Why do I need a teacher..(When I’ve got Google?)

Ian Gilbert is well known to most teachers in the UK especially as he is a founder of Independent Thinking which he describes as a ‘loose collection of practising educational mavericks and reactionaries’ which includes the like of former Teachers of the Year such as the erudite and good looking  David Miller (@DavidMiller_UK on twitter) and the even more ‘interesting’ and Hugh Grant-ish Phil Beadle (@PhilBeadle). The firm’s own twitter is at @itlworldwide – follow them.

Ian has written many books and developed ‘thunks’ which get kids to think about questions such as ‘Is black a colour’. He gives keynotes and runs INSETs with his merry crew all over the world and within the UK.  On his site there is a wealth of good resources on topics such as Multiple Intelligences (8 way thinking as he calls it) and music to learn by. I’ve just spent a great afternoon adding 109 songs to my class playlists ranging from classical such as Adante and Canon to pop ‘Nothing’s going to stop us now’ and I can’t wait to try these new songs out on them. Anyhoo….

I spent a fortnight reading and re-reading Ian’s latest ‘Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?’ armed with a number of highlighters and post it notes as I knew there would be some great quotes and thoughts within the book. Two weeks later I’ve finished and boy was it fun!  There are great thinking points made here, some funny stories and above all things that make you go ‘hmm’ as you reflect on exactly what it is we are all trying to achieve within our individual and different classrooms. The book tries to cover a wide range of educational topics that Ian  thinks teachers need to reflect upon and maybe think about from a different angle.

From the start he nails his colours to the mast (more cliché alerts to follow!) when he speaks about Einstein and his thought that: ‘We can’t solve the problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’ Ian thinks this gets at the” heart of what education is about even if schooling sometimes isn’t.”

There then follow 31 chapters with such esoteric titles as ‘Save the world’, ‘Your hands in their brains’ ‘Is that an iron bar through your frontal lobes…’ ‘Teacher’s little helper’ and ‘Is yours a teaching school or a learning school?’

A quick gallop through the book:

The first chapter ‘Save the world’ is one that pulls no punches and sets down what Ian thinks is the absolute importance of why and what we teach: it is to equip what he calls the ‘transition generation’ the kids in our schools NOW with the skills to solve the problems we’ the adults are leaving them. He goes through a frankly depressing if not terrifying lists of 14 major things that could cause the end of this planet and all on it. They range from population pressure, lack of food and water, further war and conflict, pollution and global climate change, religious wars and the other nightmares of maniac depressives everywhere. But the point he then makes is that ALL these are solvable problems and that it is up to us the current adult teachers to ensure our kids the future adult leaders (and teachers) can have the tools, the creativity and skills to sort these problems. So there’s your incentive and the answer to what you’re teaching – the children and how they can survive the world we’re leaving them.

Chapter 2 is all about why we should be trying to teach using the latest pedology and how ‘the times are achanging’. Best quote: When I was a child it was  ‘Finish your dinner people in India and China are starving’ But now it has become ‘Finish your homework; people in India and China are starving for your jobs’ (Thomas Friedman). Another interesting fact: 20% UK and 35% US entrepreneurs are dyslexic compared with 1% of general managers.

‘The great educational lie’ is the title of Chapter 3 and this is where Ian talks of how we tell the kids – ‘do well and you’ll get a good job’ but when you can ‘buy ten Indian brains for the price of one American one’ how do they react when they can’t get the jobs no matter how good their grades are? Ian gives examples of British firms who will recruit those they think can be trained to do a job not those with the qualifications that may, in fact, not be appropriate. Is this why many students are failing to get jobs?

Chapter 4 gives you the facts as shown in ‘Did you Know’ videos and other presentations most IT literate teachers know and love. Page after page of facts and figures which show that we really have to change or suffer obsolescence 😎  We are no longer the Guardians of the Information you need to know; the kids can access the information 24/7 via their phones (which we ban in many schools!) . No longer the ‘sage on the stage’ but a ‘guide on the side’ – Ian’s answer to the why do I need teachers if I’ve got Google?

The role of the 21st Century teacher is quite simple – to preside over the democratisation of learning

Another answer was received at 11pm at night from Any Questions Answered: Teachers express things in a way Google can’t. They can make dull subjects seem interesting whereas Google just supplies facts, not all of them correct’

I think they’re both right.

The following chapters discuss the brain, learning and ethics. Chapter 11 ‘Talk to the hand…’ is great. Main points; ‘adolescents are not people’ and ‘A 13 year old child acts like a 13 year old child because they are a child and a child is not a ‘mini-me’. They are not small versions of us walking around doing bad things’

Further discussion on childrens’ behaviour patterns and the quote of Chapter 12’the 21st Century teacher does not teach subjects; the teach children’. We’ve all seen arguments in the TESS about subject versus generalist teachers 😎 Ian sums up here by saying that he feels our priority is NOT so much teaching them as to helping them ‘reduce the obstacles to learning’ as the kids can get at the information – what we need to do is help them identify, find, employ, check for bias in the information. He concludes by asking if we are teaching kids ‘how to think as well as what to think?’

More chapters on emotions and why kids behave as they do (they lack the ability to read body language by a factor of 20% for example thus having a 1 in 5 chance of annoying someone by accident! (No wonder it’s sooo unfair!!!!)

Philosophy for Children gets an airing in Chapter 15 and detailed examination in 16.  ‘My thoughts count therefore I count‘ sums up much of what he’s saying. And Robbie Williams’ hate for an old English teacher summed up in his song ‘Hello Sir Remember me?’ makes me very uncomfortable as I always try to encourage my kids and even the ones that you KNOW are only ever going to make it into the Army for example are told that it is a good career. You learn a lot about yourself and you end up with the best bunch of mates who will be there for you in and out of the regiment.

At the halfway point and we switch to ‘What’s the point of school’ followed by Chapter 18 ‘An accidental school system’ where we are told to ‘remember that nothing like schools exist in nature. Unless you’re  a fish‘. Schools are ‘an artificial and inefficient learning environment that society has been forced to invent’. Are they fit for purpose in the 21st Century? Many would argue that they are not.

We then cruise past exams and their absurdity in the modern world where we rely on a written test for something many kids will fail yet pass if it was an oral exam. Ian looks at teaching or learning schools and reminds us that EM Forster once said ‘spoon feeding teaches us ……nothing but the shape of the spoon’. I try to make my fellow learners work for their grades not be spoon fed the answers!

The final ten chapters cover everything from self-esteem to practical classroom management and how to teach without it overpowering your life. You should have these on your teacher’s Diary: ‘The job is bigger than you are’  and ‘no matter how much you plan it will not go to plan’. Be cool ‘if you sweat you die’ say the Eskimos! There WILL be days when it goes gloriously and you want to sing aloud with joy. There will be days when you think you’re in the wrong job and should stop ruining kids’ lives. But if you think that so deeply, then you’re in the right place – because the only way is up and it shows you CARE about them and won’t abandon them.

The final Chapter 31 – Everyone remembers’ (A good teacher). The ‘good ones, they change everything’ And that’s why since the ‘future of the world depends on them’ is ‘why I need a teacher when I’ve got Google’

To sum up he asks a question in Chapter 21:

Do you believe your job is to teach children or help them learn? Do you believe your school is – or should be- a teaching school or a learning school?

Your answer changes everything.

Get this book.

Bill Boyd, the @literacyadviser has also written a post on this book here.


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