From My Side of the Desk
Teachers are the be-all, end-all for a true education, not technology
Schools could exist without technology, in fact, they did for over a century, but could schools exist without teachers who teach? In the Metro section of The Washington Post (7/16/2012), Jay Mathews earned a warm spot in my heart with his column Technology won’t save our schools, because nothing can replace a good teacher. Thousands of teachers are probably cheering so loudly due to Mr. Mathews’ words that his ears are ringing. Yes, technology does facilitate teaching, but it alone will not educate our young people. Teachers do that.
The word pictures Mathews created with his examples of schools that utilized online read and answer programs in English and Math horrified me. Apparently, the English students would spend the class period reading material presented in an online program and answer questions. The teacher? She would sit at her desk, engrossed in work of her choosing and would check the students’ answers after they had finished that day’s computer assignment. Those students involved in a math program would complete assignments in a workbook, take a quiz and move on to another workbook. Neither teacher intellectually engaged, motivated, or inspired students. Nor did they address any questions or concerns the learners might have had.
His examples reminded me of a segment from the satiric 1984 movie, Teachers. One instructor at the high school, nicknamed Ditto, had his room arranged in exact linear rows. Every period, students would file in, pick up Xeroxed work from a file on the teacher’s desk, sit down, robotically do the work in total silence, get up and turn the sheets in when the bell rang and then file out of the room, still in silence. Meanwhile, the teacher sat behind his desk hiding behind the newspaper that he read the whole time, never ever talking to (forget with) his students or otherwise engaging them. One day Ditto died…and wasn’t discovered for four class periods. May he rest in peace.
In both of these examples, students were regurgitating information, but were they learning? Were they given the chance to explore the texts for deeper understanding Were they allowed to analyze the complexities of the information set before them, sharpening their critical thinking skills as they worked through the material? Inquiring minds want to know. Unfortunately the answers to these questions are, “No, no and no.” Students were merely churning out answers for objective-based assessments. They were learning how to take a test. Education was not happening.
To truly become educated- to fully comprehend what they are studying- children must be asked to Read, Think, Speak, Write and Do as often as possible. They must be allowed to exhibit their understanding in lessons where teachers ask them to remember, to apply their knowledge, to analyze and evaluate the material and to synthesize all the information they gathered into an original creation. The teachers in Mathews’ examples and mine only covered the remembering aspect, and that is so very sad because those students were being deprived of an education.
Contrary to students’ moaning and groaning about having too much homework or tests being too hard, they want to learn. Oh, they might beg to be put in Mr. Modern-day Ditto’s class because he just has them complete multiple choice worksheets he posted online, or Ms. X’s class because all she does is show movies, but by February, they are smacking themselves upside their heads for taking the lazy option. Why? THEY ARE BORED, BORED, BORED. And they are angry because they feel they lost brain cells when they could have been challenged to learn complex material, to think and to write.
I know this because every year, as a culmination to my Surrounded by Satire unit, a few seniors would ask to write their original satire on just such a class that they had endured because they wanted a, “Cake class.” Now they were frustrated and angry because they wasted a year where they could have been developing thinking, reasoning, reading and writing skills that they’d need in the real world outside the halls of high school. They wanted teachers who actually taught, who engaged their minds. I never allowed them to write on those classes/teachers, though, because few teenagers could separate true satire from negative venting.
Effective teachers will not eschew technology because they realize that the SmartBoards, the online standardized test practices, the Internet and online blogs and social media sites, the audio/video apps and so many more tools are excellent supplements that will help students to advance comprehension, sharpen critical thinking and master skills. They understand that these opportunities are a means to the end, not the end itself. And they love, love, love grading software. With a few key flicks, they can finalize their grade book of 125+ students instead of spending endlessly painful hours adding up lines of assessments.
Effective teachers will spend hours and hours (even in the summer like the hundreds I have come to know and admire in online teachers groups) crafting lessons that strategically and creatively combine the use of technology with the Common Core Standards that forty-five states follow and their schools’ program of studies. Knowing that one lesson won’t address the needs of all types of learners, they take the time to fashion numerous activities. Some use various technology tools, but all are centered on active teaching, which will meet the needs of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners and which, most importantly, will engage their students intellectually. Hmm, maybe all of this work that they do (and for no pay in the summer) and how energetically they teach is why they have been asked to join Top Teacher sites. Just a thought.
Effective teachers care about their students. They freely commiserate with those upset by life’s kicks in the gut; they celebrate joys and successes; they mourn losses. I’ve never know any software that could fulfill those human needs.
Yes, Mr. Mathews, I heartily concur, a hundred times over I heartily concur, with your article: Technology won’t save our schools, because nothing can replace a good teacher.
Until next week,