Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?

Bridge
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The ability to engage our students with technology, devices and apps, in the classroom is undeniable. Witnessing students who are engaged in activities that are only available in a technology environment can be inspiring. Students who are collaborating on a group essay, in real-time, with a student that is presently sick at home- was once thought to be impossible. So what could possibly be “Dangerous” about the current and future environments of our classrooms?

America’s development of our educational system has been one that continually adapts to deliver the vision that everyone is entitled to an equal education. From urban to rural educational systems, and everything in between, there are legal battles to ensure that our youth is grounded on equal footings to make the most out of themselves- no matter what their background and where they grow up. While we have succeeded in many areas to level the playing field, it is common knowledge that there continues to exist a gap in education when it comes to wealth.

As we look to technology and the World Wide Web to provide content and information to anyone, anyplace- we must be conscious that while the claims of opening the playing field and bringing global competition may be true, this playing field is only open to those who can afford the equipment to play. Comparing the sporting world to the educational classrooms, one can clearly see the danger I am referring to.

When you look at the sporting events that are truly open- Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer- one can clearly see (just drive by your local fields/parks) that any child can afford to participate in these sports by simply getting equipment, make shift equipment if needed, and a group of kids. in comparison, select sports are still exclusive and not truly open to all- Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, and Hockey. Whether a need of wealth for equipment, access to playing surface, or both: these sports are predominantly participated by players who have access to the funds to do so.

The same can be said when we compare technology in the classroom. Walk into the classroom of an affluent neighborhood, and you are almost guaranteed to see some form of a 1:1 environment. Can we say the same if we are to tour our urban area schools? Where are we likely to experience a Google Expeditions lesson taking place? While the message being sent is to open up experiences for those who normally couldn’t afford it, is this the experience being delivered? Which environment can afford the iPhones necessary for 25-30 students in just one classroom to go on this Expedition?

While I applaud the creation of Google Expeditions, iPads, Chromebooks, GAFE, Office365, and the countless Apps that are beneficial to teachers and the classroom- I will continue to advocate for the use case where by all students are able to take advantage of these advances in technology to better themselves and the world around them! There are advantages that wealth provides, however, we must limit this divide in our classrooms. We must be attentive to providing every student the opportunity to an equal education with technology.

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I had to Apologize to My Students- Their Reaction Left Me in Tears!

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Portion of a letter given to me from a student in a partner class after learning I was leaving. Truly humbling to learn you inspire students who are not even in your class.

Almost 2 years ago, due to circumstances in education, family, and life, I made a decision to leave teaching, to walk away from my classroom.  Two weeks prior, I had to endure the task of informing my students of my decision. It’s ironic how selfish one can be in a profession that is filled with the rewards of giving. My profession, for the first time in 15 years, started feeling like a job in the weeks leading up. I had lost focus, and with it, lost the love and passion from which I thrived. It had become all about me: the hatred building up inside of me, the decision I had to make, the failure I was going to be in my students eyes. I hated that society didn’t value my profession. I hated that the Federal and State governments tried to label my students as Proficient or Non-proficient. I hated that my performance was going to be judged based upon these tests. I hated that I was a data collecting machine. I hated Summative and Formative testing. I hated those who spoke of pedagogy and rigor. I hated that my district didn’t value technology. I hated that I was reprimanded for the tangle of electrical cords when my request for replacement batteries for laptops was denied. I hated that increasing contributions to my benefits package guaranteed a continued pay cut every year. I hated that a yearly pay cut meant I could not provide for my family and left me no choice. I hated having to make that decision. I hated that I had to look my students in the eye and tell them “I am sorry, I failed you as your teacher.” In my search to excuse my feelings of failure, I had lost sight of the only opinion that truly mattered. In those weeks, I truly did fail my students, but my students never failed me.

On that dreaded day of revelation, about 30 minutes into my tear filled explanation of my decision to leave the classroom, one of my students stopped me.  She stated through her own tears, “Why do you keep saying Sorry? You did nothing wrong.” She continued by clarifying in 3 minutes what I had tried to say in 30.  She informed all that putting my 3 kids ahead of them as students was nothing to apologize about. She proceeded to lecture the class and myself that even though we only had 2 more weeks together, we should be thankful for the last 4 months of being Mr. Lowe‘s class.  With the conviction of a true leader, she requested everyone to not discuss this anymore and make the most of our last 2 weeks together.  She ended by telling me that I was more than just a teacher to this class.  She believed in everything I said including forever being one of Mr. Lowe’s kids, and my being out of the classroom was not going to change that! There have been plenty of times students had to correct me and there have been plenty of times students have inspired me, but this was just the beginning of the most inspiring 2 weeks I had ever experienced. It is inspiring to see your students put into action everything that you preach about as a teacher especially when you had just dropped a bombshell on them. “Leave your troubles at the door.” “When you enter this classroom, you enter with a promise to always do your best, even when things are at their worst.” “Are you proud of your work?” Did I ever mention these were 4th Graders?

