A century ago, the profession of an educator was considered prestigious and not everyone was able to pursue it. Over the past decade, however, the role of educators has decreased.
Prof. Renata Bilbokaitė, Director of Šiauliai Academy of Vilnius University and education expert, is speaking at LEAD talks organized by Glimstedt law firm about how and why the attitude to the teaching profession has changed, what the everyday work and long-term mission of the teachers are, what role teachers play in the life of pupils today.
No technology will ever replace the teacher
Over the years, the image of educators in society has changed dramatically. According to Prof. Bilbokaitė, the visions of the teaching profession and other professions had to be shaken up, to undergo a certain transformation, because life itself has undergone dramatic changes. In the past, when most people were illiterate and had no opportunity to study, a teacher, a doctor, a priest or any other educated person was considered a leader of the highest level. Today, however, the vast majority of people have higher education or access to it, the attitude toward an educated person and the professions highly respected in the past has changed. Nowadays professional engineers or sometimes even plumbers are more important. The professor attributes this to social maturity where every profession becomes significant. The professor believes that even with the changes occurring in the world, the importance of the educator will not disappear, because the teacher will never be replaced with any technology that can substitute another profession.
“Teachers have been beacons of light and this role remains. Google and other tools allow us to learn many things here and now that neither a teacher nor a professor can know, because the information is changing very quickly. However, this is our difference from the future artificial intelligence – we have feelings, values and creative abilities. So the main task of the teacher – to be a creator of young people – has not changed over the years,” Prof. Bilbokaitė said.
How is the teacher’s profession different from other professions?
According to Prof. Bilbokaitė, teachers differ from other professionals because in the daily activities of other professions there is no need to love the people they work with. It is completely different in the pedagogical activity where we educate a person, especially from their early years. In the primary school, the teacher is almost the whole world to pupils and a great authority, so there cannot be a shortage of love for the pupils. “If we want to have a cohesive society, and then a sustainable society, we must invest in the teacher, respect the teacher and allow them to be free in creating a young person every day.”
For the same reason, the public may place great demands on teachers. We want teachers to know their subject well, to know other subjects, children’s psychology, to be modern, technologically savvy, adapted to innovation, but we do not speak about their personal qualities.
However, Prof. Bilbokaitė believes, that if we think of the 12 years we spend at school, we would probably not remember what we were learning, but how we felt in that environment. This does not depend on the teacher’s ability to indoctrinate knowledge, but on the teacher’s relationship with students, on the collaborative environment, the ability to know and accept each other.
The teacher’s personality contributes to learning success
“I have always thought teachers were leaders. If they were not, they would not stand before a class. Another question is whether the teacher should always be a leader according to the usual stereotype: expressive, eloquent and active. After all, we are sometimes attracted by people who are introvert, quiet, and who think carefully before they speak. There must be diversity here too,” Prof. Bilbokaitė pointed out.
Although the entire educational process is structured and defined according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport , a teacher’s initiative and personal qualities also affect the performance of pupils. According to the speaker, education is made up of so much more than meets the naked eye.
“Our educational concepts say that the school must be in charge of the pupil’s maturity, progress and achievements. Therefore, every day when a teacher comes to work they not only pass on knowledge and competences, but they also affect various educational processes inside the pupil, which we cannot see,” the education expert said.
The professor regrets that school often focuses on teaching tangible and measurable things, on the results of examinations, although it is perfectly clear that there is life outside school too. Perhaps it starts just after we finish school.
Return will depend on investment
In the process of knowledge transfer, artificial intelligence and technologies can supplement or aid the teacher as teaching tools, but the necessary social skills and maturity can only be developed by the person themself. Thus it follows that teachers must not only be very well educated, but must also be a very strong and happy person within themselves.
Prof. Bilbokaitė feels that teachers have great value, so they must be supported – not only by offering good wages, but also by building a network of competence training related not only with the learning process, but also with personal growth.
