How Inspired Teachers Get Lost

Here is a story. I am imagining a boy or a young man – maybe a youthful scientist/isaac newton type. You know the kind. A dreamer. Twenty years old or so. He is staring up at the sky and he is wondering about the universe. He is thinking, “Where do we come from?”, “Why am I here?”, etc. And then all of the sudden: BOOM!

He has an idea.

He runs into his house and he writes the idea down frantically. He is completely inspired and he sees connections to things in his life that he never thought were possible. His life’s purpose, now, is to get this idea – the most important idea of his life – out of his head and onto a piece of paper. It is so immense, however, that he is only able to get a sliver of the idea down. It’ll have to do for now though because he needs a record of it. After all, this is the just the beginning. He will be working to realize this idea for the rest of his life.

And ten years pass.

The boy is now a man. His ideas are the things the he has now turned into the thing he spent his life studying for and working for. He has had to take breaks from dreaming because of BILLS. (God, bills! Right? Ugh). He is getting older now. He has become a teacher, because at least in teaching he can finance his life and find time to talk to his students about the things he is inspired by.

He doesn’t mind teaching. Or at least he didn’t in the beginning. The first month was horrid, but he also knew that probably was because he didn’t know what he was doing. (All jobs suck for the first month right?) Everything changed though when he made his first connection to a student. He was lecturing about the stars and all of the sudden the faucet turned on and all the amazing things he had seen in the stars when he was twenty came pouring out of him.

It was electric.

Over the years he tried to communicate about the stars again and again with his students. Sometimes it worked, but mostly, they didn’t get it.

Students need to learn specific things and those things need to be tested, so – more grades.

How could they? As a teacher he is spending most of his time constructing a world for his students that has nothing to do with the stars. A culturally agreed upon definition of education that we tend to call “school”. Students need grades. Grades need worth so we tie the grades to the student’s ability to prosper in life, which makes students neurotic messes (at least the ones who buy into a grade’s worth).

Sometimes he puts on a movie for his students because there are always so many of them, and he likes that because it is quiet in his classroom. For once. (They are as happy about it as he is.)

When he looks up at the sky now, he sort of remembers what it was like to be inspired.

Why Not Make The Connections?

Sounds like a tragic story right? I think it sounds pretty terrible.

What if the story didn’t go that way? What if – during that first moment when the young man became truly inspired we had a system that could connect him to people who needed to feel that electricity. What if the electricity of enlightenment, the kind that keeps you up all night writing and creating, what if that electricity was vital to the learning process.

If point A is the young, brilliant, man with the idea and point B is the students, well why does it take so long for the electricity to get to the student?


The point is that there is a terribly long distance between the electricity of original inspiration and the student needing to be inspired. My argument is that this is more of a design flaw in the system than it is a lack of an ability, by way of the teacher, to be able to keep the inspiration alive within themselves.

But bear with me. Compare the above diagram to this one:


Now, I get that the world is really complicated. I get it. Public education is in a place where is has become an institution that is an industry employing millions of people with about 49.8 million students (just in the USA!) that need teaching.  Even I look at this second diagram and I am like “This is impossible!”. As a designer though, even knowing that while attaining the “goal” may be an impossibility, I still want to know: How impossible is it? Because even if we only were to get 60% of the way towards this goal I could see that having a drastic impact on teacher and student satisfaction with the learning process.

On of the things I know, from out of the box, is that this is just one of the goals that the American public school system is attempting to solve. The track between inspired instructor to student in need may be a top priority, but it is only one of a litany of top priorities including equitable distribution of resources, the preservation of American democracy, fair and balanced employment situations for teachers, etc. etc.

Still, I have to kind of take a step back and wonder whether or not we might want to attempt trying to fix some of these issues by focusing our entire system around becoming good at one goal. Then, maybe, attempting to see if we can expand the efforts around that one goal to fit all of the rest.If we are going to choose one goal, I’d hope it would be about connecting the people who need the most those best suited to give. At its best the American public school system was designed to facilitate the best student/teacher relationships possible. When was the last time we did that effectively? Why is this problem such a difficult one?

Especially in a world where we have Uber and Just Eat. When every other industry is uncomplicating the connections between consumer and provider, why are we making it so hard for inspired people to connect with students who need inspiration?

I mean, I guess it is just the future of the human race that we need to worry about.

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