In a true moment of students teaching the teacher, I had become that lost student needing help, disengaged due to outside circumstances. The outpouring of support came, lesson after lesson. Parents and students, past and present, went out of their way to deliver messages of inspiration and encouragement. My students were right, I had nothing to be “Sorry” about. In fact, I was grateful. I loved every minute I spent in the classroom. I loved inspiring. I loved seeing the Ah Ha moment. I loved the laughing. I loved the dancing. I loved when they made fun of me. I loved the raw emotions of crying, fear and anxiety turn to happiness, courage, and hope. I loved seeing a C student get a C+. I loved seeing BFFs form from my choice in seating. I loved the hugs of excitement and sorrow. I loved to see confidence sprout from doubt. I loved saying “I’m proud of You.” I loved getting in trouble because I fought for my students. I loved working with parents. I loved being inspired by students. I loved seeing them present their work. I loved hearing them sing. I loved welcoming them in the morning. I loved being loud in the hallway with them. I loved the high fives. I loved the down lows. I loved the April Fools pranks. I loved the egg toss and the egg drop. I loved having International Day. I loved steps of improvement no matter how small. I loved the first day, last day, and all the days in between. Most of all, I loved my students, each and every one. I would like to end by telling each and every one “I thank you for being a part of my class, my family! You played an important part in making me the teacher I was, and the person I am today! For this, I will always love you!”

Why Do Most Fail at Becoming a Teacher?

Over the last 30 years, the educational system in the US has taken a beating and along with it, the teachers.  Everyone from the President, to the local John Doe, has an opinion on how to best fix our decline when compared to nations around the world.  From the Common Core to a laptop, the answer to our problems is out there, if only those teachers would listen and change.  However, the teachers are protected by those Unions and tenure, so how are we supposed to change the status quo?  How do we get through to teachers for them to understand that we have to set higher standards for the students, set higher standards for the teachers, evaluate the students’ progress, evaluate the teachers’ progress, and recognize that standardized testing will resurrect our great educational system?  It’s simple…..We DON’T!!  Most will say that our educational system is broken. Most will say that our students today are not as educated as they were in the past.  This is simply not true.  

The biggest problem in education today is the leadership and direction it is under. Leadership that has little to no experience of what it takes to be a classroom teacher. Leadership that continues to break the most simple cardinal rule of teaching, “There is NO one-size fits all” answer!  Yet, the educational reforms continue to come down the pipeline from every new leader that takes office with the idea that he or she will be the savior for our children.  There have been changes from standards to content, yet we continue to look at our students as failures, for according to the research and data being collected, we continue to decline. 

By way of elimination, leadership has finally identified the underlying issue of our decline, the teachers.  How does the saying go?  Those who can, do…those who can’t, teach? Really?! Why is public persona of teachers so bad?  Could we be buying into the anti-teacher propaganda issued by those who initiated the failed reforms?  Why have we lost sight of what truly matters in educating a child?  It goes beyond the Common Core, NCLB, Blended Learning, Public vs Private vs Charter.  It is deeper than the subject matter being taught in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Science, and Social Studies.  It is more powerful than any data you can collect from standardized, summative and formative testing.  Yet, without listening, our leaders have inundated our teachers with a workload that takes them away from the single most important factor in educating our students.  

The best teachers have the ability to connect with a student and inspire them to learn, not just in the classroom but beyond, a life-long learner. The innate ability to recognize struggle, depression, or emptiness and counter with support, potential, and hope.  We can all claim the ability to do such things, but teachers do this with 20, 30, 40+ students in their classrooms everyday!  All while understanding the idea of failing even one student is unacceptable.  So, why do most fail at becoming a teacher? Simple….it is easier to follow another career path.  Teachers are the small percentage of those willing to take the responsibility of educating our youth, while receiving a barrage of disrespect, simply for the love of teaching.  

Through mandates and reforms, none of which were teacher driven, we now blame our teachers for failing our students, however, it is we who have failed our teachers.  The research and rigor of the new programs, reforms, and CCSS may help the educational system as a whole, but they are just duct-taping the problem.  Until we focus on supporting the needs of the teacher and the needs of each individual student, learning will only be defined by a test result.  During my time as a teacher, I was always amused at the parade of individuals who touted the “next best” idea or reform that was going to reach my students and make them successful without ever meeting them.  Did they know that Matt’s parents were getting a divorce? That Mary just lost her Grandmother, her inspiration?  That Robert was missing 40 days of school to care for his new born brother? That…….did they even care?  What made them think that spending 3 hours collecting, organizing, and relating data was more important than having a 5 minute conversation with a student?  Do they understand that my C-student’s effort to improve is better than than my A-student who doesn’t?  Labeling a 4th grader as Proficient or Not Proficient does nothing in predicting their future success.

I would argue that today’s students are smarter than any generation before them.  They are accessing and learning information at ages that are stunning.  If our educational system is failing our students, it is doing so because leadership, not teachers, has limited them to be proficient or non-proficient through a standardized test.  Our students should not be judged on a score, and our teachers should not be judged on a test.  A teacher’s job is to promote and inspire life-long learning- to relate and inspire a student to learn not just in the classroom, but more importantly at every moment possible.  To learn not because they have to, but rather because they want to!