Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important. Bill Gates
In her final episode of her talk show, Oprah Winfrey took time to honor Mrs. Duncan, her fourth grade teacher, whom Oprah credited as her first “validator”: “For the first time, I wasn’t afraid to be smart, and she often stayed after school to work with me.”
If you’re a teacher and you’d like to hear more stories of more celebrities thanking their teachers, go to www.takepart.com. But don’t fret – you don’t have to wait to see if one of your students become rich and famous and remembers to mention you on television someday to know if you made a difference. It’s easy to get frustrated and crestfallen in a society that seems solely focused on the impact of digital classrooms or long-distance learning, or whatever another educational trend is new and hot this week. Sometimes, it might feel like the role of an educator has little effect on students today and will soon become obsolete, taken over by robots designed by Google.
But no! The role of a live instructor is more important than ever before. In an age when students represent the first real digital natives and social media and texting have replaced “live” connections and much of our ingested content becomes automated by corporations, the role of a teacher is essential in maintaining a sense of the individual in our educational system.
Online courses might be more convenient, but studies have shown that classes led by a live instructor are more effective in the long run. A study at Colombia University showed that “a good teacher not only improves a child’s test scores in the classroom but also enhances his or her chances to attend college and earn more money.”
Students with special circumstances are usually the ones to benefit the most from the presence of an educator. For example, students who are the first generation of their family to attend college benefit from being exposed to professors and peers who prioritize education and are motivated to succeed. Also, students with learning disabilities (many of which go undiagnosed until college) don’t receive the attention they need when attending classes online.
However, the primary reason that instructors have an impact, and the reason that they can have a lasting impression on people like Oprah, is that they are human beings with a genuine passion for teaching and experience with teaching all different kinds of students. The shared human experience is something that technology can never replicate, and the motivation that an instructor can inspire in a student’s heart and mind simply can’t be done with a computer program, especially when good grades are the only possible reward.
Instructors are flexible. They learn and adjust in real time, tweaking their lectures and assignments to their specific students at a particular time of year, sometimes based on what is happening in the community and in the world. The choices that instructors make help a student feel special when no one else has ever taken the time to make her feel that way before. They make the choice to abandon their lesson plan for the day in order to discuss the latest school shooting with their students. They choose to review test material in an online gaming environment after hearing their students talk excitedly about a new system.
The experience that a teacher provides in a classroom is more organic than memorable than any tech gadget will be able to provide. Given our culture’s obsession with looking back for authenticity when it comes to fashion, food, and culture, would it really be surprising if we soon seen a “retro” revival of folks seeking “old-school” classrooms (pun absolutely intended)?