“The goal of teachers is not to teach…but to have their students learn.”

“The goal of teachers is not to teach…but to have their students learn.” – Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

There are many people involved in the education reform debate, and everyone has an opinion. Few agree 100 percent with what is wrong and what needs to be done, but what most thought leaders in the education reform endeavor agree upon is that we need to rethink the entire process of education. Rethinking for some means getting back to basics, which, obviously, can be interpreted many different ways. For others rethinking means turning the entire system on its head, teaching in ways that have never been done before.

Secretary Duncan’s quote above could be interpreted to be a mixture of the old and new, which many thought leaders are also trying to do. We’re not getting rid of teachers, or the classroom as we know it but rethinking the expectations of teachers.

Many see education as a tedious process because of the cliché of the burned out educator standing in front of a classroom, conveying information, but not necessarily insuring the students are absorbing the information.

How terrible that this cliché exists, particularly when there are wonderful examples of highly engaging teachers out there like Albert Cullum who was the focus of 2004 documentary film “A Touch of Greatness.”

This gets to a difficult conundrum. How many people of greatness are there in any profession? There are people who are good, and very good, but how many are truly great? In any profession we like to believe in the concept of a bell curve, where the bulk of people who have chosen the profession are at least good. Then you have some who are not so good, and a smaller number who are just terrible. Similarly we have some who are very good, and a smaller number who are phenomenal. But in no profession will 100% of the participants be phenomenal; it just can’t happen.

I’m not suggesting we lower the bar: not at all. What does need to happen, however, falling in line with one potential interpretation of Secretary Duncan’s comment, is a twisting of the standard expectation of what a teacher is, and what a teacher does.

A teacher is a partner. A teacher is a subject matter expert – to use business-speak – and not just of the academic subjects of which they teach, but more so how students learn. It doesn’t take an Albert Cullum kind of teacher to follow the mantra “The goal of teachers is not to teach…but to have their students learn.”

These comments appear so teacher focused that an important part of the partnership equation is missing: parents. Parents need to change their perspective. Parents need to change their expectations. Parents need to be partners with the teachers of their children, not just dropping children off at school and expecting that they return home with new information, with the parents having no role or responsibility in the process.

Parents need to know their children, they need to advocate for their children, but working with teachers needs to be a partnership, and not adversarial.

And therein lies the hard part of turning the direction of the current course of education: how to make parents part of the equation insuring that children want to learn.

Leave a Reply