Up until recently, I never thought of what I do everyday as engineering. I always felt that engineers were those highly intelligent, creative people who mastermind the things we encounter every day. Those solution-oriented folks that use mathematics, science, and their own insight to solve problems that impact a vast array of human needs. They were the engineers.
But what greater, more important engineer is there than a teacher? Don’t we create solutions that enable other humans to make meaning? Don’t we create moments of debate and wonder? Don’t we design learning? Don’t we make every other profession possible?
I think it’s fair to say that the average teacher doesn’t use differential equations or Ohms law or advanced mechanics to reach their kids. I get it. But the classroom is a complex system in which three powerful forces – content, management, and pedagogy – all interact in dynamic ways. We teachers attempt to make sense of these three forces and their relation to one another. We are critical of every moment – every thought – since each one has a momentous impact on the next. We use constraints and limitations, from learning styles to broken copy machines, to construct magical moments that alter lives.
And just like engineers, we fail. A lot. No matter how seasoned the teacher, expected learning doesn’t always happen. In fact, everything we do is trial and error. Good teachers know that the complexity of our work causes us to fail early and often.
Do I hope to imitate an actual engineer? No. Am I going to add “Learning Engineer” to my resume? Of course not. Besides, I hate titles. They clutter the real work that needs to be done.
But I know that there’s a gold standard when the term “engineer” is used. It symbolizes serious can-do thinking. What I aim for is to view teaching through the sophisticated lens of an engineer. To advocate for teachers as problem solvers whose success is contingent upon high levels of critical thinking, analysis, and creativity. To remind us that our work is inspired by discovering high leverage solutions for our classrooms – solutions that directly address a multitude of human needs.
Maybe not in the traditional sense, but, yes, teachers are engineers.