Irreplaceable: Teachers

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Discussion and debate ensue around the value or extinction of the ‘teacher’ as education’s digital conversion evolves.  Personal-portable devices, 24/7 learning & Internet access, online courses, self-paced achievement, and remediation are prevalent.  Learners can access immediate feedback regarding progress, lack thereof, and strategies for improving their achievement. They can collaborate with experts and peers locally and across the globe, find solutions and solve problems through trial and error, analysis, simulation and ‘testing’ theories along the way.  So what may be the future of what we know as today’s teacher?

On Replacing Teachers

The short answer is that technologies will not supplant teachers.  That said, teachers who don't or won’t use technology will be replaced by teachers who do.  While routine managerial burdens on teachers may be reduced, and routine tasks are performed by software, the integration of technologies typically means that more, not less, is demanded of teachers.  As educators move down this transformative path, they must create student agency and voice.  This while ensuring learners meet rigorous standards and achieve their highest potential.  Teachers see the need for their professional growth and the immense demand for ‘time’ to do what’s needed. As a matter, of course, they will adopt a learning attitude that asserts “the image of children and teachers as capable, resourceful, powerful protagonists of their own experience”. (Wien, 2008).

There are numerous global reports that demonstrate teachers’ roles becoming essential in new, not fewer, ways as a result of incorporating technologies and ramped up learner standards. Technologies have automated the administrivia teacher tasks-allowing more time for focus on teaching, learning and personalizing these processes. Tech tools have also facilitated teachers’ efficiencies in reporting, data gathering/analyzing/reporting.  Teacher-to-student, teacher-to-home, and student-to-student abilities to communicate, collaborate and enhance rapport and relationships have dramatically increased because of technology-enabled opportunities. 

Noncognitive Skills

Integrating ’21 century or universal skills’ – problem-solving, critical thinking, cross-cultural communication, collaboration, etc. -- as well as a variety of noncognitive skills (such as perseverance and mindfulness, etc) is front and center in US education standards.  They are considered important to success in academics, life and citizenry. Educators, not devices or the Internet, are uniquely qualified to partner with learners to facilitate the development of these qualities.  Doing so requires high-quality professional learning opportunities.

Integrating new technologies for learning, keeping up with the rapidly-paced information and changes, challenge and compel teachers to continue to grow. The increased availability of data on learner  performance using technologies, and their ability to track students’ activities drives teachers’ use of data and modification of teaching and learning in ways that are meaningful for students-collectively and individually.

These facts matter. 

Learners Need Teachers As Partners in Tech Use

I often hear educators, policymakers, parents/caregivers and education officials say that today’s learners are digital natives- that today’s youth somehow innately know and understand the workings of technology in ways that adults do not.  There is a major chasm between being able to nimbly figure out and manipulate device functions, on-screen menus, play games, shoot and post videos and pictures and being able to meaningfully utilize technologies in service of learning needs and desired outcomes. Learners need the partnership of their teachers in these processes.  In learner-centric environments, students are the hub and teachers are the expert mentors.

Technologies do shift the roles teachers play. Often retooling of craft is required to effectively engage technologies for new learning processes.  As education moves more closely to a personalized approach, teachers will engage tools that facilitate their deep understanding of each learner’s styles, needs, ambitions, and progress.  This becomes extremely significant to serving each student and, generally, the community and future.  Teachers need focused, up front time to gear up, grow and plan in these regards.  Once movement toward this new ecosystem is in place, real school transformation will occur and teachers will be crucial to that forward motion, scale and sustainability.  That is ground zero for revolutionizing how schools do business.

Teachers Are Essential

In this digital age, we ‘feel’ the loss of the personal touch, conversation, touch, embrace, comforting, hand holding and celebration.  We are human.  Nothing replaces our connections with other humans regardless the pace of life and experience.

Self-help advocates keep telling us to ‘unplug’, allow ourselves ‘down’ time, meditate, spend focused time with family and friends. These reminders are more profound than ever-especially for robust edtech schools and classroom environments.  We can easily become overtaken by the powers bestowed upon us by technologies and the Internet.  Nothing replaces the personalization of relationships, one-on-one communications and rapport and the expertise of teachers for delivering on these human needs.  These qualities in tandem with meaningful use of tech tools is a powerful combination. It is also an ‘art’ that has to be learned and assimilated.  Teachers are forever called upon to grow in all these ways in order to best serve learners.  This alone makes their purpose and presence irreplaceable.

Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years  in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.  

Related toolkits

Learn more now with materials from these toolkit and resource collections: