The first Tuesday of May is National Teacher Day, a factoid once known mostly by pedants and calendar completist, but thanks to Google's doodle celebrating the day of appreciation, the word may be getting out.
Too bad they botched it.
Google Doodles have a long history of controversy, which says something about the company's brand and influence. The company has long insisted that the doodles are apolitical -- meant for fun and a way for staffers to express their passions. This may be true but being featured as a doodle is no small thing.
Literally. According to internet live stats, Google processes about 40,000 searches a second, or about 3.5 billion searches a day.
Even if you discount the people who won't see a particular doodle (Google varies them by nation), the number of impressions (or times Google shows it to a person) is huge.
An "A" in Good Intentions
So many, many people will see the doodle, and isn't that a good thing? Aren't teachers worthy of praise? Besides, how controversial could a teacher appreciation doodle really be?
Because this is the Internet, I'm not ready to discount the likelihood that someone, somewhere will find a way to make it controversial, but the doodle itself isn't particularly inviting of controversy; we're not talking Pepsi-level tone deafness.
Rather, it is skillfully designed if not somewhat banal and obvious. And therein lies the rub.
Google needs to create an image that catches the user's eye while conveying the idea pictorially. This means it has to be simple to understand. Enter the visual shorthand.
To wit, the doodle features six figures in front of a screen that flips through representations of various math and science subjects. The largest figure is the teacher. We know this because... well... it's teaching. Or at least teaching in the way we generally think about teaching.
Notice that it's much larger than the other figures (teachers work with children!); it has a book and glasses (teachers are academics!). And, most importantly, it has a pointer and half open mouth (teachers love pontificating on important things.)
Break the Stereotype
None of these things are necessarily slams, but they SHOULD NOT BE shorthand for "teacher," especially the pontificator in chief. That they are says much about our profession and how people think of it... the sage on the stage, the professor spouting knowledge like a font.
It is exactly the kind of thing Maria Montessori warned against when she talked about treating children as though they were empty vessels to be filled. That was nearly a century ago. The image - and practice - persists.
Owning Our Narrative
Ultimately, this isn't Google's fault. They wanted to celebrate educators. Rather, the fault is ours as educators. We own it.
We have to flip the narrative so that when people think of teaching, they imagine a place dominated by students. The teacher guides, watches, helps, supports. But he does not only or always teach.
Sometimes, the students teach; sometimes, the teacher learns. But always it is done collaboratively, with the emphasis on the learner's journey, not the teacher's knowledge.
This is the image we want to come to mind when people think of teaching. Teachable moments come in many forms. Google is creating one. Let's take the lesson to heart.