Being an inspiring teacher is something most – if not all – teachers hope to achieve. And we really do mean if not all. In 2018 an Australian study called Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) revealed that 88% of Australian teachers believed that the advantages of being a teacher far outweighed the disadvantages.

Only schools in places like Canada (90%) and Finland (92%) scored higher, and most of these teachers (83%) stated that if given the choice they’d be a teacher all over again. And a large component of that is the knowledge that they are setting up young minds for a great future, being an inspiration to or encouraging inspiration in their students.

Teaching Evolves Over Time

But being an inspiring teacher today is not what it used to be. A hundred years ago, one of the primary jobs of teaching was discipline, now that has been replaced with fostering creativity. Many schools used to involve the national religion heavily in their education, now it is often an optional subject – if it’s present at all – and more than one religion is often considered within school grounds. In the past curriculums were strict, rigid beasts, and the teacher was expected to only go as far as the curriculum allowed and no further (although expectations and reality were rarely the same thing).

Now? Teachers are often expected to go above and beyond as a default, with not only the workload increasing of traditional work hours, but expectations on how teachers interact with, encourage and consider factors across the vast plethora of student wants and needs has changed too. And all of that is before you mention the changing landscape of what schools are and what they’re meant to achieve.

Once upon a time school was about general education, but as industries have changed and the job market has become more specialized across the board, the needs of students have led to more bespoke pathways to educational success. Overall, these are generally good things – and being an inspiring teacher slots right into that! – but it stands to reason that what drove teachers to teach in the past, what the goals of teaching were, and what it means to be an inspiring teacher has changed over the decades and centuries.

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Not only that, but the whole world has arguably seen more change in the past two decades than it has across the entire previous two centuries (Teachers, do a fact-check or two on that one). And that change and how to fit into it is what we’re going to talk about now.

Because Here’s the Thing About the Modern World…

…The world is changing. All over again. If you’re a teacher right now you’ve experienced it already. Aside from the high workloads, Covid was a big deal and really highlighted a bunch of things about what it means to be a teacher in the modern age. Remote learning is a viable part of our education system now.

Students have access to YouTube, Wikipedia and software like ChatGPT to assist (or when used in a certain way they can even be used, however dubiously, as an alternative to) conventional learning. The terror of misinformation and proliferation of conspiracy is a hurdle teachers need to be able to handle, and thanks to the proliferation of all of these at every level of education, teachers of the future are going to have to deal with students who are growing up in those environments, but positively and negatively!

So, how to deal with that? Well, the short answer is, learn about it. Get on YouTube. Get on Wikipedia. Try out AI software. See how these things can be used and what they look like. Expose yourself to these tools that could be an ally or enemy. If you’re a teacher right now, ask your students what they use and immerse yourself in it for a bit – call it experimental research. See what these tools have to offer, and see what you need to learn in order to guide your students safely towards, or responsibly away from them.

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The Balancing Act

Wait, that doesn’t sound very inspiring, does it? Well, actually, it is. Fundamentally, you’re an authority. You will inspire students positively or negatively, and the more you know and the more in touch you are the more likely you are to inspire them positively – in the directions you want for them – rather than negatively. Because one of the things that has changed is the nature of your authority.

In the past, students would spend several hours every day with you. But now? They might functionally spend more hours a day with a YouTuber or online gamer with whom they are more passionately engaged and who they treat as a greater authority than you – and sometimes, though rarely, they’re right!

Many high profile academics have streams and podcasts and students will often listen to experts in the field over someone they perceive to be a generalist. However, the opposite can also be true, and this shifting to perceived alternative authorities can lead to developing minds being swayed into problematic ideologies or agenda-based modes of thought. In order to be an inspiring teacher, you need to know and understand how you fit into all this. And that, weirdly, brings us back to remote education.

The Truth about Online and Remote Education

Look, statistics on the impact of Covid-19 on education are not positive, and preliminary studies have yielded results from across all ages. There have been some significant negatives from the disruptive schedules, to suddenly adjusting learning styles, to simply the fundamental psychological differences between home and being at school. But here’s the thing, that system of education? It’s not going anywhere, and it’s important that you as a teacher are familiar with it, and can work with its strengths.

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The best way to be familiar with it? To be a student in that environment yourself. This is where doing a course like a master of education online can be super helpful. It’s not just about the content of education, it’s about the method of education as well, learning what does and doesn’t work for you, and learning what may or may not work for your students.

But remember, there’s a huge difference between you and your students! You are learning all of this for the first time, but them? They grew up with it, and are growing up with it. This means sometimes they’re going to be the expert in your classroom – and they’ll know it.

So what does all that mean about being inspiring?

The fact is, being an inspiring teacher means being as much a peer as an authority. Your students have teachers other than you, and the learning environment is constantly changing. Keeping up to speed with students will often mean asking your students and working with them to learn how best to teach them – and often that will make you a peer or a tutor rather than a lecturer. Learning these new styles of education is going to be critical, and with it comes new ways of inspiring your students.