Monday, August 29, 2016

It's Not The Device, It's You

News flash: I don't think technology is the be-all and end-all of education. I'm sure this makes some people raise their eyebrows. I am the Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, after all. Without technology, wouldn't my job be moot?

Just because I am an advocate of using technology in the classroom doesn't immediately mean that I think all technology use is good. I don't think books and teachers should be replaced by computers and online schools.

Good education is about meeting students where they're at. To do that effectively, we need to make sure that we are using the wide variety of tools available in our toolbox. Sometimes kids need a book. Sometimes they need to write something down on paper. Sometimes they need to play a game. Sometimes they need to see a video. And sometimes they need to use a computer or the internet.

When people complain about kids being addicted to technology, it is so quick and easy to blame the technology itself. Common complaints blamed on technology:

  • Kids spend too much time on their phones/iPads/game systems/computers that they don't know how to interact socially with other people.
  • Kids don't get enough sleep because they're on their devices all night long.
  • Kids don't do as well in school because they pay more attention to their device than their homework.
  • Kids have short attention spans and need to be entertained because of everything they do online.
  • Kids can't spell or write coherently because they always use "text speak".
  • Kids suffer health issues from so much time spent staring at illuminated screens.
These are a mere sampling of complaints. But when it gets right down to it, here's the ugly truth: if theses things are happening, it is not the fault of the device; it's the fault of the parent or the adult who should be paying attention to the way the technology is being used by the child. If a child is up until 3:00 in the morning playing video games, it's not Nintendo's fault. The parents should take steps to make sure the child is in bed. If a student turns in a report littered with IMHO's and FWIW's and spellings like "wut" and "b4", that's not the phone's fault; it's the teacher's fault for not taking the time to help the child write correctly for his or her audience.

And while I'm sharing unpopular ideas, adults who can't put their phones down during dinner or act like internet trolls or compulsively post selfie after selfie -- the technology isn't at fault there, either. As adults, we are all responsible for our own behavior. It's a cop out to say, "I'm addicted to my phone."

Placing blanket blame on the technology and then deciding that the way to fix the ills that exist as a result of the abuse of the device is to simply ban the technology is utterly laughable. The technology is here to stay -- the internet isn't a fad. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and our kids' lives. The best way to make sure all that technology gets used appropriately is to model proper usage ourselves and guide our kids through using it safely, meaningfully, and effectively.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Here's a news flash: teachers are people. For some people, this is hard to believe. Teachers are mere humans like the rest of the people in this world, but they are sometimes expected to act in super-human ways. And in my opinion, sometimes that is exactly what teachers need to do -- set aside their humanity; otherwise, teachers might end up behaving unprofessionally. So here comes a rant.

Because I am human, there are times when I show up to work and I am having a really bad day. Maybe I had a fight with my husband or daughter, or maybe I'm facing a family crisis (like last fall when my father nearly lost his life due to a cardiac arrest or last winter when I had to deal with my grandfather's suicide), or maybe I dropped the gallon of milk minutes before I left the house and had to clean it up. But in the name of professionalism, I push all that humanity aside and do my job. This doesn't mean I can't tell my students or coworkers that I'm having a bad day or that I'm dealing with some really tough things in my life at home. What it means is that I don't get to take out my anger and pain and frustration on my students and coworkers. I don't get to be snippy and crabby with them. I don't get to be rude to them. Instead, I behave professionally and interact with the people at work respectfully and civilly and pleasantly, if I can muster that. Doing otherwise is unprofessional.

Because I am human, I do not like every student in my class equally. Some students I like more than others; some I actually don't like at all. But the funny thing is that they don't know that. My students don't necessarily know who I really like, and they sure don't know which ones I don't like. Showing favoritism or partiality or dislike or hostility would be unprofessional. And this can be hard because kids are perceptive little creatures. They can sniff out fake people really quickly. As a teacher, I have to set aside my humanity and behave in a super-human way in order to be professional.

