I Love Educators. But I hate Teachers. No, no, no, not the people, they’re amazing. It’s the title I have trouble with. Okay, maybe I should have been less dramatic and used those quote thingies, but oh well. In any case, let me explain.
Modern instruction and school organization are the descendants of educational history. They evolved to serve the gradually changing agenda of what to do with young humans, and not so much about preparing older humans. At various times in history and across many geographies, children were raised to help on the family farm, serve a state, serve a military, serve a higher caste, adhere to religious or cultural ideals, and/or work in factories. The list of required skills for these endeavors was minimal; and in each case, the instructor was in a position of absolute authority. Children were receivers of instruction, either individually or in groups; and because the consequences for failure were too often dire, learners were more incentivized to take responsibility for learning.
Starting in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation placed a new emphasis on literacy and suggested that reading and understanding the paths to glory put forth in the scriptures was necessary for each individual’s salvation. Consequently, the focus of educating children changed as well as the complexity of the curriculum. Of course, access to schooling was still very limited 500 years ago, as literacy rates even in Western Europe were still quite low compared to today. The trend, however, toward a fully literate society and universal schooling has been steady from then until now. And despite the fact that some parts of the world got a later start than Germany, this trend has been witnessed across the globe. Curriculums are now in their most complex state and focus on every conceivable skill, not just reading and memorization.
The effect of increased access to schooling has meant larger organizations run by greater authority. This has also meant that what started out as schooling individuals or families progressed through community schoolhouses to modern schools with thousands of students crammed into overloaded classrooms. Opportunities to individualize instruction virtually disappeared. The other consequence of this growth was the development of adverse classroom environments; a natural consequence of too many students per teacher with too many skill profiles expected to learn the same material. On top of that, expectations for school outputs and performance changed and are in a state of constant flux. As a result, schools are scrambling to find strategies to meet new demands.
What’s interesting is that methods of instruction used thousands of years ago are actually still in use, and for the most part, still effective. Explain or demonstrate, then have the student mimic and practice. Although the “cause” might not have changed, the difference between then and now is in how we mind the “effect” and how we locate responsibility for that effect. Schools during most of the last century were content to place the responsibility for learning on the student. They would provide instruction then sort students for adulthood. With the advent of school accountability testing and No Child Left Behind, schools are now considered the responsible parties, and the days of instruct and sort are gone.
It seems to me, however, that the teachers I know are perfectly okay with that.
Over the years we have collected data from teachers about learning responsibility. To do this, we employed a simple yes/no question: “Do you have students that cannot learn?” From 2007 to 2012 we conducted surveys in over 1,300 schools, and received responses from nearly 30,000 teachers. In that time, about 1 in 5 teachers responded, “yes.” In some schools, the number of teachers in the school who replied “yes” represented the majority of the faculty.
Teachers who responded “yes” were admitting that they were unable to make progress with at least some students. Although some of you might think this a stretch, in our minds, it follows that they were also less likely to admit to poor instruction or a lack of persistence on their part, and more likely to blame the skills or efforts of those students. Thus, teaching was their responsibility; learning was up to the students. It’s not clear if this perception represents poor training or burn-out, but since in our opinion, every child can learn given appropriate instruction and loads of opportunities to practice, it’s unreasonable. Fortunately, most teachers feel the same way.
Okay, back to the word, “teacher.” Dictionaries define “teacher” simply as one who teaches. So to understand teacher we need to look up teach. Dictionary.com defines the verb “teach” as an act of imparting knowledge or providing instruction. Webster’s goes substantially further and defines the verb “teach” as causing another to know something. These are qualitatively different definitions and are at the heart of my post. If teaching is nothing more than the act of instruction without concern for its consequences, then classrooms are little more than theatre. How many times have you heard the common lament that “kids nowadays have short attention spans and teachers need to be entertainers”? If you read that in an “old man” voice, I understand.
I fear that the first definition represents how the public commonly understands teaching. That means that for the teaching profession to have both the respect it deserves and a truer reflection of its current reality, we need to find a way to shift public perception to the second definition. Perhaps the solution lies in renaming the profession. As I see it, there are two ways to approach renaming; 1) replace teach with a better verb, or 2) name the profession after the effect.
My goodness “teach” has a lot of synonyms! Below I have organized what I could find.
More of the same
This first group doesn’t seem to help much. To make some of these into titles we would have to add “or” to the end. This gets us a few that are recognizable: Advisor, Director, Illustrator, Instructor, Professor, and Supervisor. I don’t think these improve on Teacher, though. The “er” group is a little weird: Driller, Fitter, Former, Informer, Shower (pronounce at your own risk), and Trainer. “Hello Mrs. Jones, I’ll be your son’s 3rd grade Driller this year.” Yeah, I don’t think so.
Cuddly, but not better
These feel great. They imply a positive relationship with the student, but I don’t think they help much either. I mean, how do you announce a Student/Rearer conference to the parents?
Interesting, but scary
I have to admit that Brainwasher has a certain air of authority to it, and it’s certainly better than Grounder and Expounder, but it might be taken the wrong way. Enlightener sounds a bit too arrogant, and Inculcator is just too hard to pronounce. Sharpener and Implanter are just wrong.
Okay, I think we found a couple of verbs that may serve our purposes: develop and educate. Unfortunately, Developer sounds like the students then proceed to a stop bath and fixer before they can be exposed to the light. So that leaves us with Educator. Not bad, but let’s see if the second approach yields something better. Let’s start by finding synonyms for the obvious effect verbs: create and engineer.
As it turns out, create and engineer have a lot of synonyms as well. Here are most of them.
To get these to work, you add the “or” or “er” to the end of the verb and have it follow “learning.” Thus, you get titles like: Learning Builder, Learning Creator, Learning Manager, Learning Organizer, Learning Supervisor, and of course, Learning Engineer. These are great. I worry a bit about some of the others: Learning Manipulator, Learning Negotiator, Learning Operator, and Learning Plotter. But secretly, I really like a few of these: Learning Author, Learning Cook, Learning Doctor, Learning Parent, and Learning Jockey.
After looking things over, I have to say that Educator works best. Even Dictionary.com defines the verb “educate” using to develop the faculties and powers of. So, it is one word that serves both cause and effect, is easy to spell and pronounce, is already acceptable by the profession, and is different from teacher, giving the profession a new start. So to wrap things up, quote thingies or not, I love Educators.