Should We Be More Teacher-Centered?

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I wanted to explore teacher status in different countries. Why do teachers in the US seem to be undervalued while teachers in other countries are revered? My explorations are leading me to question, once again, our enthusiasm for Student-Centered education.

There are several interesting surveys and studies conducted over the last 15 years trying to understand the perception of teachers across the world. While some studies showed that teachers observed a higher status in most Asian countries as well as Finland, another study indicated a global trend of a decrease in perceived status.

Why the Global Decrease?

Professor Rosetta Cohen suggests that as countries become more Westernized in culture and values, teacher status seems to decrease. This is perhaps because a value on individuality encourages us to reject authority figures.

Ok, so Why Do Finnish Teachers Have Status?

After becoming an independent country in 1917, leaders in Finland knew that a good educational system was going to be a major factor in their economic success. They originally developed a very rigid system with standards, inspections, and tight central control, but in the 90s moved toward creating an educational system based on trusting teachers to be highly trained professionals who could make good judgements about their classrooms.

Today, Finnish teachers go through a rigorous selection and training program akin to becoming a doctor. They learn how to use research to impact their teaching methods and while there is a national curriculum, it is used as a guide, not the final word. In other words, once teachers graduate, they are professionals who are trusted to know their field better than everyone else (much like doctors and lawyers in the US).

A Teacher-Centered Approach

In recent years, we’ve become very enamored of student-centered education. It’s never sat quite right with me as I think it puts a little too much focus on catering to every child while devaluing the need for a teacher.

Ok, pause for one second, because I’m in danger of setting up some false dichotomies here. So let me be clear; I do not in any way think that having a teacher-centered classroom precludes caring for students, paying attention to their individual needs, or letting them take on responsibility for their own learning. But I do think our rejection of the Teacher-Centered classroom is based on the view of teachers as low-skilled workers who can be replaced by the internet.

After reading about the Finnish educational system, I’m even more curious about what it would be like if we didn’t so readily expunge the word “teacher” from our preferred methodologies. If we expect teachers to be autonomous professionals responsible for making research-based choices about what their students needed, not just for guiding students through a rigid curriculum, that would be a teacher-centered classroom worthy of our teachers and our students.

As we find ways to support our students, let’s not take teachers out of the equation as a central and crucial part of a good education.

Here are some of the studies mentioned above: