Teaching, as we know, is a multi-pronged process. The transmission of knowledge takes place on multiple levels.
The role of the educator has always been extremely challenging, but it has become even more so now because newer factors have entered into the mix. A widespread use of technology, an overexposure to varied forms of content, and shortened attention spans, are among a few of them.
There are also many ways of learning available to students now. If they were to miss a few classes of yours, they could well catch up online, or learn the same material from other sources from the comfort of their homes/dorm rooms, and without spending a penny on it.
The teacher of today therefore needs to change with the times to continue to stay relevant and effective. If you happen to have ambitions of actually moulding young minds, you need to go beyond what teachers typically do and find in the challenges facing you the opportunities to do so.
In this post we look at a few of the challenges that modern teachers face, along with suggestions on how you can conquer them to make a bigger impact on your students.
Focus on Continuous Honing of Your Skills
You are dealing with very smart students now. They can easily cross-check a teacher’s claims online. They can probe you on matters while keeping online sources at hand and expect you to give prompt and accurate answers. If you go against what their beloved Web sources say, they will expect a good explanation in return. Even if you are not a fan of using tech in the classroom, kids can do so on their own devices during their leisure time and return to you the next day with even more questions.
The teacher of today therefore needs to be up-to-date about the research in her field, and be especially aware about the popular debates surrounding her subject. She should also work on polishing her communication and debating skills to inspire confidence in her students. Nothing impresses young minds more than those who know what they are talking about.
While an education degree, such as the preK-4 degree from this university , will prepare you to start teaching children, the teacher of today will need to change with the times to continue to stay relevant and effective.
There are a number of authorities and influencers on the Web, many of whom are already impacting your students. It’s a battle of influence, which you can only win if you keep honing your skills and addressing the gaps in your own knowledge.
Your Course Material Should Ring Louder Than the Content They Consume Daily
Teachers and parents often complain that kids don’t pay attention. What I’ve found, however, is that it’s not a case of kids not paying attention, it’s rather that they find it hard to bring themselves to pay attention to “boring” matters. And school is a big bore in the lives of most youngsters (that’s just the unfortunate truth). It’s a “necessary evil” they undergo because it is expected of them.
Their beef is not with learning, however, it’s with the way learning has traditionally been imparted.
As per one report, American kids in the age group of 8-18 spend around 4,000 hours absorbing digital content each year. That’s a lot of content. Kids these days are taking in ideas, perspectives, and new information non-stop. Your students too very likely own a smartphone as well as a tablet. They spend hours on the Internet, if not gossiping with friends then following trending events, reading up on news from around the world, and following blogs of their interests.
Therefore, in order to make sure that your carefully crafted teaching material makes an impact, you need to stand out. You need to do something differently.
Though students today have access to a lot of information, they don’t have in place the filters to determine the good from the bad, the useful from the waste of time.
Consuming so much content may also lead to distraction and lesser tolerance towards course material that seems to be prosaic, meandering (by failing to hold their interest), or not something that directly affects them, except in the form of grades which they have been told can determine their future.
As a modern teacher you should aim to change the student mindset from ‘having to learn’ to ‘wanting to learn’. If you want to reach out to your students and expect your words to make an impact on them, you will have to meet them half-way.
You could do this by learning of and embracing their world and going there where they reside. Participate in Web communities proactively and become acquainted with the reigning voices to be able to tell your students which ones they should be paying heed to. You can also make your own voice heard on the Web.
Start a blog of your own
Not to make money, but to reach out to those whom you desire to teach. Make it a treasure trove of information where you can expound on matters you otherwise can’t in the classroom given the time constraints.
Your teenage students are being widely and wildly targeted by corporates all over the world. Their master content is attracting newer audiences to their folds. They don’t spare any effort to reach out to potential customers (of whom teens and tweens are a big part).
Presenting interesting content in an attractive manner is therefore the need of the hour.
Incorporate visual media in your school presentations
Research has found that the use of visual media enhances learning. Enliven your dull PowerPoint presentations with appropriate images and videos to get the attention of your students. Draw from the events around you to make your point. Not only will that help make better analogies, it will also likely stick in their minds for longer.
Encourage students to learn via a variety of media
Words are great but the essence of learning is transmission of knowledge, which can take place via a variety of media.
- Make use of education-related apps to help your students learn. There are apps that help younger students learn the names of animals and birds, build their vocabulary, understand scientific concepts, etc. Encourage them to use these apps.
- Encourage the use of mind maps to stoke their creativity and help them come up with insightful essays and topics.
- Biology or art teachers can ask their students to put their smartphone camera to better use by taking images of shrubs and flowers in their gardens, for example, and learning about them in detail.
Keep Abreast of Technology and the Popular Media
Do you know what your students are up to when they are not in the classroom?
