Getting People Onboard: The Challenge for the Techevangelist

Today I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. I am the team leader of a group of three teachers who have all agreed to use a common rubric to grade student essays. I have been using turnitin.com for years to grade student work. I have found the ease of use combined with the automatic features speed up the grading process and provide valuable and immediate feedback for students. I also don’t have a stack of papers to drag home with me.

I know there are advantages to paper. It’s simple. You just need something to write with and something to write on and you are set. You don’t have to worry about losing your online connection or something glitchy going wrong with technology. I get that. But in this world, we have to embrace new technologies and deal with the glitches that come with them. If we don’t, we will just find ourselves falling further and further behind both individually in our professions and globally as we set examples for our students.

I get the “back to basics” movement, I do. But I was listening to a TED talk this weekend during which the speaker echoed what I’ve been saying for years. Books will be replaced by newer and better means of communication. We have a love affair with the old, but the sooner we face the fact that the world is changing, the better off we’ll be. In the extent of human history, when has a civilization that embraced the “old ways” prospered or even survived?

To focus more specifically on the world I live in, I want to convince my peers and colleagues to use new technologies. These things can make their lives simpler, save time, save paper, and demonstrate to our students that we can use technology in meaningful ways. These experiences can go a long way to building a generation of tech savvy kids who will go on to conquer new worlds.

In our 1-1 environment at Westside HIgh School, I just think we need to be a beacon for other schools. We need to take advantage of the resources we have to show how useful and beneficial they can be.

So how do you win over the ones who don’t want to embrace the latest greatest technology? How do I build a bridge from yesterday to tomorrow?

I’m open to suggestions.

Maybe we are like machines… or…

I just had this thought today. I read a book about how we are not machines. You are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier seems to be focusing on the mistake we make as modern people to compare what we do and the way we think and behave to machinery. It is a pretty common practice when you think about it. I was watching Sherlock and he referred to his brain as his “hard drive.”

I was a bit disappointed that the writers of this show would think that Sherlock would equate his brilliance to a mere hunk of metal and magnets, but what can you do? I was also disappointed when he spent ten minutes correcting a prison inmates grammar only to misuse “who” vs. “whom” in the very next scene. Again, what can you do?

But I digress, which is something machines don’t do, yet. I say yet because I was thinking that we have the machine to human comparison backward. It isn’t that we resemble machines, but that we create machines to resemble us. We create our mechanisms in our own image. The closer we get to becoming “gods” the closer our creations will come to resemble us. That’s my deep thought for the day. So after reading the gadget book, I was on this bandwagon about separating our actions from those of machines, but now I think I like the comparison.

It isn’t dehumanizing, but rather empowering. I have the power to create something that resembles the way I work. The human comes before the machine and will always be its creator. Machines can be a metaphor for us because we created them, and we probably, either consciously or subconsciously used ourselves as blue prints for our creations.

 

Teaching “Profession”: Standing up for ourselves

I write this post because I recently attended a family funeral. Four of my immediate family members on teachers, and when we got together, we compared notes on what we had to do to get out of work to come to this funeral. My brother and sister lied and said the relative was their “uncle” so they could come. My sister only got half a day off, so she couldn’t make the luncheon after the funeral. My nephew, who is also a teacher, couldn’t come because the person who died wasn’t close enough, apparently, to merit a day off.

Here is the official policy from the United Federation of Teachers.

On the other hand, my in-laws, many of whom are not teachers, didn’t have a problem in getting off of work to attend the funeral. This single example got me thinking about the entire public education system and the myth of the Professional Educator.

As a teacher, I am constantly hearing other teachers complain about their jobs. Most of the complaints are institutional. The administration does this or doesn’t do that. They are not allowed certain liberties. Too much of their time is spent on things that don’t seem to really matter. Teachers are constantly under pressure to improve the American Education system. We’re on the front lines, in the trenches, doing the heavy lifting of trying to get students to care and succeed. But we are constantly told to do things that are counter-intuitive to our understanding of our work.

One example is the incredible world of standardized testing. I know that elementary teachers have it the worst because they are expected to test all of their students all of the time in every subject. Sometimes these teachers tell me how many days they spend preparing for and taking tests and it boggles my mind.

However, I am not writing this blog to complain about the world of standardized testing or to lay the blame of the education system on the system or administrators or any other factors. I am here to ask the question, why don’t teachers stand up for what they believe?

Whenever I hear a teacher complain, I ask them, “Why don’t you change it?” And most of them are honestly afraid of losing their jobs. My point is always that if WE ALL work together to make change, they can’t fire all of us.

If truly professional teachers make decisions in the best interest of their students and the classroom and the students are successful, then I don’t see how any sane system can punish us for that. The best administrator I ever had told me to “shut the door and teach.” He didn’t micromanage or question what I did in the classroom as long as my students performed well. This is when I felt like a true professional teacher. I made all of the decisions about my classroom. But most teachers don’t have this luxury.

I feel privileged to teach where I teach. I’m given quite a bit of freedom and as long as I uphold my end of the education bargain, I am left alone.

So the question is why don’t teachers have more power? If teachers in a given school or district worked together to promote healthy institutional change, I don’t see how they could fail.

So remember that we are professionals. We do have a say. We can make change.