Why Are Teachers Expected to Reinvent the Wheel Everyday?

11/05/2013 07:17 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Jay Kimmelman Co-Founder and CEO, Bridge International Academies

One of the great benefits of living in the 21st century is the ability to learn from the past 20 centuries. From medicine to manufacturing, we are able to improve upon prior experiences, establish best-in-class practices, and crowd-source ideas that create efficiencies, raise quality, and lower cost of work. This is true for nearly every profession, except for teaching.

Every day, in classrooms across the world, teachers are sitting alone thinking through what they need to teach, the best examples to use, the pace they should take, and more. This planning is only one part of their job. Placed in classrooms with anywhere between 30 and 100 students, with minimal prior leadership experience and little-to-no collaboration, teachers are then expected to not only teach the academic concepts they've prepared lessons for, but also to instill various cultural values and behaviors in their students as well.

For years, the world has followed this teacher-centric model to a nearly fetishized degree. Why don't we want our teachers sharing their ideas and standardizing the best way to teach any given subject, be it letter recognition, fractions, or applied physics? Why don't we want to support our teachers and provide them with the tools to ensure they succeed?

One of the things that Bridge International Academies, the world's largest chain of low-cost nursery and primary schools, seeks to do is to standardize the very best ways to teach specific ideas, relieving some of the pressure placed on teachers. Bridge does this through scripted instruction. A large team of "Master Teachers" based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Nairobi, Kenya plans every single lesson taught at every single class in Bridge's 214 academies, across ten grades. These interactive lessons include what a teacher should say and do during any given lesson as well as which books and learning tools to use, and how frequently to call on students and/or have them work in groups. At Bridge, these scripted lessons are delivered through data-enabled tablets, which also record student attendance, student assessment scores, and lesson pacing - allowing Bridge to conduct nearly real time evaluations and refine lessons accordingly.

Khan Academy is another organization that has developed a standardized approach to education thanks to technology. The website contains an extensive library of content including videos, assessments, and performance tracking tools for subjects as varied as mathematics, American civics, art history, and cosmology. Originally designed for self-learners, Khan Academy is now being used successfully in classrooms across California.

Both companies leverage master teachers to standardize world-class instruction, placing the focus on the student and their continued growth assessment, and providing a lesson-to-lesson, grade-to-grade continuum unmatched in other educational systems. Bridge has seen its students scoring up to 205% higher than their peers in neighboring schools in key performance indicators, such as reading fluency. Likewise, Khan Academy is credited with driving renewed use of centrally produced content, relieving an individual teacher's burden to produce such content, while at the same time enabling the student to engage with rich and complicated content that may have been out of the individual teacher's capacity to deliver.

At Bridge, I've never met a teacher that doesn't love what centrally deployed, fully prepared lessons do for them. Teachers feel incredibly supported, prepared, and energized every day. They're happy that they can focus their energy on the reason they became teachers: monitoring and mentoring every child's individual growth, as both learners and citizens. Why shouldn't more teachers benefit from the work of the millions of teachers that have come before then? Why should teachers be expected to reinvent the wheel everyday, when that is not required of almost any other profession?