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What It Means To Be A Teacher In The 21st Century

"Teaching is an exercise of immortality. Somehow we continue to live in those whose eyes have learned to see the world through the magic of our word. The teacher, therefore, never dies ..."

Rubem Alves

Prof. Gabriel Mario Rodrigues

by Gabriel Mario Rodrigues

Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABMES – The Brazilian Association of Private Higher Education Institution Owners

Learning from thirty thousand years ago, when man had to transmit his experiences to the young ones, always was intermediated by a screen – writing on beach sand, earth, clay, stone or tree until, around the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Lasallian educators invented the greatest school technology that persists to this day: the blackboard. It was, or still is, the teacher’s way of moving beyond his speech, to record what is important for students to copy. The act of teaching was always based on the blackboard, the book, the articles and, later on, the slides and the power point.

Today the classroom has changed. The blackboard is the screen of a computer, tablet, smartphone or virtual assistant. On the other hand, everyone says that the class room as we know it is in a continuous and accelerated process of extinction. The school as the only “learning environment” no longer exists.

“The school will not be synonymous with school buildings, it will give way to a network of collaboration, collective construction of an educational project,” prophesizes Portuguese professor António Nóvoa.

Any of us will surely remember the importance that much of our teachers have had in the course of our lives. This is confirmed by the experiences made in the USA by Brandon Busteed, executive director of the Gallup education department. Research with over a million students has shown that employers do not attach much importance to the origin of the college, be it private or public. Also, successful students have always highlighted their teachers or tutors as role models for their achievements. And those most committed to the work have always had teachers or mentors who cared for them as people and encouraged them to achieve their goals and their dreams.

Teachers today have to deal not only with knowledge and technology, but also with increasing social complexity: everyone goes to school, from all social groups, from the poorest to the richest, from all races and all ethnicities.

“Society itself sometimes has a hard time knowing what it is that it wants in schools,” says Nóvoa. There is an excess of missions for teachers, we ask too much of them. Too much is also asked of schools. After all, how can you imagine extraordinary, spectacular, creative schools where everything works well in a society where nothing works?

Recent technological advances have changed many areas of our lives: how we communicate, collaborate, learn, and, of course, how we teach and, at the same time, also demand an expansion in teachers’ performances. Never before has learning happened the way it is today, that is, everywhere, all the time, about any subject, technique or content, supporting any style or preference of learning. But what does it really mean to be a 21st century teacher?

Just as in social networks there are digital influencers, the teacher has become an influencer of learning, in the sense of promoting strategies of engagement and attraction to themes and curricular components in a dimension that is much more participative, active and creative. Skills such as communication, leadership, collaboration and interactivity are key. And, as obvious as these skills may seem, the reality is that finding teachers with the appropriate profiles is still a big challenge. Not because of the lack of teachers’ will, but because of the training that does not prepare them to act and think beyond the curricular components, assessments and dimensions that involve their performances in the classroom.

While much is said that students are viewed as digital natives, many are far from producing any digital content. That they dominate technological devices with the capacity to produce blogs, games, videos, just to name a few, in many classes they are still asked to work with the old and good paper notebook.

We know that technology is only a tool, but like any tool it takes skill and attitude to use it. Therefore, changing the teacher’s purpose should be the number one priority that comes well before technologies and other emerging trends.

Technology enables collaboration between teachers and students. And that collaboration must go beyond sharing documents or creating presentations. Many ideas with the potential to transform schools and communities never go beyond a classroom conversation or paper copy, which is a great loss!

The collaboration can change the whole educational experience we know today in Brazil and put it on another level. Therefore, the role of the teacher as mediator is so important.

In this “teacher’s month’ of October, I invite you to expand your teaching toolbox and try new ways to do your work, even if you have not tried it before. Not because of the tools, but because of the students.

As new social demands, contexts and technologies continue to emerge, learning and adapting is fundamental and essential to the educational process. In fact, the mantra of the future requires continuous learning not only for the teacher, but for all the professionals who wish to do it.

For all these skills I believe that the teacher is not a species in extinction. What was orally delivered in a classroom, today is done through multiple means of communication and technology. The range of professional performance unfolded in content designers, producers of graphic interfaces and virtual reality. There is a shortage of cognitive science professionals and in the age of knowledge everyone needs to be updated.

In this new world where robots and artificial intelligence will be everywhere, only the genius of the teacher can overcome them, because to teach it is necessary to have enthusiasm, perception, creativity, sensitivity and human relations.

Congratulations to all the teachers who are collaborating in the building of a better world. On this occasion, we mention the heroine Profa. Heley Silva Batista, who died in the fire at the Escola Municipal Gente Innocente, in Janaúba/MG, trying to save “her children”.