I keep telling myself I’m going to stop blogging, but then the theater of the absurd rears its ugly head and I can’t control myself. I was already feeling anxious about returning to the classroom after over a year of maternity leave. I would also be facing the challenge of designing my course around two entirely new textbooks. Then I was informed that the district would be equipping all incoming ninth graders with tablet computers. The thought of trying to teach a class of 30 fourteen year olds on tablets who were already obsessed with the zombie boxes filled me with a fear I haven’t experienced since my first year of teaching. In just ten years I’ve gone from chalk and overhead projector based instruction, to white boards, to Smartboards, and now individual learning devices. Don’t get me wrong, I realize I’m incredibly lucky to be in a district that invests in technology and prides itself on being “innovative.” I just wish they would invest as much in their instructors as they do in their devices.
Knowing that your best defense as a teacher is a good offense, I decided to suck it up and register for some unpaid professional development over the summer. Courses with titles like “Reimagining Teaching and Learning with Windows 8.1”, “Microsoft OneNote” and the not so subtle and Orwellianian “ThinkGATE.” I guess these titles were not titillating enough to entice any of the other 20,000 teachers in my district to drive out to the edge of the Everglades for an unpaid day of tablet training. All four of the workshops I registered for were cancelled at the last minute due to low enrollment. They only needed five people to enroll in the course and in a district with over 20,000 teachers they couldn’t even get that many.
Was I the only teacher in my county desperate enough for master plan points and a day away from my screaming children to register for unpaid professional development over the summer? Was I the only teacher paranoid that some future Ed Snowden in the back of my classroom would be hacking away at the district firewalls and all of a sudden porno noises would cause the classroom to erupt in hysterics and me to lose my job and possibly be featured on the O’Reilly Factor as the teacher that allowed her students to watch porn in the classroom on expensive tax payer funded devices? I just wanted to be able to stand in front of my class with a little confidence that I actually knew how to use this tablet thingy and I could catch them if they were up to no good. Students can sense fear like wild animals and they are ready to pounce if they feel you are weak. Gifted students especially will plot their days around trying to make their teachers look as stupid as possible. So I registered knowing that I would be uncompensated for my time, spend over fifty dollars on gas, and possibly be out hundreds on childcare if my mother in law fell through. The sad thing is that if the district were to even offer their measly $100 stipend that doesn’t even cover the cost of a decent babysitter, the courses would have been filled.
Once upon a time, in the glory days when I first started teaching in my district, there was this magnificent professional development opportunity called “Summer Heat.” Each year, right after the end of the school year, two weeks of professional development seminars were offered and you were actually paid your daily rate! You would have to wait up until midnight of the official day of registration just to get a spot they were so popular. Teachers will eagerly sign up for professional development if they are paid like professionals. The fact that the district invested enough money to equip every third and ninth grader with a tablet computer, but failed to properly invest in training the teachers who are being asked to implement this technology in their classrooms, is a major misstep. I want the tablets to be a success. I want the tablets to transform learning and improve student achievement. But I know that if you merely pass out a fancy gadget to students and teachers without any advance training, it will end up as just another million dollar boondoggle used to ridicule the waste in our public schools.
***I just read an article about Mooresville, NC which equips every 4th through 12th grader with a MacBook Air (sweet!). I really like what their Chief Technology Officer had to say, ““The point is not the box,” Scott Smith, the Mooresville district’s chief technology officer, said Tuesday, referring to the laptops and iPads. “The point is changing the teachers and the learning environment and doing what’s best for kids.”