Don't get rid of teachers just yet

Laurie Mezard
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Teachers are here to stay. There’s a trend in our societies to make everything faster, more efficient, scalable. Somewhere in the process, teachers got a bad rep as being the bottleneck of education. To make education more accessible, the bottleneck ought to be removed.

I get it. People who fight for a better world want to remove all barriers to education. They want ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning, because they want to remove the constraints of the classroom. And I’m all for setting learners free and giving them the means to grow themselves.

But here’s the fact: learning is messy.

You have to integrate information in the map of what you already know. If you have many strong bridges to connect the new idea to, it will be easy to find your way back to it. If not, the next time you look for it, you’ll wander for a while. And when you finally find it again, it might make the bridge that took you there a little sturdier.

You also have to figure out what to do with that information. A skill isn’t acquired by encountering information. You don’t learn to cycle by having a parent explain to you the physics of it. You try, you fall, again and again, until muscle memory adapts and you find yourself doing it automatically, as if it had always been there.

And sometimes, to learn something you also need to change yourself. Change your beliefs, change your mindset, change your attitude. This kind of shift takes courage, time and energy.

Because learning is messy, we often get lost on the way. If we don’t know how to read our mental map, or if we don’t know how to handle the fear of going into uncharted territory, we go into panic mode (if we are lucky! We might also just build bridges that don’t make sense, making it hard to ever find our way back).

That’s where the teacher comes in.

A good teacher will look over your shoulder and read your mental map with you. They will spot the flimsy bridges and give you the material to fix them. They will gently nudge you ahead on paths that scare you. They will model how to walk novel paths with joy and confidence. They will give you the courage to explore, in a safe environment.

As a practitioner, a teacher will also show you how to navigate the maps of the people who practice the same craft as you. They will be your guide to that community of craftsmen, by emulating how the community thinks, feels and acts. This will allow you to become a purposeful member of the community and to grow with it.

The truth is that having a supportive guide on the side might be necessary to make you free.

And yes, not all teachers are trained or willing to be the supportive guide on the side. This can change. We can make it happen.

But getting rid of teachers altogether in a time where society is pushing us to be consumers, not builders, is a mistake. You don’t grow empowered humans at scale. You do it by contact. You nurture and inspire one person until they grow able to nurture others, too. Pass it on.

Teachers are here to stay because they are not in the way. They are the way.