Are Teachers Even Necessary?
On my daughter Janie’s last day of kindergarten, I snapped a photo of her teacher, Miss
Susan, giving Janie a big hug. The
shot is a little blurry and not well
composed because I wasn’t expecting this spontaneous show of affection. But the warmth in Susan’s eyes
and the connection between the two
make this picture one I will always
cherish. To me, it says more than any
test score or teacher assessment about
Susan’s ability to teach.
I also know that this kid came out
of the womb raring to learn. My husband and I have encouraged her curiosity, fed her passions, and read to her
nearly every day of her life.
That isn’t the case for every kid. Some kids love school,
others hate it. Some teachers connect with every student,
others can’t. Two recent blog posts from educators examine
the value of teachers from distinctly different perspectives.
Taken together, they illustrate why it’s not easy to diagnose
or remedy what has sadly been termed “school failure.”
Pernille Ripp, a fourth grade teacher who writes Blogging
through the Fourth Dimension, laments the notion that
technology can replace teachers. In her post “Teachers Do
More Than Teach—Why Technology Can Never Replace
Them” ( http://tinyurl.com/7gx8m2d), Ripp writes:
Computerized tests may be better at accurately assess-
ing which reading skills my student needs to focus on,
but a computerized test will not know why that stu-
dent has not mastered that skill. It can dictate a learn-
ing program to fix that gap or to propel them forward,
but hitting rewind and watching it over and over will
not always guarantee that a student masters a concept.
So when we let videos be the only teaching tool for a
child, or a computer program, then we stop figuring
out why that child is not understanding. We lose that
human connection that teachers provide.
Her post prompted this response from John T. Spencer:
It’s easy to be fooled by Khan artists, tricking us into
thinking that the human element isn’t important. It’s
easy to slip into “school didn’t work for me” must
mean “school won’t work for any-
one.” In both cases, it’s an obses-
sion with binary thinking. What
makes us human is our paradox,
our frailty, our nuance, our creative
impulses that are completely unpro-
grammed. Kids need that.
On the blog The Innovative Educa-
tor, Lisa Nielsen takes a different tack.
In her post “You Can Never Replace
the Teacher. Or Can You? 9 Ways
to Learn without Teachers” (http://
tinyurl.com/7xr8sms), Nielsen con-
tends that she absorbed nothing meaningful whatsoever
from her years at school, despite graduating early with
honors. In fact, she says, school sapped her passion for
The reality for me is that I would have been much
better off without the teachers in my life weighing
me down and wasting my time.
Nielsen, who is the technology and innovation manager
at the New York City Department of Education, goes on
to share ways that students can learn without teachers,
most of which involve technology. She suggests holograms,
books, blogs, videos, podcasts, online curricula, and
virtual worlds. She provides links to sites that guide
student learning, such as e-Learning for Kids, M.I. T
OpenCourse Ware, Open Learning Initiative, and
many others. She concludes:
As hard as it might be for some to acknowledge, when
it comes to learning, teachers are not for everyone. If
we are not afraid to accept this as a fact, how might we
change the learning environments we provide for 21st
One commenter, Jo Tracey, attempted to answer that:
Imagine sharing knowledge and resources with no
lesson plans, letting the kids take off on a tangent of
interest. Imagine seeing the light of curiosity and enthusiasm in the eyes of a group of 17 year olds (or any
other age). Yes, learning enthusiastically! It is possible.
I have witnessed it.