What teaching today means: Six reflections
Much has changed since teaching came to be.
From individual mentorship to lectures in huge auditoriums, from structured language classes to exploratory learning, from paper-based lessons to EdTech and social media, from buildings to geographical freedom.
What is the shifting role of the teacher and what does that mean in these first decades of the 21st Century?
Here are six things that teachers today are considering in today’s classroom…
1. Using multimedia and technology carefully to create a connection with the real world.
Gamification, apps, and social media have been trending for years as tools to improve the level of engagement in education and finally get younger people actively involved. Unfortunately, technology can sometimes be implemented for novelty’s sake, without a real strategy or purpose behind it. At its worst, it can become a distraction or a complication.
Teachers now have the challenge of selecting not just the type and amount of technology, but when and where to use it and how to make sure it is meaningful, essential, even irreplaceable for a particular task. How can teachers work with a minimalist approach towards technology in the classroom, giving examples or showing materials that create a direct connection with what students will be facing? How can we make the classroom experience as close to the outside world as possible?
2. Guiding students on how to use digital tools efficiently.
Nowadays, it is unrealistic to order students not to use the internet when writing articles or performing research. There are many credible resources, innovative platforms, and inspiring professionals to look up to.
Teachers of any discipline might want to guide students as to the best digital tools for the field, rather than suggesting only websites or resources for learners to read. What kind of software and specific tools are needed to succeed in any given degree or career? How can students learn to enjoy their discipline as much as possible using digital tools? While it is understandable that many teachers simply don’t have time to sit down with their students and teach them how to use new tools (while still teaching their challenging curriculum!), a more practical approach to digital resources is advisable nowadays.
3. Diversifying assessment to give students different opportunities to shine.
Unfortunately, many schools still don’t give teachers the freedom or funding to innovate in the way they assess students. But the tides are changing as schools and universities unpack their learners’ profiles and discover how much these matter.
Teaching today must include a detailed awareness of who is standing in front of us and reading our materials. Education is focusing more and more on different kinds of intelligence and skill, rather than settling for the traditional quiz. How can teachers guarantee each student has an opportunity to showcase their ideas and knowledge without unfair exclusions?
4. Being unafraid to admit they don’t know.
Teaching meaningfully nowadays necessarily means letting go of the character of the tough, unapproachable authority figure. Of course, striking the balance between authority and vulnerability is difficult, but it’s necessary for building trust. Vulnerability comes in many forms inside the classroom and one of them is receiving a question we don’t know the answer to.
It might be tempting for new teachers not to admit to not knowing something or to feel unsure about a topic. After all, it’s so easy to just check it quickly online and avoid the awkwardness! However, a part of building trust with young learners who have easy access to answers is showing it is okay not to know everything. Asking questions, checking information, and confirming knowledge is an exciting part of education!
5. Establishing serious boundaries with learners (especially online).
It has become increasingly expected from teachers that they are constantly available since social media, email, and learning management systems allow for more freedom of contact. Teachers today must preserve their own mental wellbeing and be careful with how much they allow, as being readily available at all times can become a great source of stress.
Apart from regular office or consultation hours, teachers may warn their students that they won’t be answering emails, social media interactions, or online requests between certain hours or even certain days.
6. Adapting examples and materials to particular students, in order to be inclusive and welcoming.
To avoid exhaustion and spending time creating new handouts, slides, and sheets, some teachers use the same materials they created years ago…over and over again. But even in language schools, where examples or sample sentences can be easily kept from year to year (“John eats an apple” is timeless, after all), student demographics are likely to change and beg for some attention to detail.
When I was working as an English teacher, both younger and adult students were incredibly happy to see their name or country in a sample sentence, especially if they were immigrants and felt unseen. I would see a huge smile on their face when they realized the Powerpoint slide or handout mentioned a famous dish, a smaller city, a famous artist, or writer from their country. Learners also often commented on diversity and representation in the images I used (different ethnicities, ages, etc). This can be easily achieved in any format and adapted to different disciplines. Format, digital devices, the type of discourse used, and how we word certain things can all be adapted to classroom demographics.