Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 20 | GCTC

Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 20

by Dr. Kerri McKenna - February 16, 2021

All faculty have a choice to make about what they believe is their role in the classroom. They need to decide how they believe an educator should function. It is a simple choice, really. Yet, it is one many of us struggle with as we challenge the choice with what-if scenarios.

Yet, I would challenge the belief that there are even what-if scenarios. Instead, I would pose this question: is your what-if scenario about you or your students? Is it about who your students are when they come into your classroom, or is it about your internal struggle with who you WANT to be in the classroom versus who you really ARE in the classroom? Are you being honest with yourself and who you want to be in the classroom?

It’s ok to put down our defenses and be raw and honest with ourselves and how we view our classrooms. The only way we can grow and become better is if we step out of our version of what we THINK the world expects of us as educators and come into our own and take control of our choices.

Decide. What is your answer to this simple question: Do you believe your role is to serve as a gatekeeper or as someone who opens doors?

Embracing the Gatekeepers

A gatekeeper serves a unique function in academics. Gatekeepers work under a belief system that students need to prove that they belong in academia. Students prove themselves worthy of academics by scoring well on entrance tests, national exams, course exams, and writing papers. Sometimes, colleges even set themselves up with structural components for gatekeeping. This can be done by having one course be incredibly rigorous to “weed out” the weak, or by having multiple pre-requisites before a student can get to a course.

I know the belief that being a gatekeeper is somehow inherently counterproductive to education, but they are not inherently bad. Gatekeepers have high standards and often push students further than they ever thought they could go. Gatekeepers are incredibly knowledgeable of their content and have much to offer their students. They should be applauded for their skills and intellect.

It is when the gatekeeper becomes corrupted in their thinking that problems can arise. When a gatekeeper sees him or herself as superior to their students, instead of more experienced and knowledgeable in their academic journey, that problems arise. When a gatekeeper thinks they have reached the pinnacle of their own career, they forget that achieving a degree is not their career. The degree is simply one peak in a long chain of mountains.

Their career is tasked with being a lifelong learner who continues to learn, grow, and evolve as an educator so they model for their students the value of education and self-growth.

Gatekeepers are at the top of their academic field, but in the world of academia, does that also mean they are at the top of their field as an educator? Especially when they reside in a teaching college?

The most successful gatekeepers ask one important question: how can I share my knowledge and experience the most effective way possible with my students? And then, they seek those answers by engaging in every opportunity awarded to them. They continue to grow and develop and evolve with our changing student face. They learn about the mindset of their students, their characteristics, current teaching practices, and refuse to believe “just because this is how I learned...they should learn the same way”.

Embracing the Door Openers

The door openers are different. The door openers help students walk into the world of higher education with a hand outstretched from the first moment a class starts. They see their role as someone who will help students find their place in academia. They look at education as a place they received assistance with by a beloved mentor and want to provide the same for one of their own students.

And, just like gatekeepers, door openers also have their own unique challenges. Often, they are perceived as being “too easy” and that their classes are not rigorous because students play “games” and work in groups all the time. However, this is not always the case, though it can become this way if a door opener overcompensates for student challenges.

The door openers value the relationships they build with their students. Additionally, they also value their education and ability to learn information. They do their best to help students merge learning with relationships, as learning is not often an idea which can be done alone. We learn best when we are working with others to solve problems. Additionally, this model assists with students being able to practice their employability skills by working in teams to reach a common goal.

Unfortunately, door openers can sometimes fall victim to being too kind. They tend to be more flexible with students and some students take advantage of their generosity. They will ask for extensions on assignments, not always listen to directions, and seek personal favors. When this happens, door openers can become frustrated, wonder where they have failed their students, and feel like they are not holding students to the highest levels of academic rigor.

The most successful door openers find a way to balance their understanding while maintaining rigor through set, specific summative assignments which must show mastery. To aid in this process, the door opener provides a game plan to their students to make sure they reach mastery. Many times, concepts and ideas are broken down and reviewed multiple times and in various ways, which often lead students to do well on assessments. When student performance is consistently high, it is recommended that door openers meet with their peers to review student submissions and recalibrate expectations, if needed. Additionally, they should review analytics in terms of assignment consistency from one semester to the next.

For any institution of Higher Education to function productively, their needs to be mixture of the two types of educators. A college excels when the two groups come together to share their strengths with each other to grow, learn, and improve.