Teachers not only play an important role in guiding students in academics and extracurricular activities, but teachers are also responsible for shaping the students’ future, making them better human beings. A teacher brings out the best in students and inspires them to strive for greatness. A teacher is believed to be a credible guide for the advancement of students. A teacher infuses values, knowledge, tradition, life skills, day-to-day challenges and ways to resolve them within students.  

I remember my own physics teacher. Although she was a strict disciplinarian, she was equally engaging and perfectly aligned with her students’ learning styles. She made it easy for all students to understand the subject well. She had a wide range of teaching methods in her kitty, which she used to make every student good in physics. She inculcated the right values and helped us develop analytical skills.  

Looking back, I wonder if those teaching skills of the mid 1970s are still relevant in the 21st century. Or have the essential teaching skills required to face 21st-century challenges changed? 

Some of the challenges faced by 21st century teachers are: 

  • Technology has become a great enabler and teaching aid. 
  • Learners have easy access to information of all kinds.  
  • Attention spans have narrowed. 
  • Every field is evolving rapidly. 

Consider only these four broad challenges faced by the teachers of the 21st century. To be effective they need to be tech-savvy. They need to be comfortable with technology and know how to make the best use of it. If used well technology can facilitate greater understanding of concepts and make learning faster and easier. 

With the internet and many articles published on the web, learners have access to in depth information about any subject. Teachers of the 21st century need to be able to discern valid information from incorrect information and guide the learners on the same. 

The attention span of 21st century learners has shortened. The teachers must equip themselves with skills to impart learning in bite sized modules. The modules themselves must be made interesting and interactive. Experiential learning has higher retention. The more the learner is engaged, the greater is the impact of teaching. 

There is a constant knowledge accumulation in every field of study. The teachers should know the latest development in their field of education and update themselves.  

From the student’s perspective, the attributes that separate the learners who are well prepared for the more complex work life environment from those who are not are, learning and innovation skills which include communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving. Life and career skills such as flexibility, adaptability, leadership, accountability, responsibility, initiative, social awareness, etc. form the next set of differentiators. 

The essential teaching skills required to face 21st century challenges would be to develop the competencies that ensure positive learning outcomes for students. 

These competencies are: 

  • Aligning technology and pedagogy with content to develop the ability to use technology to meet specific learning needs. 
  • Developing standards of instructions that are aligned to 21st century knowledge and skills. 
  • Having a strategic balance of direct instruction with experiential learning and project based teaching methods. 
  • Developing and implementing a range of assessment strategies to evaluate student performance on a continuous basis. 
  • Using a range of strategies to reach diverse students and to create environments that support differentiated teaching and learning 

But overarching all these competencies and irrespective of the times, a skill that has remained unchanged as the epitome of the teaching skills is the art of storytelling. A teacher needs to formulate, construct, arrange, modify and make sense of information so that it is understood as knowledge. Most impactful teachers have been those who have enthralled and captured the attention of students not just by their oratory but by making learning fun.  

My professor who taught us mechanics in the final year of civil engineering is one such great teacher. His lectures usually lasted for more than two hours and we students never even realized how the time passed. His teaching was so impactful that I don’t ever remember preparing for the mechanics of material examination but I have scored maximum marks in that subject and topped my university. 30 years after graduation I can still recollect everything I learnt in his class distinctly. 

They say that if a doctor goes wrong, one life is lost, if an engineer goes wrong, many lives are lost, but if a teacher goes wrong, a whole generation is lost. We need to stress more on the art of teaching. Today, with the world being where it is at, a teacher’s job doesn’t end at informing the students about the subject. They also need to establish the real-world impact of their subjects and move their students on a more progressive path.   

In conclusion, I would say that the most essential teaching skills required to face 21st century challenges are those skills which make the students develop an interest in the subject, ensure high retention of content and ability to make learning easy and fun. The teachers could have many tricks to achieve these results just like my physics teachers had. Every teacher can build his/ her own set of unique skill.

What are your unique skills? 

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