27 June 2011

Please Try Again

Are you old enough to remember the message below---the one you heard if the phone company thought you tried to reach a disconnected number? (Sound file from here.)

This blast from my past kept rolling through my mind over the last several days.I kept feeling like what I was seeing and hearing was completely disconnected from what I hope the reality of education will be. I've been at meetings on behalf of the state since Thursday, listening to not only what others are doing, but what various vendors are providing. All of them are very passionate about what they believe and knowledgeable about a variety of programs.
  • One vendor promoted his company by remarking how schools would be able to get rid of their foreign language teachers. A colleague from another state nodded in agreement and added the idea of individualized instruction as a bonus. Is this really a plus---thinking that moving teachers out of the classroom is a good thing?
  • I heard two vendors describe how you could plop your remedial math students in front of their computer program. And that made me sad. Not only do students need teachers, I think that the struggling ones are those who need personal relationships the most...who need the very best teacher they can get. Again, is moving teachers away from students really the goal we need to be pursuing? 
  • I am amazed at the push to put tools or digital content in teachers' hands, without ever including them in the conversations. One state described a 1-to-1 initiative that was rolled out in 6 months (just in time for the school year) and then complained about the struggles to get high school math teachers to integrate netbooks into instruction. You know, maybe a graphing calculator is really okay. It's sad to see the volume of money wasted on iPads. Not that these won't be good classroom tools at some point, but they just don't seem ready yet. The content format (print, digital) doesn't make a damned bit of difference if it doesn't match standards, student needs, and instructional purposes. 
Perhaps I have officially moved into the "old fart" phase of my adult life. Or maybe it is some other sort of ennui that doesn't get the "Oooo shiny is better!" attitude that is pervasive here. Where are the discussions about what is meaningful for students and teachers? Where is the connection to other national groups and initiatives? EdTech has seen its federal support be taken away, and yet there seems to be no lesson learned from that: become relevant to and effective with what is really happening in the classroom...or die. Your call cannot be completed as dialed, EdTech.

Please try again.


Laurie Anne said...

I'm writing to you because I saw a comment you made on another blog. It was about how "middle class" schools don't HAVE to work as hard because the kids come to them so prepared. I could not agree with you more. I taught for 9 years at a "low income" school and we busted tail to make it a great place for those kids. When I had kids of my own we bought a house next to a "great" school. I've never been more saddened by the lack of educational inspiration.
For years "best practice" had been drilled into my head and when my son entered Kindergarten he experienced none of it. This was difficult as a former K teacher. I soon realized "great school" meant low free lunch rate and high test scores. The thing that killed me was that the reason the scores where high was due to the strong parent involvement (kids usually entered K with at LEAST two years of academic preschool) and high expectations at home and NOT the outstanding teaching. The running joke is that once you get hired at this school you never will want to leave because you have it so easy (smart, well behaved kids and countless parent volunteers to do all your prep work) It kills me.

Hélène said...

You are no old fart. I couldn't agree with you more and not only am I a young teacher but I teach computer science and am very attached to computing for my own use.

In education, technology for the sake of technology has a clear negative net value. I wish edtech leaders expressed more nuanced views on the role of gadgets in the classroom.

Jason said...

You have some valid points. I too, am a young teacher that agrees with all three points. Moving any teacher out of the classroom is a bad idea, foreign language included. The American society, unless born into a bilingual family needs instruction on learning another language other than English. Learning another language is important since America is a melting pot and the world is becoming a global unit. Other super powers are emerging, like China. One an everyday bases, American is importing and exporting with other countries. If the American society wants its future (children) to compete in the job market, they need to be bilingual and culturally aware. By eliminating foreign language teachers, you eliminate the fair playing ground.

"Plopping" remedial math students in front of a computer program does not make much sense to me. I am a high school math teacher and the students in a remedial math class are the ones who need the teacher the most. Technology is great and all but sometime there is no substitute.

Technology such as iPads are a great tool, however, it is very difficult to integrate them if there is no plan or professional development on how to incorporate them in the classroom. My district does the same thing. They push the use of technology and they want everyone to use technology to its full potential, such as SMART boards, Projectors, and game clickers, but we have never been given any professional development on how to use any of them to their full potential. It is left up to our discretion on how and what to do with them.

Don't worry about thinking you are an "old fart." Something just needs to be done to re-evaluate what is most important in the classroom.

Ruth Lemon said...

Starting from a different angle, I am a young teacher who is exploring ways to extend and challenge myself as a practitioner... What I aim at doing is introducing myself to new curriculum frameworks / different ways of organising teaching and learning. I started in a special character environment where the MOI (medium of instruction) was not in English... and I found when I applied to teach in the states, that my teaching experience (unless the MOI was English) was null and void.

How does this relate to your post? Teachers aren't seen as professionals, capable of selecting appropriate technologies to fit their goals. Teachers are seen as 'old farts'. What can we do to prove that we are capable of technology selection, or porting our skills? Surely a professional capable of curriculum implementation in a second language, would have an advantage?

I am a strong believer in technology as a tool. I am also a strong believer of collaborative thinking. Until all parties can have equal footing in technology projects and initiatives, $$$ / ROI / professional development / whatever you want to call it, will be in the deficit.