Do you know about their hobbies and interests?
Are you aware of the newer forms of technology that they access every single day?
It’s not possible for human beings to do something in large numbers or for long hours every day and not be deeply affected by it. Our thinking and the patterns in our brain mould themselves depending on what we feed them with.
Understand technology as your students use it. By that we don’t mean just the gadgets, but also newer forms of communication that keep popping up in the media, all of which is affecting the way students communicate.
Learn to use popular communication platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, if only to know what’s going on in the world and not to get left behind. (This is particularly helpful for the teachers who are intimidated by technology. Learn to look at it as your friend instead, because it does have the potential to help you improve your teaching, as well as learning, on all levels.)
Help Them Build 21st Century Skills
What are the skills most needed for success in this era, aka the “21st century skills”?
This is debatable and everybody will likely have different lists. The criteria for individual success in the workplace more or less remain the same, but there are certain skillsets that are even more relevant now and which all students should be equipped with. Here are three points I feel most of you will agree with.
Critical thinking is more desired than ever
As innovation shoots through the roof and newer methods of learning become easily available, not to mention technology (there’s that word again) has presented eager minds with greater avenues to unleash their creativity, it has become more important than ever for students to be able to think for themselves.
Most kids have the inclination to question things. Both parents and teachers should encourage this, instead of ignoring them or shutting them up. Structure your courses and/or teaching methods so that you draw out your students to look at problems with an open perspective. Encourage critical thinking in your students and incorporate problem-based learning in your material.
Everything, especially learning, needs a purpose
The corporate world has long lamented the lack of employable skills in fresh graduates.
The gulf between what’s considered desirable in the world of education and that in real life is growing and frankly looking ridiculous now.
While curriculum of schools will always tend to be more formal than vocational, a teacher can fill in the gaps for her students by putting their learning into perspective.
Yes, memorising theorems, formulae, reactions, and equations is important. But what’s even more important is learning how these make a difference for the better in a learner’s life.
When was the last time you discussed with your students the meaning of Calculus, or why scientists are trying to capture the essence (or origin) of the universe – essentially a philosophical endeavor — in numbers. Why numbers of all the things in the world?
You can make even the driest of subjects interesting by going back to their roots and playing a bit of a philosopher, who encourages her students to question things and see the larger picture instead of taking course material at its face value. Students today have too many options and distractions to lose themselves in if they do not enjoy learning from you.
Clarity of communication
The written word continues to reign supreme, except it’s now popular in the form of 140-word tweets and snappy blogposts.
But since we live in a knowledge-driven economy where great ideas are handsomely rewarded, good communication is a skillset universally desired.
Good communication, however, does not only refer to having a way with words. That helps, but it’s only a part of the picture. It also entails good listening skills and showing an awareness of and tolerance towards different points of view, regardless of where they emanate from.
Work towards making your students globally aware and culturally tolerant. They are going to need this if they are to succeed in the ultra-wired workspace of today where time zones are a little more than slight annoyances and people of various backgrounds are expected to get along well.
Understand the Evolving Learning Needs of Students
We have already mentioned that dwindling attentions spans are a huge side-effect of constant connectivity.
How can you help your students combat this, improve their focus, and encourage the retention of material in them?
One way is to make your sessions interesting by using a variety of media. Another is to indulge in a bit of story-telling to hook the interest of your students. You could also consider using case studies more often to illustrate your theoretical points.
Too much of digital communication and not enough face-to-face interaction is another problem that many students today face. While they need to get good at communicating digitally, they are already getting enough practice at it. Help your students hone their speaking abilities by arranging debates within the classroom. Take out the time to speak to them at a personal level. Human-to-human interaction will never become entirely redundant.
Create all-rounded curriculum for your students. If you are in anyway involved with making or influencing the curriculum at your school, emphasise on including practical and analytical skills into it in some capacity.
To Put It All Together
It all starts with you. A good teacher leads by example. She understands the changing world around her, how it is impacting her students, and accordingly changes her approach to teaching.
We live in very interesting times. The mind of the average person has never been so stimulated, nor has the average student ever had greater access to information, knowledge, and technology to make the most of it all. It’s a learner’s paradise.
The role of the teacher therefore needs to be viewed in this vastly changed (and changing) context. Teachers today need to take into account the influences their students are growing up with, how they are being impacted by them, and their relationship with this continually changing world.
The same technology that has opened the world to your students is also available to you. Teachers who aim to improve the knowledge base of their students have never had it better. You have an amazing variety of tools and resources to help you in your endeavour, and with this post you also have quite a few suggestions on how to go about it.
To sum it up, teachers will have to change themselves in accordance with the world and their students to be able to make a good impact on them and influence them for the better. That is the best way we can prepare our younger generations for leadership roles in a fast-changing and super-connected world.
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