Is it a fun, friendly, and entertaining teacher? Sure, for a while that works, until the novelty wears off. Is it a rigorous curriculum that is filled with academic challenges? No doubt, as long as the teacher is highly capable of differentiating for all learners. Maybe it is the incorporation of a totally hands-on, manipulative-based classroom. Definitely. Especially for those people who think in very concrete ways. How about a classroom where singing, dancing, and drama are the focal points? Have you ever heard me sing? Enough said.
So what is the point of all these questions? Simply, there is not one perfect teaching style or classroom environment for all students. Yet, who would argue with the ideal that “no child should be left behind?” We are educators because we want to see all students learn, achieve, succeed, and grow. I wish I could patent the way to incorporate all of the attributes listed above into one “super-teacher.”
I believe that the typical classrooms of our youth have outlived their usefulness. No longer can the teacher be the all-knowing giver of the information; the Sage on the Stage. Teachers need to move past using lecture and rote memorization, and instead, they need to let students take ownership of their learning. No longer can our teachers do 80% of the talking in a school day. 21st Century students need access to information and they need access to the tools for learning. Our job as educators is to help them sort it all out correctly.
So how do we do that? We need to incorporate much more authentic learning into our classrooms. We need to provide students with work that has intrinsic meaning and adds value to their lives. For students to be engaged, self-directed learners, they must create projects and solve problems that connect to the world beyond the classroom. Working with our students to solve authentic problems is what will engage them in learning. This is what will engage them in substantive conversations and whet their appetites for a depth of knowledge never before seen in our schools.
True authentic learning will engage all learners because the topics will be real for them. The academically gifted student, the musician, the artist, the athlete, the mechanically inclined child, and the highly dramatic kid, all can find success in a problem-based environment in which they are expected to work together and use their individual strengths to solve real problems.
In a few weeks, our students each will be handed their own personal learning device to be used in school and at home. In my opinion, this will be the moment of truth for our teachers. Why? Because the students will have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips, and they no longer will need to depend on their teachers to feed them the facts. Instead, students should be challenged to find the facts, and then use what they have discovered to collaborate, create, and solve real-world problems.
Teachers in the 21st Century must change and adapt to keep up with their students. The time has come for teachers to move away from rote memorization, repetitive practice, silent study without conversation, and brief exposure to topics, and instead, move closer to authentic learning in a 1:1 learning environment.