What Kids Really Need From A Teacher

By Gittel Grant

Sherlock HolmesBefore I wrote this article, I decided not to be some stuffy suit who decides she knows what’s good for others - so I put on my detective hat and did some recon. I asked some of my students what the most memorable class they had ever attended was. The answers varied from “when you were out sick with the flu for a week” to “dissecting fetal pigs”, but interestingly enough the answer I got from most students was “remember that class where you spoke in that funny accent and let us pretend we were visiting a foreign hotel” … (an electron orbital tool taught to me by the inimitable Mrs. From)! Hmmm. Interesting. I ran into a former student and asked him if he remembered that particular class- and he certainly did - down to my sad and inauthentic French accent.

I guess the point I am trying to make is first and foremost students need us to be "edutainers." That is, an educator who is also an entertainer. Students are pandered to by the entire market:

- here don’t get out of bed - Alexa will turn off the light
- spending time over the holidays with no Wi-Fi? Gasp! Download your shows first!
- Mom and Dad won’t get you the new iPhone? Maybe a VR headset and a new (or old) Nintendo gaming set?
- Don’t want to wait online for your coffee? Here, order it online, and we can tell you when pickup is ready!
- Too hard to fit a dermatologist appointment into your schedule? No worries! Simply facetime with them.

technology graphicNow, these technological advances are amazing (if slightly encouraging obesity simply by negating the need for anyone to ever get off the couch). But why should their education be any different? My point is simply that for better or worse, the easy access of technology makes it simple and profitable to keep our students entertained at a mind-blowing speed. Many of them spend most their time outside school simply floating from one instant gratification to the next. It’s great that school can slow things down and bring them back to reality (real reality, not virtual reality), yet we also don’t want to be the single most boring thing in their lives. For that reason, I suggest point number two.

Be an unpredictable teacher

We must keep them guessing. Change things up. Move from one modality to another, convert pairs to small groups, or an individual summative assessment into a collaborative project. We cannot allow school and learning to become the stagnant, unchanging, boring part of their world. While there are still caring, educated adults in their lives who are able and willing to guide them, we must get them to listen. We must strengthen their respect and commitment to education by making the education and the learning respectable. Students will only respect learning if they cannot predict what will be taught each day and each lesson.

We must create areas within the learning where student input is required

three young students working togetherIf we provide all the data without allowing them to manipulate and develop it further, then we are becoming the world’s worst user interface. School is lying. Real life is not about sitting at your desk and making sure no one looks at your paper. Real life is exercising the mental and social skills necessary for creative collaboration and innovation. Let’s have our classrooms begin to mirror that.

There is a great quote that the computer teacher in my school put up. “Google can give you one million answers, but a librarian can give you the right one.” I love this quote because I think it underscores our roles as facilitators of individualized learning. We must make the learning relevant to each student. To the student’s interests, and to the student’s learning abilities. This means gifted, special education, girls and boys, inner city, and charter schools. We need to consider that kids today can personalize everything. You can have your coffee made to your specifications, have movies suggested based on others you have enjoyed, and color code your accessories to match your shoes - which can change color as well. Learning should not be a search engine that has only one result show up.

Students should be allowed to see the relevancy of their learning in areas that interest them

group discussion among football refereesThis could mean that when you teach yard lines, you just may have to go paint some on the playground for an impromptu football game. And when you discuss LEDs, you may have to spend a few minutes discussing fashion implications with the bevy of future FIT students.

I think we forget (until it is time to attend a meeting, that is!), how difficult it is to sit through a lecture. We must update our teaching practices to reflect the century in which we live. Have you noticed that you need technology to get on the bus? To bank? To shop? Let’s not even discuss booking a vacation, driving a car, or even visiting the doctor. Our students should see the technology that is widespread throughout every area of their lives within their learning. Why should education be the final frontier for technology? If anything, education should be one of the first, so that students can be trained and prepared for the future that surely awaits them as technology is integrated into more and more areas of our lives. We should also consider that exposing students to technological advances as part of their twenty-first-century education is only half the battle. Ideally, schools should be implementing computer science, technology, and STEAM classes throughout their curriculum to ensure students have the exposure, skills, and training they will need to succeed in future job markets.

man standing in front of sky full of starsIt is incumbent upon us as educators to ensure that learning with a teacher keeps its well-earned position. We are irreplaceable. However, we are not irreplaceable for the knowledge we possess. (Raise your hand if you never googled a question that a student asked you. Point made.) Rather, we are irreplaceable for the skills we can teach, of course for the love we show, but most importantly, for the unmistakable emphasis we place on learning new information, evaluating the information, retaining the information and applying that information. Many job markets are affected by the spread of technology, some jobs are lost, some change their descriptors, and some new ones are created. Let’s remember that teaching is not an island. Our jobs are affected by the changing society, and we must step up to the challenge.

Gittel Grant is the President of STEM Advancement Inc, an educational company producing 21st century STEAM curriculum for middle school classrooms. Check it out at advanceSTEM.com or email stemmiddleschool@aol.com for more details.

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