Why are teachers important?


Is it not feasible to learn what one wants to learn by reading, understanding, and practicing from relevant textbooks/journals/YouTube/Khan Academy/Wikipedia/Google?

Okay … first, a “pre-script”. When I searched for an appropriate image for a “teacher”, the vast majority showed a person (usually female) standing at a blackboard in front of a class. Hmm … that says a lot about our education system. Several stereotypes, particularly of the “broadcast mode” of teaching. Anyway, I digress, so back to the real discussion of teachers.

Written Apr 14

Hang on a sec … I’m a little confused by this one.


Let me think about this. I am homeschooling my daughter, and she uses a variety of learning methods, including every single one you mention in your question:

  • Textbooks. Seems to me that these are written by experts who are seeking to impart knowledge to students. In fact, textbooks are a method for teachers to convey information.
  • Journals. This one is a little different. Journals are usually directed at an audience within a certain profession, so they assume a certain base knowledge. The intent, however, is the same – to impart knowledge from an “expert” to others.
  • YouTube. Now it gets more interesting. There’s a lot of stuff on YouTube that is silly, fun, and entertaining. But there is also a lot of stuff that is educational in nature, and can be very engaging (for example, Richard Feynman’s lectures). My daughter’s interest in science probably increased exponentially as a result of vSauce and Veritasium. She also “self-taught” digital drawing and animation by watching YouTube videos. But, once again, these educational videos are brought to us by “teachers”, who are imparting information.
  • Khan Academy. KA has two distinct modes. Videos, which are a form of lecturing (teachers again), and questions, which encourage mastery learning.
  • Wikipedia/Google. Not quite so clear-cut, but once again we are dealing with sharing of information.

The issue a student has to deal with, is how to manage all the available information and learning sources above. And that is where teachers/tutors/mentors are vitally important. Ideally, a “teacher” knows the student’s personality, learning style, capabilities and interests. The “teacher” can therefore help guide the student toward an effective application of study. Furthermore, the “teacher” can help the student evaluate the information critically (there’s a lot of bad information out there), evaluate the student’s understanding, and provide feedback.

And this is where our traditional style of education tends to break down. Too many classrooms are stuck in the “broadcast” mode, where the teacher spends a lot of time lecturing. (Of course, there are also many examples of alternate classroom styles, so I am generalizing).

Ideally, our student and teacher should work together to identify areas of interest, and competencies to be developed. The teacher should guide the student to appropriate resources (including many of those discussed above). There may be occasions where the teacher determines that group projects are the appropriate way to learn. In this way, education can become more personal, and individualized.

Of course, my daughter and I can already take advantage of these options, as she is homeschooled. Wouldn’t it be great if our educational system changes course, and sets sail for individualized learning? We have the capability now.