Kids Don’t Need Teachers for Learning Information

I’d like to invite you into my kitchen. It’s one of my favorite places in the whole entire world. Rich conversations happen here. We figure out important stuff, and I need you to help me figure out what it means to be an effective educator. I’ve been pressing on, but I’m feeling tattered.

If you join me, this was our view after school.

Hannah and Martha are both in high school. Hannah is writing notes for her history reading. She is not allowed to use a device, even though her school is a 1:1 school. She must hand write notes as proof of completing the reading. Martha is writing out math problems that she fully understands step-by-meaningless-step. “I feel like a slave,” she says. At least she’ll have proof of her understanding for the teacher.

Across the kitchen, Sam shouts, “Woohoo! I don’t have any homework tonight, so I can R-E-A-D!” He runs upstairs to get his book from his nightstand. Jordan finished his assignment and gets his book too. They both settle in the kitchen.

They are active kids, so I ask, “You want to sit and read after you’ve been sitting in school all day?”

“Oh yeah,” Sam says, “You never get to read anything that matters in school. I love coming home and reading stuff I want.”

“Me too,” said Jay.

Silence settled around the kitchen. I started dinner and sorting my thoughts. I wish you were there. Sometimes it’s best to talk through the tricky stuff.

The way kids learn and use information is changing. They have access to more information with a slap of a button than ever before. They can find the number of bones in a human body, the theme of To Kill a Mocking Bird, a video of metamorphosis, or the purposes of the three branches of the US government in 0.28 seconds on Google.

They jockey YouTube, email, iTunes and Google Classroom from their school devices, phones, and smart watches. They hear more about social issues, protests, and pop culture from their social media feeds at the bus hub than what their parents heard at their ages from watching the evening news. They navigate conversations in the lunch line and conversations through texts and conversations on social media. They deal with bullying and embarrassment in ways that used to be unfathomable.

They dream big dreams. They invent with video and music. They find ideas for their hobbies and interests. They learn to change a tire or make a duck tape flower or create a smokey eye with make-up. They figure out how to build a habitat for a new pet, create a vending machine from legos or stir a homemade remedy for acne.

It is only fair that teaching practices change as kids’ learning needs change.

We are living this transformation. Teachers are no longer disseminators of information. They are no longer facilitators of learning. Kids do not need teachers for these things. Kids don’t need teachers for learning information.

But, they still need teachers. They need us for different reasons than filling their minds with facts and knowledge.

Kids need teachers to be activators of curiosity and cultivators of deep thinking.ย 

Kids need teachers to spark interest, to nudge their thinking, and to tug them into exploration. They need us to give them space to fail and bounce back. They need us to build their confidence and empower them to think big and bigger.

Back in the kitchen, Jordan interrupts my thoughts. “Mom, do you mind if I use my device to look up something about bearded dragons? I want to know if Spike is more sensitive when he’s shedding. I wonder if I should hold him when he’s shedding.”

Of course I said yes. Jordan has important learning to do as a new pet owner.

Kids don’t need teachers to fill their minds with facts and knowledge. They don’t need teachers for learning information. They have access to information. Kids need to go to school to learn how to chase curiosities, determine truth, grow ideas through collaboration, and share deep understandings in ways that make the world a better place.

Some kids need to go to school because it is a safe place. It is warm and has food. Adults won’t hurt them in school. There are many kids filling our classrooms who come from hard places.

Kids need teachers to help them find a different way their stories can go.

This is why I press on. I want to encourage teachers to be activators of curiosity and cultivators of deep thinking. I want to help teachers know how to fill needs and heal kids who come from dark places. It’s not easy work, but when I look around my kitchen, I see firsthand children who have been restored from hard starts to life. I see children who are curious and know how to follow their passions to discover new learning. I see children who deserve more from school than filling out a worksheet to regurgitate what the teacher said.

All kids deserve these things, and I can’t think of a better place to get them than from a teacher.

Here in the kitchen we have conversations. I’d love to hear your voice, your thoughts, about whether you think kids need different things from teachers today. How can we navigate and fill the [new] needs of our students?

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18 Comments »

  1. Ruth, I don't have an answer and as a teacher and a mom I grapple with these same questions. I just wanted to let you know that your voice was heard and you aren't alone.

  2. I love this so much. My son is in kindergarten and already distressed at going to school because all they do is sit to learn (his words, not mine). He's a very autonomous, bright boy, loves searching out information and collaborating with others to problem solve. My heart has been hurting lately as I watch him struggle with the rigid learning environment. Thanks for your work!

  3. This is a struggle for all teachers. As a writing teacher and a gifted teacher, I work most often with open-ended prompts and allowing my students to express themselves through writing, but sometimes there is necessity for information. But we share in the learning. They learn as I learn. We teach each other what is important and significant. Thanks for sparking my thinking and reflection.

  4. I wish every teacher could read your words, Ruth, and then think about them as we are planning our lessons. I have shared the same frustrations with my own kids. I often wonder if it bothers me so much because I'm an educator and know there is a better way. Do other non-teacher parents feel the same way? Do they know? I think this makes it even more important that we teacher parents keep questioning and speaking up through reflections like this. This is how change happens.

  5. Right on, Ruth! This theory goes back to writing workshop. I'm a firm believer. All students have special needs. Some have the need to go beyond the classroom realm. Teachers should be the supportive guides in the jungle of knowledge and life. Not an easy task but necessary.

  6. I like this post alot! It is a good reminder to keep doing what I'm doing, even if it isn't “normal” in the eyes of others. I love the challenge of pushing a kid to figure something out, to realize that they have the world at their fingertips. It is grueling some days, the heart struggle, but it is so worth it! Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  7. Kids need teachers to point them in the right direction, too! We all talk about helping kids study “their passion” but the truth is that kids don't know what they don't know!
    I do not teach my students WHAT to know, I teach them HOW to find out. I teach them how to evaluate the information they do find out. I teach them how to gather all the information and draw logical supported conclusions from it.
    Anybody who thinks that these are skills that come naturally to children or adults isn't paying attention.
    Children need teachers to show them how to live, how to get along, how to work together, play together and learn together. We are all part of raising children in our community.
    Thanks for writing and sharing your blog!

  8. Ruth, thank you for your words. You brought me right there to your kitchen, in your Ruth-way. I've been thinking more about school as my girls move their way through “doing school.” You have encouraged me to continue the fight for transforming schools and education — because all of our children have stories waiting to be written and our story is not over yet. Thank you for sharing this important message! I will be sharing with family and colleagues!

  9. Thank you. I loved this post and it has really got me thinking about what I have in place in my own teaching to support critical thinking and to foster curiosity. Posts like this are wonderful because they get me thinking, growing, and improving. Thanks.

  10. Ruth, As always, I so enjoy reading your words and I agree with you 100%! As we parent young children again, we are challenged with teaching our girls how to know what's appropriate and not appropriate to both consume and produce. There is so much information out there that is so easily available, that I am having to learn a whole new skill set as a mom. Although not exactly the point you are making, I find your post is nudging my thinking as we deal with these issues.