Being a 21st Century Teacher

What’s the purpose of teaching? Surely it’s to move the Human Race on. Carl Sagan said that multi-celled organisms evolved brains when the amount of information they needed to store and process exceeded the capacity of the cell, and that we evolved books when the amount of information we needed to store exceeded the capacity of a brain, and then we evolved libraries etc etc. as our storage and processing requirements expanded. Well look at us now! Standing on the brink of the Age of Ubiquitous Computing, when dumb appliances will think for themselves, when simple toys will have a voice, when our own intelligence and decision-making power will be coded and embedded in the most trivial of devices. How is our education system adapting to this dawning age?

As teachers we have a daily obligation to prepare children to pass exams, to pass tests, to understand the contents of a syllabus. But most of us didn’t get into the profession to give Pisa a kicking, or to boost the A*-C in our department, as much as those things may matter. Most of us entered the profession to change the world. Well, as Gandalf observed in Lord of the Rings and as the world famous Shift Happens video (from 2007!) points out, the world is changing all on its own, very quickly. How can our practise keep pace?

We need to refocus on our purpose: to move the race on. Our practise must meet that aim, not so much by simply imparting the contents of a syllabus, but by inspiring, by enthusing, by dropping pennies and joining dots. We need to teach in inspiring environments, we need to use the latest research and share the latest ideas as they are born from all we know to date. For the sum of history teachers have been the guardians of and the passers-on of everything we’ve ever known. In an age where everything we’ve ever known is available on a smartphone, our task is a little different. We need to use social media to form the biggest, most inspiring staffroom in history, and raise expectations of our students beyond our collective wildest dreams. Back to the purpose of teaching.