Anything You Can Teach, YouTube Can Teach Better: Why Being A Good Teacher Is More Than Just Content
Most of us have heard the song made famous from the Annie Get Your Gun musical. In this cute little number, a man and woman are competing to see who can do a task better than the other.
This is pretty reflective of the world and culture we currently live in. Women and men competing against each other about wage and domestic responsibilities. Athletes competing against other athletes for bragging rights and trophies. Celebrities competing against other celebrities for sold out shows or box office numbers. Students competing against other students for scholarships and highest honors.
Everyone is, seemingly, vying to be number one and in order for that to happen, one must be better than the other. And if that’s going to happen, one must be highly skilled.
YouTube has become the technological Rosetta Stone for anything that needs deciphering, from fixing a garage door to learning a skateboard trick to understanding a religion. YouTube even has something for the couple that’s trying to save their marriage and avoid divorce!
Someone out there has figured out, or believed, that they know more than someone else and has decided to share that knowledge with everyone. For free, at that (for the most part).
As educators, we are essentially competing against the world when it comes to trying to teach our students. There are people out there in different countries solving mathematical equations or diagramming sentences or explaining the Russian Revolution in ways that make it simple, easy, even fun at times. We are at a constant war to keep our kids’ attentions because we know that whatever they don’t get from us, they can (may or will) find it from somewhere else.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While we can look at YouTube, or any other technological option for learning, as an enemy, we also have the option to turn our enemy into a collaborator, once we understand that there are things we actually may not be the best at.
So, while the internet and YouTube might be able to one-up us every now and then, or more often than we like or want to admit, there’s one thing it can never truly outdo us on.
If you know anything about me, I’m a huge proponent of creating relationships with my kids. It’s not an easy thing to do and it weighs on the soul way more than I would like. However, I’ve seen the fruits of this particular labor and it’s sweet. It’s also necessary.
Being able to be a human with another human (i.e. your student) will always be more valuable than any video or learning website ever created. The internet can manufacture ways to understand polynomials or economics or how the brain works. The internet cannot manufacture empathy. It cannot create love. It cannot exhibit mercy. It cannot hold accountable.
As educators, we have one of the most invaluable responsibilities in this world: we are shaping the future. We hold an immense amount of power and influence over the way this world can possibly end up; that’s something to be proud of, humbled by.
As a student, I learned the most from teachers who cared about me as a person first. They spoke with me and made connections beyond school. They wanted to know who I was. And it was all sincere.
I was able to believe and trust what they were trying to teach me, what they wanted me to learn. I wanted to be that person they saw and believed in, the one they invested that time into.
After speaking with my current and former kids, the big thing they wanted their teachers to know was that they were people. Sure, they’re students and they’re in school to learn (or because the law says they have to be, if we’re just allowing some truth to seep in). But they’re also athletes and musicians; they’re brothers and sisters; they’re employees; they’re dreamers. They want to know that they matter to the person who they’ve been entrusted to for so many hours a day.
Our kids can go online and learn anything about the content we’re trying to teach to them and many actually do; some teachers even use various learning sites as supplements to their course and that’s cool. And yes, we are doing some pretty amazing things with machines but they will never be human, they will never be able to organically create what so many of our kids need, what they’re looking for: respect, love, someone to simply see them.
We don’t have to be bleeding hearts to sincerely ask how someone’s day is going. We don’t have to wear our souls on our sleeves to give one of our kids some space to simply breathe and/or vent when we notice they aren’t as focused as they normally are or could be.
Doing something as simple as smiling, giving a kid a high-five, or making a joke (even a corny one, trust me) can go so far. It can create the culture many schools are desperately chasing after. It can make the school, your classroom, a safe space where dreams are nurtured and humanity is preserved. Heck, it might even lift morale for everyone in the building because everyone knows that they are treasured and valued and appreciated.
Growing up, I was given so many labels that I had forgotten that underneath all the baggage and scars and misinterpretations and lost opportunities, I was just...me. I was human...just a guy trying to navigate a world too large to soak in at once but small enough to believe in its beauty.
The longer I teach, I realize I don’t want to just be an English teacher. I want to be a guy that happens to love English and writing and reading and sincere conversation and good music and better movies. I want those facets of my life to spill over into mine and the kids’ learning space. I want that because it gives kids permission to be human, to bring who THEY are into our learning space so we can all feast off the beauty that makes us all worth it all. Then they’ll leave our learning space and infect other people with their beauty and purpose. And before you know it, we’re all “sick” with humanity.
So, yeah. Anything I can teach YouTube can probably teach better. But as long as I have this one thing, this one superpower, this ability to be a human and use that to create a sincere connection that extends beyond walls and into the world, I think that’s pretty cool.