I recently signed my contract to be a Spanish teacher next year. That’s my official title when people ask me: Spanish teacher. In simplified terms, that’s what I am. But what is it that I do? I just finished my 9th year of teaching and I’ve been doing some thinking about that. These are the two most popular responses I used to give (and I’m guessing fellow teachers would to):
A: I teach Spanish to my students.
B: I help students learn Spanish.
And I think I finally realized that these statements are not interchangeable or at all the same. And somewhere along the line of figuring that out, I got closer to understand what it is I do and want to do.
Within this viewpoint, the teacher is the one actively doing something: the teaching. It’s a teacher centered statement, meaning that my job is based around the things that I do. I do the instructing, the creating of assessments, the giving out of information. I give “the learning” to my students. I do it. They are there to get it. And that’s a fine construct, one that higher education and traditional educational settings are set-up for and encourage.
Whereas in Statement A the teacher is in the limelight, Statement B shadows the teacher into a supporting “helping” role. The people actively doing something here are the students. They are doing and are responsible for the learning part. They have to do that. The teacher is there to help and make that happen. The students are the stars of the classroom and the teacher is there as a coach, as back-up, to provide a path but not to just give information.
Neither of these perspectives is right or problematic and a successful teacher probably needs a mixture of the two, but moving forward, I’d like to say that I’m more Statement B than the other. It’s a completely personal perspective, built upon your own educational philosophy. (click here for my philosophy).
(Random some-what related tangent about the role of the classroom)
This Spring I had a student that came to school maybe three times a week depending on if he felt like it. He was very bright and did fine academically (great on assessments). One day when he was there, some of his classmates inquired about why he never wants to come to school. I was about to jump in and derail the conversation, but the normally quiet student quickly responded “Because I don’t need to. I can miss three days of school and come back, read some notes and it makes no difference. I almost never miss anything.” Then he smiled at added to me, “What’s that tell you?” And I could do nothing but agree.
When notes, books and information in general are so easy to access because of technology, what value does classroom time have if the student can just get all of that sitting at home? Sometimes I get so bogged down in my curriculum and my schedule of what to teach when and how and for how long. I have hoops for the students to jump through (assessments) but I’m not sure how much learning is happening there. I think there is a lot of me giving out information and them doing a good job at giving it back to me. Plus I think we often cater to the lowest common denominator so that “no child is left behind”.
Online schools and classes are popping up and becoming more and more popular. What does the classroom offer that online classes can’t, and how can teacher capitalize on that to make the students be the active participants doing the learning? The teacher creates the environment, sets the path for learning and guides the students on their way. I am the helper; they are the learners. It’s certainly not a popular dynamic for the students. They live lives of instant gratification and it’s much easier to just play the game of school, be given the information that you need and then just go with your day. It’s not popular but it’s also not a waste of anyone’s time.
“But you’re a teacher. Your job is to teach them.” said critics.
I’ve been a teacher for nine years and I’m still not entirely sure what the definition “to teach” is. “Teach” is a very subjective verb in my opinion. For now, I like my definition of my job: I help students learn Spanish. I’m in the background pulling the strings, building the sets and giving out stage directions but I’m not the actor. I already know this stuff—I don’t need to be on a stage proving that. It’s my students’ turn to show me what they’ve got.