It is a question I frequently ask myself. I spend my work day speaking with school superintendents who often have more years of teaching experience than I have been alive. They have seen every possible classroom crisis, and they have witnessed monumental changes in U.S. education. Occasionally, as I share about personalized learning and the education impact of my company, they ask me, “have you taught?”
I dread this question. No, I have never taught in a classroom. I have tutored; I have mentored; I have instructed informally in various settings on a variety of subjects. And yet…I have never fought in the “true” trenches of education: school classrooms.
I would like to teach classes on something, someday. But right now I am inspired to work in a role where I gather perspective from a wide spectrum of education practitioners, policymakers and business leaders. And you know what? I (very mildly) resent the teaching battle scars I am expected to flaunt in order to seem credible to long-time educators.
I get it. Classroom teaching experience merits respect. I have nothing but immense respect for teachers, especially those that work in our public schools. However, in an age of ubiquitous information, modern teaching is a blurred concept. If I record a Youtube video that effectively illustrates a math concept, am I a teacher? If I design a MOOC that helps thousands of students pick up a new skill, did I teach them?
Teachers’ ability to design and deliver instruction is one of their most valued skills, but there are now many education professionals who exercise that same skill without ever interacting with students. There are online course designers, digital content specialists and programmers who facilitate student learning in amazing ways, perhaps relying solely on the pedagogic knowledge of the internet.
I don’t doubt that, in some cases, these quasi-teachers’ actual instruction is of higher quality than that of conventional teachers. The wildly successful Khan Academy was founded upon the principle of having online instructional videos that are both more convenient and of higher quality than classroom lectures. Moreover, given that classroom teachers now wield a variety of digital tools and online content in class, this secret legion of not-teacher-teachers plays a huge role in even brick-and-mortar students’ learning.
To be clear, these modern education professionals should not assume that their instruction or design abilities would transfer seamlessly into a physical classroom. Conversely, classroom teachers should not assume that classroom experience is required to effectively facilitate student learning. Students are learning through more mediums than ever before. No particular group of educators should presume to have exclusive knowledge of how kids learn best, especially when it comes to blended learning.
But back to me. Must I teach? In writing this post, I have become convinced that instructional experience of some sort is a likely “must” as I continue in the field of education. I am not, however, convinced that I need classroom teaching experience to be credible and impactful in education.
With all that being said…I think teaching in class would be a rewarding experience that I would be lucky to have–someday!
Photo Credit: Archives New Zealand