Many attribute the quote: “With great power comes great responsibility” to Spiderman or more specifically his Uncle Ben. Stan Lee wrote the comic, and originally it showed up in a narrative caption. Actually before that, Winston Churchill said, “Where there is great power there is great responsibility…” and even before that: In 1817, member of British parliament William Lamb is recorded saying, “the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility.”
Educators have a great amount a power. By the nature of what they do, they are leaders, teachers, advisers, guides and mentors. And for the most part, teachers have a lot of freedom to determine what in the curriculum is important, what lessons to give, how much to share, and how much to leave for students to discover for themselves.
How we use the power given to us is important, and that shows up in both what we chose to do… and not to do. This is one of the most challenging aspects of being a teacher: the small choices and decisions made in a day can be, and are, influential.
What are we ‘saying’ when we:
- Let the textbook be the primary teacher? Let the laptop be the primary teacher?
- Focus on process? Focus on content?
- Ask ‘closed’ questions? Ask ‘open’ questions? Say, “No time for questions right now?”
- Give a multiple choice test? Only provide summative assessment? Tell a student they are out of time and have to hand in a test?”
- Have students help build the criteria they will be assessed on?
- Skip the activity to get through the material?
- Continually deliver different lessons the same way using the same strategies?
- Allow students to follow their interests?
- Ask students to work in groups? Ask students to work quietly?
- Don’t give constructive feedback on work?
- Don’t accept mediocre work?
This isn’t a comprehensive list, just a few of many choices that might be made by an educator on any given school day.
Today I was researching Ido Portal and I watched a video where he was talking about the importance of having a good teacher, no matter what you want to learn. He said, “I believe it is not about what you want to learn. It’s about what the teacher wants to teach you.” In the context he was sharing this, he was essentially saying that this is a good thing, that with a good teacher, you will be led somewhere you might not even know you want to go.
It is the nature of schooling that students come to school to learn a curriculum that they did not choose. Students come to class and teachers ‘deliver’ that curriculum. That is where great power is wielded.
We can help students find and follow their own passions and interests.
We can find ways to say ‘yes’ when students want to go beyond the scope of the lesson.
We can support students even when they don’t take ownership for their learning.
We can extend the learning beyond the walls of the classroom.
We can inspire great questions and the desire to find answers.
We can teach students what it means to be caring, thoughtful and kind.
We can take our students on journeys they never expected!
We have a responsibility to recognize the influence we have. We have a responsibility to acknowledge that the why, the what and the reasons why we teach will ultimately and intimately determine what kinds of lessons students learn. Teaching comes with great power and “with great power comes great responsibility”.