It would be fashionable of me to claim the old roles of “teacher and learner” are giving way to trendy and far less didactic roles of “facilitator and collaborator”, but I suspect that in effective classrooms the roles have been intertwined for decades, if not centuries. The Socratic Method has been applied to learning environments for several millennia, the dialectic it creates forming an essential cornerstone of many effective group learning situations. That is to say, conversation and collaboration among both teachers and learners as equal partners in the learning process is not a new concept.
For the sake of this reflection, let’s assume (and perhaps safely) that in many school systems the roles of teachers and learners are still what we would consider to be traditional roles of “master and apprentice”. In other words, the teacher is a knowledgeable veteran, well experienced in the ways of both educating minds and imparting knowledge through lecture, work, projects, etc. The learners in this scenario are seen as inexperienced, in need of tutelage, and often are given tasks to prove how much, or how little, they have learned from their teacher. In these roles, the teacher serves as an unquestionable authority, and in many ways is the living embodiment that the learners are trying to emulate.
Looking at the evolving roles of teachers and learners, the current trend appears to be one in which the teacher role is seen as a guide or facilitator. Teachers still set early learning goals, but are increasingly aware and encouraging of learners setting and achieving their own goals. Learners are seen more as equals in the sense that each and every learner has the potential to be a teacher or leader, and must be presented with the right tools, or engaged with appropriate materials and experiences, so that each and every learner can discover how much they have to learn from themselves. Both learners and teachers are encouraged to see the world as problems or puzzles to be solved together, each playing an important role in the solution.
Where does this leave me and my thoughts then? As mentioned, it would be popular of me to agree with current ideology regarding the roles of teachers and learners. But it doesn’t capture how I feel completely. Nor does the more traditional description of master and apprentice. Not to have it both ways, but my thoughts linger on the idea of teachers and learners as partners, almost friends; individuals tied together with common goals and ambitions, yet experienced in ways that compliment the problem-solving tasks they will encounter together. Teachers however, will still have times when they are expected to lead based on the knowledge gained from their life’s experiences. Learners should still have experiences in which they are tested. However, more opportunities should occur for both to switch roles, or take on shared responsibilities (setting learning goals, creating individualized assessments, etc.) in which they are dependent on one another. Not quite friends, but more than colleagues.