This morning a could of things that I thought about blogging just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get into them. So I Twittered that I was feeling a lack of blogging motivation today. You may notice that I didn’t have anything yesterday either so this is a problem for me. A Twitter reply by Kevin Bibo (Cal Teacher Blogger) lead me to Teachers Are Irreplaceable, Right Up Until The Moment They Are Replaced by Rob Jacobs with the suggestion that it would get me going. And it did.
I hear a lot of talk about teachers being replaceable by online education. It all reminds me in some ways about the talk of programming and programmers going away. (See A future without programming for my thoughts on that one.) Every time I read one of these articles I ask myself “have these people ever taught in a classroom?” and “Were they really paying attention to what young people are like?” Now I have met and taught a bunch of highly motivated, self-starting students in my time who were quite capable of learning online or even though other non-classroom resources. But honestly, those were not the majority of students. Most students seem to need a little external motivation. And I don’t just mean grades. They look for someone to be a little proactive about pushing them to work. Maybe not all the time but at least some of the time.
That was high school. I have also taught elementary and middle school students. Trust me when I tell you that kindergarten kids are not that organized. They really do need some hands on (sometimes literally 🙂 ) instruction. Working independently for any length of time is something that has to be developed and until it is developed I believe that flesh and blood teachers are required. How long? Well it depends on the person.
I suppose that in theory most high school students could learn online. They can read well enough. They can schedule well enough (if they want to) to get things done. They can decide to some extent what their interests are and what they want or need to learn. But I think there is an important factor that I doubt can be done online only. That is the expression of passion. Passion in the subject, the field, and insights into areas not in the curriculum that a student may just find valuable and interesting.
Think back on your own school years. Was there one teacher who inspired you? Someone whose passion for the subject inspired you in your career or even just in your studies? Perhaps one teacher who took a subject you really didn’t like and made it a class worth attending? My guess is that for a lot of people the answer will be yes. I know it is for me. Would I have gotten that same inspiration from video casts? I’m not so sure. Can a teacher who is teaching via webcasts that students watch on their own schedule and whose interpersonal interactions are limited to web chats, email, Instant Messaging and other virtual connections see the spark or confusion in a student’s eyes? Maybe but is that the way to bet? I think not.
Online education is going to require real teachers for the foreseeable future. Students need to ask questions. They need someone to occasionally point them in a direction for future study. They need better feedback on test/project/paper results than I think we’ll see for a great while to come. But the classroom teacher teaching face to face isn’t going to disappear for a very long time. I doubt it will happen in my life time. Probably not in my son’s lifetime either. And you know what? If online/virtual school becomes the norm for public schools I bet that the rich people will still pay for face to face education because it will be worth it.
What do you think?