Educator vs Teacher: Leadership and Self-Perception in the 21st Century Classroom

I had a rather frustrating conversation with a friend this past week.  What was presented (after the fact) as a compliment on my skills and abilities as a teacher (I was sent a link about a science related event) was, according to this person, misinterpreted by me as an insult, as I responded to their “compliment” by speaking passionately about my thoughts on being a scientist and sharing the event with my scientists in training (as it related to the article shared with me).  We argued back and forth about it for a while, with his insistence that I am a teacher first and me countering that, I am more than that with the final outcome being him wondering why I would “demote” myself to scientist and me wondering if he had any idea what the word “teacher” really meant.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation all week.  In the meantime, I had “teacher related” encounters during the week that solidified my thinking on people not really understanding what a teacher really is… as compared to something “higher”.  We’re all teachers, but not all of us are EDUCATORS.

Random House Dictionary defines teacher as a person who teaches or instructs, especially as profession; instructor.”  Simple enough definition: someone who “imparts knowledge.”  Someone who stands before a class full of students and gives a lesson. In one way or another, everyone on the planet is, by this definition, a teacher.  The same dictionary defines educator as a person or thing that educates, especially teacher, principal, or other person involved in planning or directing education.”  This is slightly more: someone who is qualified to develop and hone the powers and abilities of a person BY teaching. Someone who guides and mentors students as they learn.

So what is it, exactly that separates teachers from educators?  The terms that stick out for me in the definitions are “instructs” and “planning or directing”. Notice active vs inactive use of the verbs.  If you teach, nothing more needs to be said there. If you don’t teach, a good analogy would be the “teacher” who sits at their desk all day while kids do worksheets or who stands at their podium and drones on and on for an hours versus the “educator” who wanders around the room, like a gracious host or hostess, making sure students discover educational truths while interacting with each other and within themselves and loving every minute of the experience.

I belong to several education related groups on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  Some are very focused in their purpose and professionalism.  The people in them are educators, looking to work together to plan and direct their personal learning so they become better INSTRUCTORS. I have learned so much from them. Other groups are a bunch of people in the same profession, banded together for the purpose of being able to say, I teach, how about you? Those groups are on my short list to leave by the end of the month if I don’t get more positive, professional interactions from them.

There was a time in America, when people who taught professionally were revered; we were the ones people knew they could come to for assistance, guidance and learning.  The erosion of this reverence has its roots in how those who “teach” treat their students and themselves vs. those to “educate” treat their students and themselves.  Being an educator means you step up and say to the world, I am a leader in my profession; I educate myself so I am better able to educate my students.  I don’t see myself as merely the “sage on the stage”, with knowledge to impart to my captive audience, but as an equal learner in the process of gaining knowledge about OUR world.  With that said, how can one say to me, “I call you teacher and you demote yourself to scientist” (lol) as my friend did.  It happens because that person doesn’t see the leader in me.  I will be correcting that blindness.

In fact, it is time we ALL correct that blindness.  Start with yourself:  how do you see yourself?  Are you a teacher or an educator?   We, as educators, are treated as we are by parents, students, administrators, the community, because they are blind to our “planned and directed” focus on education.  They can’t help it; they were taught by “teachers” in the 20th century, who simply “imparted knowledge” and think, sadly, that’s all that’s necessary.

Our battle cry in the 21st century (and beyond), is to SHOW the world we do more than impart knowledge; that we are as actively involved in the process of learning as we hope our students are.  We are more than willing to be models for ANYONE who chooses to be self directed in their learning.  We happily LEAD the way. We are educators after all, aren’t we?

How do those around you see you:  are you the teacher or the educator?