Teaching is a relationship, and the first rule of relationships is that you have to show up.
Take it from a previously-divorced guy. You cannot maintain a relationship through proxies, in absentia, on autopilot, or by wearing a big, thick mask. You have to be present. You have to be honest. You have to show up.
Many teacher-reforming ideas trip over this simple truth.
Attempts to "teacher-proof" classrooms by using carefully constructed lessons and word-for-word scripting are attempts to make showing up irrelevant. Whoever shows up in the classroom, the reasoning goes, the lesson will go on exactly the same. But teacher-proofing a classroom is like husband-proofing a marriage, trying to come up with some set of rules so that it won't matter who shows up to fill the husband role, the marriage will work just fine. That's crazy talk. If the teacher doesn't really show up as a living, breathing human being, students cannot be engaged.
Likewise, I doubt the usefulness of computer-based learning. Certainly for limited amounts of drill or simple instruction, a computer screen works as well as a book. But if there is no context of a relationship to go with it, nothing happens. I can imagine a day when something might-- after all, readers enter relationships with the works that they read. But that's because the authors enter their own works as living human voices. The default in computerland is still to create an inhuman, person-free voice, and when it comes to relationship, that will always make a better barrier than a door.
I don't mean to suggest that we show up in the classroom like a raw exposed nerve or searching to have our own needs met. It is still a teacher's role to be a responsible, professional adult.
But we have to be honest. We have to be available. We have to be present. We cannot be effective with messages such as "I would be honest with you, but we have to move on with this lesson plan" or "I'm not going to be open to what you have to say because it's not on my script."
Showing up, really listening, really looking, speaking honestly-- these are all the most fundamental way we show that we care. To follow the script or the mandated pacing plan is to send the message, intentional or not, that we don't really care about our students or what is going on in our classroom.
This is the scary challenge that some teacher wanna-be's can't bring themselves to face. I remember still the moment during student teaching when I realized that I could not just keep the important parts of myself locked safely away from the classroom, only to be used when I was out of school. Not if I ever wanted to be any good. I would have to listen-- not just pretend to listen or try to construct some proper but artificial response. This is one of the reasons that we can all use the down time of summer-- it is hard to be in a classroom when you aren't sure how to be in the world.
One of the fatal flaws of almost every teacher reform program is an soul-strangling inauthenticity, a desire to have the teacher perform certain tasks almost by remote control, without actually showing up in the classroom.
But by showing up, by being our actual selves (still, mind you, grown up professionals), and by being present with our students, we actually model for them a whole approach to life. And we model courage. Because hiding behind a mask sends a message of, "Don't go out there-- it's not safe," but walking out into the world, head up, eyes wide, tells them that the world (even this little classroom corner of it) is a place where they can thrive and grow and more fully be themselves. The most fundamental thing we all teach is how to be more fully human in the world, and to do that we must be present, in a relationship with the world and the people in it.
We must show up.