Because I am human, I do not like every person I work with. Some people I consider to be really good friends; some are work acquaintances; and some are people I am stuck working with despite the fact that I don't like them or trust them or even respect them. But just like my students, those people don't know who they are. The people I have issues with are still treated with kindness and friendliness and respect. I don't get to ignore them or be short with them or blow off their email messages when they ask me for help because doing all those things would be unprofessional.

Because I work with humans, I have to deal with people who have bad days and people who don't like me. They are short with me, ignore my emails, and behave in an unprofessional way. But I don't get to respond in kind. Instead, I behave professionally and meet rudeness with kindness.

Really, being a professional requires remembering one simple thing: treat other people the way you would want to be treated. 

Monday, August 8, 2016


A couple of weeks ago I attended an incredibly motivational conference on innovative teaching and educational technology (Leyden Innovative Teaching and Learning Symposium). Not only were there high quality keynote speakers and presenters (such as Josh Stumpenhorst and Jaime Casap), but it was also limited to a maximum of 425 participants, so none of the breakout sessions was ever overcrowded. I highly recommend this conference -- it is well worth three days out of your summer vacation!

But one thing happened there that for some reason has stuck with me -- and kind of left me scratching my head. On the last day of the symposium, the keynote speaker did one of those quick little audience surveys to find out how long people had been teaching. She started out asking for first year teachers to raise their hands. If I remember correctly, there was no one who raised their hand. Then she asked for anyone who had been teaching 1 - 5 years, and there were a few hands. Then she asked for 5 - 10 years; there were a few more hands. Then 10 - 20 years, a nice number of people raised their hands. The she asked for 20 - 30 years; there were lots of hands for that group, including mine. And then something really weird happened. The people in the auditorium broke into spontaneous applause. When the speaker then asked for people who had been teaching for more than 30 years to raise their hands (and there were a few), there was more applause. Being part of a group of the receiving end of spontaneous applause like that was humbling but weird. Every day, I go to work and do my job -- and I'm not denying that it can be hard, arduous, draining work -- but I get to work with great teachers and fun students, so my time at work really is enjoyable. Having fun seems unworthy of applause. But then when I started to think of what it takes to be a teacher for more than a quarter century, I guess I can see why people would celebrate that. There is a constant state of flux in education, and to be quite honest, being a teacher doesn't always generate a whole lot of respect and admiration. So I guess I'll just be humbled and grateful that someone out there actually thinks that what I do and have done for so many years deserves a moment of applause.

But after the applause was all done and the speaker got back to her presentation, I had a thought that baffled me a bit. I realized that here, at this three day conference on innovating education, learning how to change up the way teaching and learning happens in the classroom, there were many more of the "older" teachers than the "younger" teachers. And I wondered why that was. After all, it is so often the "older" teachers who get the bad rap -- they're the ones who are stuck in their old ways of doing things; they're the ones who don't want to change. At least that's what the prevailing attitude seems to be so often. The veteran teachers are stuck in the past, the jaded ones. The fresh-faced college kids are the eager ones, the innovative ones, the hope for the future. Yet at a conference devoted fully to significantly changing the way education looks, there sure weren't very many of those fresh-faced innovators.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not naive. I know that there are PLENTY of veteran teachers who are sitting around on their tenured butts whining about "kids these days" and still using the same tests they were using 5 or 10 years ago. I also know that there are plenty of teachers out there who are new to the job and eager to change the world. But this conference isn't the first time I've run into this. A few years ago, I attended a two day workshop on grading practices presented by Rick Wormeli. My colleague and I were seated at a table with another 5 or 6 teachers from a different district. They all looked pretty young -- barely pushing 30 -- so I'm guessing they hadn't been teaching more than 5 - 7 years max. And THEY were the ones bucking everything Rick Wormeli said. THEY were the ones complaining that this was stupid and there was no need to change anything. But there sat my colleague and I -- with our years in the classroom being more than double of those young teachers -- and we were digging what Wormeli was saying.

I don't know why there is this weird divide, or if it really exists. But it sure feels like it.