"Some people predict that technology will render teachers useless. I cannot disagree more strongly." continues Bright.
At the Miami high school where I used to teach, I would greet my ninth grade world history students on the first day of school with an intimidating task, even for many adults.
“Close your eyes and listen carefully,” I’d say. “I want you to visualize the world. The entire world. Every city, country, continent. Every river, lake, ocean. Every mountain, peninsula, island. Create a detailed picture in your head. What does the world look like to you? Okay, now open your eyes. Start drawing what you see. Your pencil should be moving for the next 20 minutes, without stopping. There is no wrong answer. Label everything.”
For 20 minutes I would watch them struggle through this task. I’ve traveled widely and am obsessed with maps, and I get anxious just thinking about putting pen to paper. Many of my students were living in poverty and rarely left their neighborhood. I can only imagine how they felt.
Without fail, every time I presented my students with this exercise, they needed encouragement to actually do it — no matter their mother tongue or country of origin. They were afraid of looking dumb. But I was persistent.
This exercise set the tone in my classroom and sent the message that making mistakes is precisely how we will learn. Each of us brings our own perspectives and biases, and these too shape the way we understand the world.
Yet belief in the value of classroom learning built on human connection appears to be slipping. In the recent Atlantic article The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher, Michael Godsey presented a harrowing prediction of what teaching and learning will soon look like. “The teacher should transfer from being a ‘sage on the stage’ to a ‘guide on the side,’” Godsey wrote, arguing that the teachers of the past needed to know content, while teachers of the future merely need to know how to access content.
“When kids can get their lessons from the Internet,” Godsey asked, “what’s left for classroom instructors to do?”
It’s an insulting question. Beyond serving as a warm body that ensures the Internet router is plugged in, teachers in technology-heavy classrooms need to do more than ever to ensure their students’ success. To meaningfully integrate technology into classroom instruction, teachers need to strategically combine virtual instruction with in-person activities and discussions. Great teachers know when to use each. They encourage students to take risks. They collect, analyze, and act on data. They pick up on students’ non-verbal cues and react accordingly. And they know their content inside and out, whether it’s Schrodinger’s cat or a world map.