Teaching done right has always been a hard job, but it is now substantially harder. Talk to any teacher and they will tell you that they are overwhelmed. Blame it on kids more distracted, on parents more demanding, on the misery of an over reliance on testing that saps creativity and judges teachers on things they cannot control, on a lack of money, on cell phones. The list is endless, personal, and the results exhausting.
If we seek not blame but instead deep cause, we will see that much of the pain teachers are now rightly feeling is due to the new digital technology, technology that has had a positive affect on most other aspects of our lives. Digital technology in the form of cell phones not only distracts students, it invades teachers’ lives, for they feel the need to answer students queries 24/7. Email which has become a primary form of communication opens the door to parent-teacher and student-teacher dialog again extending the school day and adding burdensome demands. Powerful computers now enable standardized testers to analyze data and grade teachers on student progress. Shared syllabi on common instructional platforms rigidly sequence and control teacher lessons removing any opportunity for creativity and innovation. The scope and sequence that used to weight down teacher desks collecting dust in the bottom right hand drawer are now online controlling the day.
Word processors, while making it easier for teachers to read written work, also make it easier for students to write more and to demand that teachers immediately read, respond to, and grade it. PowerPoint presentations of content are not as easily erased as chalkboards, saving class time but demanding more preparation time. And like doctors today, teachers too, feel the need to be up on the latest info available on the Web. Last year’s lecture notes just won’t do any more.
New technologies can be insidious. While as teachers we may worry about big tech issues like flipped classrooms, online assignments and tests, personalization, and the need to ensure our students have equitable tech treatment; we must also prepare for the future of blended classrooms and online courses. Digital technology has made our lives harder, much harder.
Technology is always like that. It starts out by making us work harder. It requires us to follow a learning curve. It demands we learn new ways to do old things that do not make them easier or save us time. And it is invasive, causing us to add new problems like student security to all the old problems. This is where most teachers at both K-12 and college find themselves, fighting digital technology instead of enjoying its benefits. For powerful new technologies, technologies that change our lives, require us to not just adapt our old forms, methods, and content but to rethink them. It requires us to learn to fully use technology and integrate it with what we are doing. And it requires us to imagine our role in a new way.
What can you do to make technology work for you and for your students? What can you do to make your job easier instead of harder? What can you do to prepare your students for a world you were not prepared for?