During one of the sessions I attended at SXSWedu in Austin last week , one of the presenters asked us to turn to someone near us and share a memory of an innovative teacher from our childhood.
I thought hard. Finally, I turned to the gentleman next to me and said, “I’ve got nothing.”
“Me neither,” he responded.
It’s not that I didn’t have great teachers. Most of them were very caring and patient. They explained things well. But they were very traditional. Lecture, assigned chapters, and textbook questions were the standards in every class I took.
It struck me that many educators had that experience. We went through twelve years of education in mainly teacher-centered classrooms, memorizing answers to multiple choice questions. Then we went to college, often sitting in the midst of hundreds of students in one lecture hall. We did our student teaching, and we landed jobs for ourselves – jobs in which we are charged to prepare our youth for the “real world” in which they will ostensibly one day work, even though many of us, the teachers and role models, have spent our entire lives in school.
These days, of course, traditional teaching is not enough. Our children need to be problem-solvers, innovators, and collaborators in order to succeed in today’s society; being able to regurgitate a bunch of irrelevant facts will not aid them in those endeavors. I agree with the reformers. I believe that I should be teaching my students how to think, not what to think. This, however, was rarely modeled for me in my own upbringing. So, I often find myself in unknown territory, trying new ideas that seem like they might help my students. I tell them that I’m getting them ready for the world – but I sometimes feel like I’m coaching a football team and it’s only a matter of time until someone figures out that I’ve never actually played the game.
Someone asked me at SXSWedu, “What do teachers need?” Here is one suggestion. We need opportunities to play the game. All of you big corporations, especially those of you who are on the Forbes Top 100 Best Places to Work list, need to offer experiences in which educators see, first-hand, how these skills are used in the “real world.” Help teachers understand the type of creative, collaborative, problem-solving workforce that you need. Give us tours of your facilities, offer us paid summer internships (as one of our local companies, USAA, does), and/or meet with us to consult about how we can help each other. Pay for us to leave our classrooms a few days a year to learn more about the world for which we are readying our students.
We want to do the best job we can to prepare our students. Many large companies are already contributing large amounts of money to assist in education reform. Some of you offer experts for students to Skype with as well as internships and scholarships for high school students. But if you really want to make a difference, you can help the men and women who work with our young people every day to better understand the “real world” to which we keep referring.
I think the expression, “Those who can’t, teach,” is ridiculous. But if you said, “Those who never, can’t teach,” that might give me pause.
(Here are some more suggestions from A.J. Juliani for how companies, specifically Google, can help to change education.)