For at least the past two decades the education world has been constantly assaulted by stories of how technology will replace teachers. How we don’t need teachers and how it is actually teachers who are the real problem in schools. Some educational programs even boast of being ‘teacher proof’. The future we are told is in individualized online learning through which the student will simply access the programs and lessons they need online and the teacher is merely a facilitator. However, little thought is paid to the actual job of a teacher, one that goes well beyond delivering content and following a proscribed curriculum. If that were all that a teacher did technology could of course replace them, but what about everything else a teacher does in the classroom and the school?
As schools around the world have closed their doors and students have been sent home to learn online it has been patently clear to all, and most of all to parents, that teachers do a lot more than help their children acquire knowledge about a subject area. Teachers, we have all discovered, are not merely supervisors of learning content, they are an integral and irreplaceable part of a child’s education and life. So what else is it that teachers give us?
First of all, teachers help their students not just to be knowledgeable about Math or Science or History etc. but also about how to be productive and caring members of society. They help young people learn how to respect each other, how to value differences, how to value themselves, to help others, to clean up after themselves and to think about those around them, not just themselves. They help children learn how to work collaboratively, to take care of their classmates, and they help them to understand and live out the true meaning of community. Without caring teachers our world would be filled with even more selfish hoarding individuals than what we have seen on the news recently.
Teachers also provide an alternative or additional voice to that of parents. When a parent has reached the end of their rope, as many will or have in the coming days, previously they could send them to school and the teachers would step in and provide another, invaluable layer of support but today this simply isn’t possible. In the teenage years especially, when students no longer want to listen to mum or dad, teachers often provide a voice of reason, of encouragement, and of support to help a young person stay on course. Teachers in essence act as social workers and psychologists for many children across the world.
Teachers are also skilled practitioners, they are able to bring subject material to life and link it to a child’s life experience. In a classroom setting a (good) teacher does not merely deliver a lecture or a bunch of online activities, but rather engaging, creative, and active ways that makes learning fun and helps students to understand complex ideas in relatively painless ways.
As a former teacher myself, I can say that I, and every other teacher I know, did not enter the profession for money. We became teachers because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. We wanted not only to help children learn facts and figures but to reach their full potential and to live fulfilling, meaningful, productive, and happy lives. As teachers, we believe that every student has talents and skills and it is our job to help them realize and access these. This belief in the fundamental worth and potential of a person is something a computer will never have, but a (good) teacher always will.
So in these uncertain times let’s give a shout out to teachers, let’s reaffirm their worth and value to society and let’s stop talking about them as if they are disposable assets in the education system. Without teachers, we would not have an education system and no advances in AI or technology will change that. The old adage it takes a village to raise a child has never been more salient than today and I think we can all say that teachers form an integral part of our modern village.
In our Education in Uncertain Times blog series, the Al Qasimi Foundation explores how COVID-19 is impacting students, teachers, administrators and education in the UAE. It presents insights into the current state of education, but also into policy and funding. Moreover, it offers suggestions for decision-makers and the general public on how to sustain quality education for all students in these uncertain times. If you enjoyed this blog, we encourage you to read the other blogs in our Education in Uncertain Times series.