Why do we keep trying to get rid of teachers?

(This post started out as one of my bus-ride-musings, inspired by jelkimantis' post Curriculum Quandary... just getting around to rounding out my thoughts on it.)

No, really. Why do we keep trying to make teachers disappear? Am I making this up in my head?

In my journey in grad school thus far I've come across an interesting branch of instructional technology that - honestly - had never even crossed my mind before. I always assumed that someone in IT (or educational technology ... Still not sure if I believe those two words are interchangeable - instructional vs. educational) was interested in learning about how to teach better with technology. I always assumed that "I" (the teacher/educator) would be part of this process.

Yet it has come to my attention - truly just recently - that there is an entire field called "instructional design" or "instructional systems design" that, as far as I can see right now, purports itself to be the science of teaching/learning.  And the more I read and explore said discipline the less and less I find someone (or consideration of someone) who used to be known as "teacher" or "educator."

Necessary points: I know that there is a field called instructional design, and I embrace those that call themselves instructional designers.  However, I do not support the idea of instructional design for the sake of instructional design - without the educator.  I am also sure that there are phenomenal instructional designers out there who are able to create the necessary space to help an educator reach and stretch themselves pedagogically.

What I am afraid of are the charlatans.  Those that reduce "learning" to a simple step-by-step process that goes something like: goals, objectives, instruct, practice, assess, evaluate, rinse, and repeat.  I don't need Google to help me define this: meaningless learning.

Better yet - some will say - this is for procedural learning, this type of teaching/learning context is useful for vocational skills and "practical" knowledge (whatever that is).  Great.  Awesome.  I still think it's bad for that, but I can give on this point a bit.  If folks want to learn some skills in the "easiest" way possible - have at it.  I do sometimes as well.

But - and here's the point - this cannot be real learning.  Real learning is electrifying - life-changing - transformative.  It is a human activity.  It deals not only in the cognitive but also the affective and - I would go so far as saying - the spiritual.  And it needs a teacher.

Part of what spawned this synaptic misfire was skimming an article for one of my classes this semester.  "How Does Instructional Systems Design Differ from Traditional Instruction?" by Hannum & Briggs - coming atcha from EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY back in January 1982.  My Evernote hasn't had a chance to scan the text of the PDF yet because if it had I would be pasting sections of text next.

The climax of the article for me is in the third paragraph where the authors note that since the quality of instruction in "traditional" (read - teacher-inspired) is questionable, we should standardize it all and adopt an instructional systems design.  So... differences in teachers is bad?  What if we reframe this: Diversity is good!

Are there bad teachers?  Of course.  Should we work with them to become better?  Of course.  If they don't should we suggest an alternative line of work?  You betcha.

Should we just give up on teachers/educators because they are different?

Can instructional design save humanity from the dangerous, differing teachers?

Why do we keep trying to get rid of teachers?


  1. It's only fitting that I post a comment, as it was my article that this is in response to.

    Playing the devil's advocate with an idea I truly believe: What do we do with bad teachers who refuse to improve? I know that we're talking about people's careers here, but a "bad" teacher, as I often think of it, is one who refuses to change his or her teaching style. This teacher is one who seems to believe the myth that materials (your instructional design) makes the class, while at the same time believing that little preparation should be required before entering the classroom.

    While you might think that this kind of teacher doesn't exist, I assure you it does, and I have encountered many who fit this mold.

    But what do we do with them? If we don't create awesome lessons that they can plug-and-play, won't they just persist in being awful teachers?

  2. What an awesome point - that I didn't even think of. And surely there are bad teachers who prescribe exactly to the model you've described.

    I think that the teacher who refuses to change is in need of some courageous conversations because there is more there than just "I like my teaching style" and "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" ... *insert another euphemism here. ;) While first response would be that an administrator should lead this movement, after sitting on it I realize that we - the greater community of educators - should be the ones to lead these conversations. These conversations get at the very heart and soul of what it is we do and who we are as teachers.

    On a completely flipped perspective - I also believe that there are domains of knowledge that are so awe-inspiring that even the most profoundly inept teachers can't help but be successful. And therein brings content/knowledge into play. :)


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