ask, no I do not think you can be as effective as an unconnected and irrelevant educator. Yes, there are those who read journals and books and write magazine articles without the use of technology and maintain relevance. Chances are good that is not you. Most educators today need to be relevant and being connected through technology is the best means to do that. It takes time, work, and commitment. That is what we demand of our students, yet excuse it when it comes to us. Making Professional development a priority to teach educators the most up-to-date ways to teach should be one the major aspects of education reform. The biggest hypocrisy of the Education Profession is that the educators too often have become poor learners unwilling to leave their comfort zones to improve their learning. They are not “bad teachers” they are however victims of bad practices of a complacent education system. To be better educators, we first need to be better learners.