As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, it is important to recognize the ways in which a teacher’s role has changed in the 21st century and the critically important ways in which the role remains the same.
There has been much conversation about the way in which education will evolve in the 21st century and I am the first to admit that I feel education is not evolving fast enough! For many years, teachers have been encouraged to shift their focus as a “content expert” or the “sage on the stage” to become a “facilitator of learning” or the “guide on the side.” Empowering students to learn how to learn and to be self-advocates is definitely a critical part of 21st century education.
As we celebrated FCPS Career and Technology Center teacher Phil Arnold for earning the Washington Post Teacher of the Year, a testimonial from his student cited how valuable it was when Mr. Arnold gave the student a real problem to solve and then expected him to solve it on his own. He did not lecture and teach the student exactly how to do the work. He asked questions, he encouraged, and he gave specific feedback. These are the hallmarks of a 21st century teacher!
When Middletown High’s Donna Lehman was named this year’s Charles E. Tressler Distinguished teacher, none of her students told me about the content she taught in her art classes. They talked about the way she inspired them and gave them confidence to take risks and to grow. She planted the seeds of creativity and watched it grow.
I am meeting with high school seniors across the county to gather feedback on their experiences as FCPS students. This is the 10th year that I have conducted these interviews, and their reflections on teachers have not changed. The students believe that their teachers have made their experiences as FCPS students very positive. As they talk about their teachers, they rarely mention specific content they have learned. Instead, I hear about genuine caring for students.
When teachers get to know their students and offer support and encouragement, it makes the greatest impact on students. When teachers communicate their confidence in their students’ abilities and encourage them to challenge themselves, it changes the way students view themselves and school. These powerful conversations about teachers affirm that creating and maintaining positive relationships are the most important quality students value in their teachers! That is the role of a teacher that will never change!
The pandemic illustrated for us that educational practices have and will continue to evolve in our 21st century world. The role of a teacher will evolve as well, but the fundamental ability to create positive, caring relationships with students will be critically important forever!
Thank you to all of the amazing teachers, administrators, and support staff who make relationships a priority and make a huge difference In the lives of our students! We appreciate you!