An Educator’s View: Redefining the Teacher’s Role

Recently in The 74, Emily Murphy wrote an opinion piece on the importance of the teacher that touched my heart. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

Our country spends billions of dollars every year to fix education. This often involves seeking the next shiny object as a silver bullet — a fancy tool, a clever schedule, a beautiful lab — but the answer has always been right in front of us.

It is the teacher that matters. 

I believe education reform needs to start by defining and clarifying the role of the teacher. 

We can think about the teacher’s role in three ways:

This is Important: Students need teachers to teach academic and social-emotional content that is relevant and meaningful. They should not have to create these materials, staying up late at night designing units, making worksheets and paying for resources. They should be given strong, research-based curricula that they can adapt to their classroom. Let someone else figure out the standards, the assessments, the exact questions, the specific tools; and then let teachers make it theirs, allow them to make it come alive for the students they know better than the most brilliant of curriculum designers. 

You Can Do It: Students deserve teachers that believe in them. Studies show that a teacher’s expectations are the most important determinant in student achievement. Teachers need to see the genius in every child, even when that child is throwing a fit or just going through the motions. This may not come naturally, which is why schools should create support systems to develop this mindset and psychologically safe opportunities for teachers to learn from such inevitable challenges without shame. Schools should foster inclusive and anti-racist environments, which includes giving teachers ways to move beyond their biases around gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion and disability. In addition, schools need more mental health support and community resources so students and families can get what they need to navigate today’s tremendous challenges. Schools can make a huge difference addressing deep societal issues, but they cannot do it with their current staffing model. 

I Will Support You: Students need teachers who encourage and challenge them, who see them as a whole person full of academic and emotional strengths and challenges. Schools can give students more agency over their time and learning, and enable teachers to serve as guides of each student’s journey. Schools can let go of their stubborn commitment to whole-class lectures and accept that teachers and students can thrive when learning takes many forms. To do this well, teachers deserve models and examples of great and varied instruction: small group lessons, one-to-one conferences, morning circle, Socratic seminars, real-world projects, supplemental digital tools. Teachers need access to effective interventions and the support to know what to try for every student. By abandoning the false notion of one-size-fits-all, schools can become spaces for all students and teachers to flourish. 

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