When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what's left for classroom instructors to do?
- Michael Godsey Mar 25, 2015
I tell this college student that in each classroom, there will be a local teacher-facilitator (called a "tech") to make sure that the equipment works and the students behave. Since the "tech" won’t require the extensive education and training of today’s teachers, the teacher’s union will fall apart, and that "tech" will earn about $15 an hour to facilitate a class of what could include over 50 students. This new progressive system will be justified and supported by the American public for several reasons: Each lesson will be among the most interesting and efficient lessons in the world; millions of dollars will be saved in reduced teacher salaries; the "techs" can specialize in classroom management; performance data will be standardized and immediately produced (and therefore "individualized"); and the country will finally achieve equity in its public school system.
"So if you want to be a teacher," I tell the college student, "you better be a super-teacher."
"We’re at the point where the Internet pretty much supplies everything we need. We don’t really need teachers in the same way anymore."
I smiled and laughed, and then suddenly stopped. I thought about how many times I had heard the phrase "teacher as facilitator" over the past year. I recalled a veteran teacher who recently said with anguish, "we used to be appreciated as experts in our field." I thought about the last time I walked into a local bookstore, when the employee asked if she could order a book for me from Amazon. Are teachers going the way of local bookstores? Suddenly I felt like the frog in the pot of water, feeling a little warm, wondering if I was going to have to jump before I retire in 20 years. Try five or 10.
I started reflecting. A decade and a half ago, I dedicated two years toward earning a master’s degree in English literature; this training included a couple of pedagogy courses, and it focused on classic literature, the nature of reading and writing, and the best ways to teach it. A decade ago, my school sent me to an Advanced Placement English conference at which I studied literary analysis for three days. As with the graduate program, I don’t remember the conference involving technology—it was simply the teacher, students, and a lot of books. Now, I don’t remember the last time I’ve attended, or even heard of, any professional-development training focused on my specific subject matter. Instead, these experiences concentrate on incorporating technology in the classroom, utilizing assessment data, or new ways of becoming a school facilitator.
* * *
When I did some research to see if it was just me sensing this transformation taking place, I was overwhelmed by the number of articles all confirming what I had suspected: The relatively recent emergence of the Internet, and the ever-increasing ease of access to web, has unmistakably usurped the teacher from the former role as dictator of subject content. These days, teachers are expected to concentrate on the "facilitation" of factual knowledge that is suddenly widely accessible.
In 2012, for example, MindShift’s Aran Levasseur wrote that "all computing devices—from laptops to tablets to smartphones—are dismantling knowledge silos and are therefore transforming the role of a teacher into something that is more of a facilitator and coach." Joshua Starr, a nationally prominent superintendent, recently told NPR, "I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it?" And it’s already become a cliche that the teacher should transfer from being a "sage on the stage" to being "a guide on the side."
I started looking around me. Teachers like me are uploading onto the web tens of thousands of lesson plans and videos that are then being consolidated and curated by various organizations. In other words, the intellectual property that once belonged to teachers is now openly available on the Internet.
And the teachers unions don’t seem to be stopping this crowdsourcing; in fact, the American Federation of Teachers created sharemylesson.com ("By teachers, for teachers"), which says it offers more than 300,000 free resources for educators. And even though its partner, TES Connect, often charges money for its materials, the private company claims that nearly 5 million resources are downloaded from its sites weekly. Meanwhile, TeachersPayTeachers.com, an open marketplace for lesson plans and resources that launched in 2006, says it has more than 3 million users, including 1 million who signed up in the past year. Close to 1 million educators have purchased lesson plans from the site, while several other teachers are earning six figures for creating the site’s top-selling materials.