The teacher is someone who not only teaches others, but is also someone who constantly learns, explores the environment of their pupils, adapts to it, improves and tries to keep up with innovation.
“As much as we invest, we get in return later. The world’s education economists say that the biggest dividends are derived from educating a person. The dividends do not turn into money suddenly, but in the long term and countries such as Switzerland, which have invested in intellectual capital by attracting high-level researchers, will be among the leading countries. It is the teacher who will lay the foundation for world-class Nobel Prize winners,” Prof. Bilbokaitė maintained.
Lack of respect for teachers
However, no matter how valuable teaching as a profession is considered no matter what return it brings, it is also a very difficult, responsible and creative work that few people choose. But, according to the professor, those who choose pedagogical studies all want to work with children.
According to the education expert, the public also has a significant influence on the image of educators – e.g. some people who do not have anything to do with education publicly state what is wrong with education and offer opinions on how it should be improved. It would seem that everyone knows better how children should be educated, but they understand education only from their point of view.
Prof. Bilbokaitė agrees that there is a real lack of public support and respect for educators, but this may change if educators raise their voices, if they do not feel undervalued and are proud of their good work. They should feel like educators-creators, and not like a small screw in a giant system. “There would be no doctors, judges, policemen, nor indeed a society without teachers.
Of course, it is difficult to talk about dignity when you are unhappy about something or lack something, if you do not feel spiritual fullness or trust, but lack of something often becomes an engine of progress.
“I think that no one person will ever be completely satisfied with whatever they have and people will always want more. This is classic human psychology. There will always be a shortage. The main issue, however, would be whether this would do more damage to us, or motivate us to develop,” Prof. Bilbokaitė said.
The importance of psychology in school
The professor is surprised that, although we are all very different, for some reason we all still study using homogenized methodologies. The subjects taught in schools are highly formalized, but the emergence of STEAM centres and research in education show that it is important to understand the world around in an integrated way rather than in parts.
As people we must study all our life, but not only something systematically invented by somebody else. We must learn things they do not teach at school.
There is a lack of psychology studies, learning about ourselves, at school. After graduating from schools or universities, people often feel lost, they are searching to know themselves and their certain qualities to make them feel stronger and better in life. Therefore, there is a huge need to seek help from coaches, mentors, psychologists and other lifestyle teachers.
However, school consists of many things. Teachers and subject knowledge have a huge influence on every pupil, but pupils learn from various sources (films, books, friends, music, travel), including outside school, so it is even more important to make pupils feel the connection of the subjects they are taught with real life, their applicability.
“This is where alternative pedagogical theories, such as the Waldorf pedagogy, come in – learning less, but deeper. Perhaps we, as a society, should dare to go deeper and reforms should not be based on ratings or PISA scores, because it is not ratings and finance that determine the quality of life, but the person’s internal maturity, happiness and ability to create something good for others,” Prof. Bilbokaitė emphasized.
Does the school have to say what to do after leaving school?
When asked whether school should define what the life of the pupil should be after they graduate, the education expert remembers that the best pupils in school are not necessarily leaders in life. No one else can tell you what path you should choose. School cannot do this either. It must advise, recommend, and show all the possible positive, personality-building paths.
“We already have artificial intelligence and it will increasingly improve, so we need creativity. We need self-confidence, internal freedom, creative ambitions and abilities. The school is there to provide this,” the professor said emphatically.
Although creativity is very often emphasized in the educational process, according to the professor, another equally important task for the school is to develop pupils’ critical thinking so that they can distinguish what is real, what is not. The same goes for communication skills – pupils should be able to understand and accept people who are different from them, e.g. very talented pupils with special needs. This should help integrate talented pupils into society, enable and empower them to feel equal members of society.
“However, knowledge alone is no longer important in this world. The task of the teacher of the future is to activate human abilities through various multisensory means. As technology develops, the teacher will increasingly need to be a creative person who excites the powers of others and brings them together for a common purpose,” Prof. Bilbokaitė concluded.