Are You a 21st Century Teacher?

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Are You a 21st Century Teacher?
21st century schools need 21st century teachers. Are you a 21st century teacher?
As the United States faces unprecedented challenges both at home and abroad, the need for schools to have teachers with a 21st century viewpoint and a 21st century skillset has never been more obvious. Dynamic, visionary teachers are needed to shape new generations of citizens who will have the ideas and abilities to lead and guide our country. If this sounds radical, it really isn't. It is the same principle and thinking which caused the Phillips family of Exeter and Andover fame to found those schools. Those school founders knew that the infant nation needed well-schooled, well-trained people to lead it in the years ahead. They believed in this country and the concept of universal education so deeply that they put their money where their mouth was and created schools which still, to this day in the 21st century, reflect extraordinary dynamism and vision. With that thesis as our backdrop let's look at what is needed to be a 21st century teacher.

A 21st century viewpoint includes teachers right across the K-12 spectrum. While things technological are not critical in the formative, early years, empowering children to discover and to learn most certainly is. Here are some things the 21st century primary grade teachers need to do.
  • Teach children that they are part of a global community.
  • Teach children to appreciate diversity in all its aspects.
  • Teach children to be tolerant.
  • Teach children to be aware of the many societies and civilizations which came before them.
  • Teach children to be sensitive to the environment.
  • Teach children the importance of nutrition, exercise and health.
  • Teach children to appreciate the arts.
  • Teach children to think critically.

These fundamental concepts were the foundation of great 20th century educators such as Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, Francis Parker and John Dewey. We have gotten away from allowing children to be creative, to use their imaginations, to be scientists and to discover. We encourage passivity with television and all the other forms of electronic entertainment.

The 21st century teacher needs to be a digital native. While older teachers will inevitably be digital immigrants, at the very least they must be willing to adapt and change. Modern living in the 21st century is internet based. We get our information direct from the source. Knowing how to manage RSS feeds, Twitter and all the other electronic gadgets at our disposal and as yet undreamed of is an important skill for any 21st century teacher to have.

The 21st century teacher needs to be able to filter news and information. Decades ago we could listen to Walter Cronkite and know all we thought we needed to know. Now news and information comes at us like a veritable electronic blizzard. Before we can teach our students how to filter all this data, we must know how to filter it efficiently ourselves.

While discovery in the primary grades is mostly centered on the immediate world around a child, a young adult discovers in another way as well. The ubiquitous search engine is his tool for discovery. Unfortunately, unless the 21st century teacher understands how to write a good search string and how to filter search engine results, he will be unable to teach the young adult how to do the same. Sifting through all the data and making sense of it is a critical skill every middle and high school student needs to have.

Where are our 21st century Euclids and Einsteins? The sad truth is that they are out there just waiting to be empowered. But as long as society glorifies athletes and entertainers with obscene earnings and constant adulation, then why on earth would any young person want to grapple with solving the Fermat Theorem? The 21st century teacher understands this and provides the example, the role models and the encouragement needed to nurture and mold the scientists, mathematicians and engineers our country so desperately needs.

If you have read this far, you will see how over the decades, indeed over the centuries, the teacher's role has not changed very much at all. Teachers still encourage and empower, guide and shape young minds. Lighting the fires of learning and discovery will always be what a good teacher does. The difference for the 21st century teacher is that she must adapt her skillset to suit the needs and exigencies of the present, not the past. If she and thousands of her colleagues can do that, our great nation will continue to lead, not follow.

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