How has the role of a teacher evolved?

How has the role of a teacher evolved?

Over the past three decades, Dr. Cathy Klasek’s role as a teacher has evolved in many ways.

Some are obvious, such as the advancement of technology and how schools have been able to incorporate new learning tools into their daily lessons. But Klasek said the more profound change she’s experienced as a teacher wouldn’t be noticed by taking a quick glance inside her classroom.

The biggest difference is how she views her students when showing up to work each day as an English teacher at Santa Fe South Pathways Middle College in Oklahoma City.

“We are looking at these students as whole persons so much more now,” Klasek said. “They are not just these entities that have to be filled with information and skills. That doesn’t work anymore. Successful teachers have to know much more about the students they are teaching and all that they bring to their classroom.”

Klasek brings a similar passion for educating students today that she did when she began her teaching career. The fulfillment that comes from watching a student’s growth throughout the academic year keeps Klasek excited to do it all over again, year after year.

But in order to help each student reach their full potential, Klasek said she needs to have a daily understanding of how her students are feeling that goes beyond the surface level.

“I can’t teach you if you’re busy worrying about the electricity at home, or about food, or even the argument you just had with your mom or dad,” Klasek said. “We have kids who will come in, and you can just take one look at them and know that they aren’t ready yet. They need someone to help them work through that.”

"A Safe Place to Come To"

Whether through a mentoring program at school or regular one-on-one check-ins throughout the week, Klasek said teachers must find a way to provide time for their students to express how they are feeling.

“It’s so important for students to know that they have a safe place to come to where their needs are going to be met, where an adult is going to see them, care about them, and encourage them,” Klasek said. “I think that right there is probably the biggest thing that has changed about teaching. I don’t remember getting that when I was in school.”

By considering all the different factors that impact a student’s experience in the classroom, a teacher is able to give their students a stronger sense of self and the confidence to overcome any challenges that come their way.

“It used to be mostly just straight academics that we were worried about,” Klasek said. “But you can’t learn when you’re super stressed out and you also can’t learn if you’re not engaged at all. It’s all about finding that right balance.”

Branigyn McAdoo is a junior at Pathways and the Student Council President. As she looks forward to her senior year and researches various college options, she knows she wouldn’t be in this optimistic stage of life if not for her teachers who helped guide her along the way.

“They’ve made me feel like I belong here more and that I always have someone there for me,” Branigyn said. “If I get behind, they’re going to push me to do better and get my work done. It helps me stay on top of things and feel like a part of a community here at school.”

Branigyn was in middle school when education buildings nationwide shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic and transitioned to distance learning. In the years since returning to the classroom, she’s noticed a shift in how her teachers connected with their students in more human-centered ways and believes that’s helped her peers thrive.

“Before all of that, it sometimes felt like teachers were just working to do their job,” Branigyn said. “But now it feels like they’re working for you and alongside you. They’re contributing to every part of your education and who you’re becoming. It’s not just about teaching anymore. It’s about involving themselves in your lives and making sure that you go somewhere and have a fulfilled life.”

"Teacher’s role is still the most critical"

As principal at Heath Middle School in Colorado, Dr. Dawn Krueger’s most enjoyable part of her busy day is being able to pop in and out of classrooms and watch her teachers in action. She said her school’s emphasis on teaching the whole student—supporting them academically, emotionally, and cognitively—is evident in how the lessons take place in the room.

“The teacher’s role is still the most critical in our scholar’s success, but it’s changed from being more of that ‘sage on a stage’ to more of a facilitator of the conversation,” Krueger said. “Through all of the planning that goes on before the class and knowing their students so well, teachers are able to really put the onus for learning on the students. They’re giving them opportunities for sense-making and creating a plan to overcome challenges.”

Klasek plans to keep evolving as a teacher, and finding new ways to bring out the best in each of her students.

“A few years ago, our superintendent said, ‘If you don’t fail at something this school year, then you need to consider a different career,’” Klasek said. “He wanted us to try something new, something different. And that’s what we want for our students, too.

“Education’s never going to change if we don’t try something new, and our kids deserve us to keep trying our best to help them be their best.”