We have to stop teaching

I’m a university prof, but I don’t want to teach. That doesn’t mean I want to devote myself to my research, either, the seductive charms of German literature and film notwithstanding. What I really want to do is educate.

This idea has been a hobby horse of mine for a while. I even wrote about it for The Globe and Mail. So apologies in advance for my lack of originality. But when I reflect on my teaching, as the 9x9x925 blogpost challenge from eCampusOntario has caused many of us to do, I find myself returning again and again to the idea that I don’t want to be a teacher.

I associate teaching in higher ed with limited horizons and middle-of-the-road expectations. The goals of much teaching are very shortsighted: providing students with the content needed to pass a test or fulfill a program requirement. These are the kinds of things that lead to “student success” (as retention efforts focused on improved study skills are now often called), but success that very much maintains the status quo. When I think of teaching, I think of activities that do little to drive curiosity or develop critical perspectives.

Another issue I have with teaching is that it puts the teacher at the centre of the learning process. Yes, we’ve all heard the adage that a teacher shouldn’t be the sage on the stage but the guide on the side, but even that seemingly wise statement still focuses on the teacher. At the 2018 CNIE conference in Sudbury, Dean Shareski suggested that the role of the teacher had shifted even more: a teacher should be “a meddler in the middle.” But in the middle of what or between whom? And where are the students in all this? We can assume somewhere, but apparently without a role in shaping the new paradigm (or even explicitly participating in it).

Educating, in my conception, goes deeper than teaching. It opposes the surfaceness of teaching with a desire to push further. It’s not about learning for a test, it’s about learning for something that lasts longer. Life, for example. 

And educating - or rather, education - invites collaboration. As educators, we invite the participation and input of students. We don’t teach at them; we learn and explore with them, we create conditions where they learn through active engagement and not passive absorption. What I especially like about the idea of being an educator in the context of higher education is that it does not divide our professional lives into teaching and research. Instead of perpetuating that ridiculous antagonism, which only serves to alienate universities from society, educating encourages us to approach holistically the acquisition and transmission of knowledge. 

We need educating professors – scholars who are dedicated to educating a generation able and willing to transform our society for the better.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I take education very seriously. The trend of hiving teaching off, separating it from inquiry and scholarship, is destructive. It reduces what we do in our college and university classrooms to a transactional process that can actually endanger the development of a new generation of citizens. As I wrote in The Globe and Mail, “we don’t need teaching professors, we need educating professors – scholars who are dedicated to educating a generation able and willing to transform our society for the better.” Being an educator is much more demanding than being a teacher - it requires commitment to knowledge and inquiry, a desire to improve society, a willingness to buck the trend of compartmentalizing the scholarly activities in higher education, and an openness to involving students meaningfully in these processes.

It might be for these reasons that the anatomy of the 21st-century educator, originally developed by Simon Bates and now the framework of eCampusOntario’s Ontario Extend program, intrigues me. While I might dislike the emphasis on developing the educator’s skills, I endorse the notion that educators do many things beyond teaching. Instructors in higher education who see themselves in this broader perspective, who want their students to become meaningful contributors to their societies, are educators, not teachers. I want to be one of those educators.

This is the ninth of my nine contributions to the eCampusOntario 9x9x25 challenge.