Do you remember when some experts hypothesized that television would radicalize education and the computer would altogether replace teachers?
More recently, there were predictions that within the decade, on-line learning and advanced educational software would push our current educational system to a tipping point, and radical change in education would occur. In the book, Disruptive Class, the authors compared this revolution to what transistors did to vacuum tubes and what the personal computer did to the mainframe computer. Both innovations radically changed their industries.
These kinds of predictions are not new.
I think, however, the question of the day is whether COVID-19 has accelerated the transformation of education, and, if so, will education continue to need well-trained teachers (who need decent wages)?
If you ask me, COVID-19-induced virtual school has proven that teachers are indispensable.
Up until this global pandemic descended upon humanity, much was written about how technology is changing the face of education and will continue to do so at an increasingly rapid rate. Educational pundits argued that teachers would morph into guides or assistants who keep students on track, making real learning more personalized and engaging when it takes place in front of a screen. This would require fewer teachers and less expertise. More children could share the same space or easily learn at home, cutting personnel costs.
However, as millions of students were forced to transition to virtual learning due to mandatory COVID-19 school closures, the imperative quickly emerged for well-qualified, fairly compensated professional teachers to firmly remain at the center of excellent schools and learning.
Now, more than ever, nothing can or will replace the gentle encouragement of a teacher. Warm smiles, caring words, sympathetic ears, and clear expectations each provide the priceless ingredients of forming relationships that extend well beyond content into social and emotional development. Teachers imbue social skills, values, and citizenship, modeling ethical behavior that help guide our children. A teacher is a mentor, coach, parental figure, therapist, actor, friend, and role model, often all at the same time. In real time, a teacher is a priceless, inspiring gift to our children.
The area in which technology has served us most well at SSDS Bergen Virtual School and schools like ours, is providing tools to help nurture and sustain these relationships. The live sessions, one-on-one meetings, and virtual snack get-togethers help maintain connections when we are physically separated. Zoom and Google Classroom have been our children’s lifelines, not the actual software or cool platforms and apps. And of course, Zoom has helped keep our community together through programs, get-togethers, and games for students, parents, and entire families.
Technology has the capacity to help engage our children in learning, as long as the teacher is at the center of the enterprise. I’m a strong proponent of age-appropriate technology as a powerful tool for excellence in education. But I am even a bigger proponent of excellent teachers. Our teachers have risen and surpassed expectations as they have navigated the virtual-school experience. No matter how far technology advances, or how intuitive and engaging software and apps become in the learning process, they will never have the heart and soul to teach the whole child.