Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Preparing the Future for Their Future

            I have been employed in education for 20 years now and I have seen many changes.  I remember my very first classroom back in 1993.  It had a chalkboard, chalk, textbooks, workbooks, and a few bulletin boards.  Those were the tools I had.  There were a few teachers that had a Mac Classic and an overhead.  Those items were considered “The Big Time” for technology. 

            In my second year of teaching I got an overhead with a roll of acetate.  I thought I was really somebody.  I got to face the students as I wrote the math problems that were projected on the screen.  It was awesome not having to turn my back on the students.  By my third year, I got one of those coveted Mac Classics.  I didn’t really utilize it.  I had never used a Mac and I didn’t really know what to do with it.  I only had one and there was no Internet connection.  In fact, I don’t even think I knew what the Internet was at that time.  Students that finished work early could go back and play Oregon Trail or Math Blaster Plus that was installed on it.

            The following year, our school installed Television sets and VCRs in every classroom.  We didn’t have to check these items out on a cart from the media center anymore.  We put in a closed circuit television system where I was asked to be in charge of broadcasting announcements each morning. I created characters and wrote skits for the announcement show to engage the students as they watched the daily announcements.  This was much better than listening to a voice of the intercom system. 

Within the next few years our school corporation bought teacher computers for every teacher.  We now were able to communicate via this thing called e-mail.  They asked us to check our email before school, at lunch, and after school just in case we had some important messages to read.  We still got paper copies of everything in our school mailboxes just in case you didn’t read your email.  Some of us purchased grade book software that tallied your grades every time you recorded a new assignment.  It sure made the end of the grading period a lot less hectic.  I didn’t have to spend hours averaging grades in my grade book anymore for report cards.

I would say that it was around this time that I got my first cell phone.  It was the size of a small brick and had an antenna that had to be pulled out to get reception.  It only made and received voice calls.  This was nice because I didn’t have to leave my classroom to make parent calls.

In 1999, I started working on my master’s degree.  In that program they issued me my very first laptop.  Our school had a few LCD projectors.  I hooked my laptop up to one of the LCD projectors because no one else wanted to use the projectors.  I then began putting my daily lessons together with sounds and graphics using Microsoft’s PowerPoint.  My students absolutely loved it!  They couldn’t wait until the next slide to see what sound was going to be made or how the text was going to fly in and out of the screen.

It wasn’t long and we were installing SMART and Promethean Boards.  This took the place of the LCD projectors.  We could draw and click with the pens that came with the boards.  They were interactive with your computer and students could come to the board and work a math problem or click on a website.  How cool was that?

In 2011 I became an eLearning coach for my school district.  I provide professional development for teachers in four different schools to help them implement our 1:1 initiative.  Today, every student in 6th through 12th grade has a netbook with wireless Internet access.  Every teacher has a Promethean board hooked to a computer with Internet access.   We have software that keeps our attendance, grades, behavior reports, email messages, etc.…  Most teachers and students now have cell phones that can take pictures, record videos, hold our favorite music, allow us to watch movies, text a friend, check our multiple email accounts, help us find directions in an unfamiliar area, go to websites, play games, and I still don’t think I have even scratched the surface of what all our phones are capable of.

The fact is, we don’t live in the same world we lived in 20 years ago.  The students we are teaching have grown up in an environment with technology that didn’t even exist 20 years ago.  The way they think and learn has changed.  As educators we cannot keep teaching the same way with the same tools that we did 20 years ago.  We cannot expect students to learn and be engaged the same way they were 20 years ago. 

Do you still send messages and share pictures with friends the same way you did 20 years ago?  Chances are you do not.  There is a better way.  You can email messages instantly.  You can post a picture on a social network for family to see in seconds.  Would it be beneficial to teach students how to operate a steam train or repair VCRs in this day and age? Absolutely not!  These jobs with the exception of a museum or theme park simply do not exist anymore. 

It is our job to prepare students for their future.  The jobs they will be doing may not be the jobs that are important today.  There is a good chance the jobs don’t exist at this point.  20 years ago we didn’t need an iPhone or a Blu-ray technician.  We also didn’t need someone to create and maintain websites like Netflix to show movies on your PC or smartphone.  We didn’t need someone to design a website to sell products online from a store like Wal-Mart.  We didn’t have Ebay or social networking sites. 

What kind of careers will the world need 20 years from now?  The sky is the limit.  As educators, we have to step out of our comfort zones.  We need to equip and empower our students with 21st Century skills.  Lets teach them to use technology responsibly as a learning tool and not just a gaming device.  If we do not, then who will?

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Public's View

           Last week I presented at the Indiana Computer Educators (ICE) conference in Indianapolis, IN.  The keynote speaker for the first day of the conference was John T. Spencer.  John is currently a 6th grade ELL teacher in an urban Title I school in Phoenix, AZ.  A few colleagues and I got to sit down with John during the evening hours of the conference and talk about various topics from education to sports.  One thing John discussed with us is our society’s view of the teaching profession.  What I heard literally made my blood boil.

            Take for instance a couple of recent events.  One is the NFL referee strike and the other is the Chicago teacher strike.  Lets take a look at how the public reacted to both situations.  We didn’t really hear much about the NFL referee strike until after the first few weeks of football games.  When some questionable calls determined the outcome of several football games, the fans were screaming to get the replacement refs out!  Fans of all teams wanted a settlement.  Many dedicated fans tweeted on Twitter and posted on Facebook, “Give them what they deserve in pay, our team lost a football game because of poor officiating by the replacement refs!”  People were furious over the calls of a game.  They didn’t care about the amount of money; just give the referees what they want because their favorite football team might lose a game due to a poor call.  Some even posted and tweeted that the NFL referees are professionals that know how to do the job right. 

            Do you think the public had the same opinion about teachers and the education of America’s future?  Unfortunately it did not.  The teachers were called lazy and overpaid workers that got finished with their jobs at 3:00 and got summers off.  They were not called professionals that know how to do the job right.  That made me very sad.  I thought to myself, I got a four-year degree at a university and had to pass the National Teachers Exam to get my license to teach.  I even continued my education after six years of teaching to get my Masters in Education to learn new methods and strategies to become a better teacher.  I have to work an extra job just so that my family can take a summer vacation, but yet I am considered lazy and overpaid.  When did a call in a football game become more important than teaching a child how to read or a middle school student how to solve a real world problem on his own?  I don’t get it.   When did the public’s view of the teaching profession become so negative? 

            I would love to hear some thoughts on how you believe society has been influenced to have such a negative opinion of teachers and public education.