What Makes a Person a Teacher?

What Makes a Person a Teacher?
A Brief Exploration Into the Future of the Job of the Teacher

Last night I had a dream that Ringo Starr came to sub at my school. He taught Cam (one of our Elbow Patch bloggers) to make a finger piano out of disposable spoons, but I didn’t get a chance to see him with students; I was too busy trying to get coverage for a class whose guest teacher hadn’t shown up.

I have nothing against Mr. Starr – I’m a bigger Beatles fan than the average person – but I don’t think he was the most appropriate person to hire for a teaching position. The dream did make me reflect on some of the Internet education startups that I’ve been following lately. Many of these ventures, such as Dreambox, do not even have teachers on their payroll. A quick glance at their staff page shows software developers, engineers, and others, but not a single teacher. The president and CEO of Dreambox lists her “education” experience as “leadership roles in general management, sales & marketing, operations and business development.” She has an MBA and a B.A., not a B.Ed., and the same goes for the VPs on the management team. On the board of directors, one person holds a M.Ed. in Education Policy, and the Advisory Board, although consisting of people who have actually worked in education, seem to be more experienced at researching primary education than they have had experience teaching it. Current careers listed at www.dreambox.com include Account Executive, Software Engineer – Server, Territory Sales Manager, and Web Developer.

The same goes for the Knewton Adaptive Learning Program. Granted, the software algorithms required to run such a program are far beyond what most teachers would be capable of, but the Executive Team features a CEO with an MBA, a COO with a B.S. and an MBA, and VPs with an assortment of B.A.s and degrees that wouldn’t get you a teaching job. On the We’re Hiring page, there isn’t anything that looks like a teaching job, with Data Analysts, Software Engineers, and Quality Assurance spots available. There is an “Other” category, which encourages the prospective candidate to submit a resume; I considered submitting a “Teacher” resume just to be cheeky, but they don’t actually need a teacher, it seems.

Let’s be frank. Teaching is not some obscure skill that only a few can master. It is true that anybody could teach anything they know to somebody else; some may be better ad hoc teachers than others. Also, most teachers would agree that they did not learn everything they needed to know when they came fresh out of university into their first classroom. There is a certain amount of life experience necessary to become a good teacher. Some of us will even admit that we were terrible teachers in our first years. You can’t teach the experience that 20 years in a field will give you, and teaching hasn’t changed that much that a senior teacher’s experience would go obsolete.

I guess what I’m saying is that, if you want to go into teaching in the future, a Bachelor of Education might not even be necessary. The only thing protecting teachers today may be the teachers’ unions, who absolutely insist that new hires hold a B.Ed. Think about it, if any of the employees at Dreambox decided to leave their company, what are the chances that they would be hired somewhere else? Pretty good, right? What you left your teaching job today? Chances are, your options for work in other fields (that don’t include retail or food service) are very limited, and many of us couldn’t even work in another province or state with our qualifications, because our degrees might not be recognized.

I am excited about the talk about personalizing education for all students, not just for the “special needs” kids. I think it is important that companies are trying to leverage technology to deliver education that is more meaningful and practical. However, we do need to consider who will be teaching our students in the future and just what their motivations might be. If teachers are not qualified to be a part of education in the future, is it because we have somehow become obsolete? What do we need to do to earn our place at the front of the classroom back?

Andreas Berko is an Assistant Principal and teacher of leftover subjects in Calgary, Alberta
Follow and share ideas with him @techmoberko.
For more information on Dreambox and Knewton, see
http://www.dreambox.com/ and http://www.knewton.com/

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