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Bonnie Laverne Bracey
Pity the poor teacher in America


Date: Tue, 6 Oct 1998 05:50:17 EDT

In a message dated 10/2/98 10:30:08 PM Eastern Daylight Time, writes:

The media has just caught on to the idea that it's not "what you've got, it's how you use it" and that professional development is the key to moving into the higher order thinking skills where technology can best support learning. We can't wait for the talk shows to get smart about us...we need to help make each other as smart as we can about our distributed knowledge.

There are seven or more degrees of separation often between those who talk about what we should do, and those who tell us as our " experts" what it is that we should do. Pity the poor teacher in America.

The public experts have loaded guns, ready to shoot down any technology initiative, because, as Todd Oppenheimer said, in NY at School Tech Expo, " we want schools as they were?" Apparently this great savant has not visited the places in urban centers where schools are as they were and then some.

Teachers serve as surrogate parents, social workers, nurses, with lots of other responsibilities. Parents seem to have given us their children. The great social initiatives are all given to the schools. Why are there no critics of this overload?

There are progressive areas of education in some urban centers. But if we go back to schools as they were that Todd Oppenheimer is talking about, I would be teaching in a segregated school with 20 year old books. I believe those kinds of statements are almost inhumane. We don't need to remember the past. Students on Indian reservations are still working to achieve education given the vagaries of that system, and each system has its own problems.In addition to that , the world has changed. The educational systems of yesterday do not fit. What may be a sadder point is that how we were taught to teach does not fit.

There is also rural America.I worked in rural areas all over the country, I often photographed one room schoolhouses, schools as they were , so I could remember that we have indeed made changes. But schools as they were , depends on where you were in school. Black schools were not the only inferior schools.

Some of us have worked in schools where the parents became a force for change, and worked as hard as we did to create a proper learning environment. Many rural areas have been able through a sense of community to create possibiliites for good education because of their distance from the big city and sense of community. One of the success stories of the CyberEd tour was a small community that got wired and created their own community infrastructure.

My old school, Ashlawn in Arlington, Va, was not one of the priviledged schools in America, but we got a DOE Blue Ribbon because we cared, because we worked hard, because there was balance and because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children we taught. The parents were our strike force. We sold things, washed cars, made projects and worked early and late. Parents were an organized funding structure. But most schools don't have this organization or funding.

Mother May I is the game!

School boards , and etc....

We ,who are the teachers are caught in the game anyway, as a part of the way in which curriculum is decided. It is a cruel game with geographic differences making the variables so scattered that it could drive a person insane if they did not learn to negotiate the new educational initiatives and teach from experience, training and knowledge gained in the profession. Some people learn to close the door on ill fitting educational schemes. And there are the people who are not educators , but who have taken the job because there is need. It is interesting to wonder how we can evaluate when there are , in so many places , people ill suited , initially for the job. Do they grow into it/ How can we measure the effectiveness of practice with such a large number of people who are new to education in some states? Do you think they get extra time for professional development? It may be a little time , a little more guidance, more but hardly what they need to learn on the job. Add to this picture , some befuddled administrators, and then some very dedicated administrators.

What a story! What a picture!What a mess! How do school board decide on the local option and know who to trust? Think about technology as the example.

Who do you trust?

At some time people may decide to quit the educational game. There are professors of education who truly KNOW education . I was told by one," Who has time to teach!"

" I am a researcher."

"I don't know why they burden me with the freshmen. It interferes with my work."

Have we looked long and hard at what is going on in schools of education or in the university system itself?

I often have this dream, that the professors who are NOT knowledgeable get to teach for more than an hour, in a difficult situation , using what they preach. But , it never happens in reality for the most part. Then to that one add the variables of existing technology. Only 15 percent of classrooms in America have the technology we are talking about. But there is no Mother May I, there is the school board, national standards, state standards,local standards and whatever testing mechanisms there are in place.That is a lot more complicated than the simple game. Most people in American won't sit through a school board meeting . It is also a sad fact that testing is but one part of the game. To win, take bright students in a class, and move forward. Not much stress on that end. Position oneself to win as there are no rewards for working with the students less suited to the learning outcomes that we desire. That's the game.

You could teach your heart out in a bad situation , and really do wonderful teaching.

Who would know/ Who cares?The whole time I was on the NII no one in the school system talked to me about technology. They turned down intiatives, and funding. What did I know? I was a "teacher". Go figure.

I taught in Germany. There were tests, but they were all the same, all over the country for the same group of students and we taught knowing that other students were pursuing the same educational goals. The public got into the debate on the testing , but all of the students were being educated toward the same thing . Tell that to the TIMMS critics and spin that in your educational tapestry of what is going on in America. Perhaps it is a blessing that we have so democratized education so that what it is , is something different everywhere. But there are down sides to the constant reinvention of school.

There is another sad fact that we often withhold , because we know that our colleagues may be affected. Many of us would be better teaching schools as they were because we do not know, we do not have the information to teach with access to the latest of information.

In a book driven curriculum even a dimwit can memorize the book and waltz through the curriculum. And my apologies to the good teachers in America but we do have some dead wood.

Who would know? Think about that? How often must we qualify , or reinvent our knowledge? How does the access to information change the job?

Another critic talks about how when he was in Berkeley, he really did not do any work, he just surfed on the computer, as if he and his experience set the model for what teachers are doing now. First of all, lots of us never heard of Berkeley, or Stanford, or if we knew about it, it was sort of like some place in a dream.A place as distant as the moon.

When I went to Berkeley and to Stanford, I very much appreciated the differences in the schools and that of the ones that I had attended, including some other wonderful colleges. How hurting this kind of dialogue is to the teachers who even now, have no connectivity, no sense of what to do when there is connectivity, and who may be only able to get technology, if, they become pioneers, or crusaders for something which is being knocked daily in the news.

It is the entree for the feast for journalists trying to make a buck. I bet they run all the way to the bank laughing.

We know that teachers spend out of pocket, and that time invested in technology is their own private time for MOST teachers. Do they think we have all gone mad? And what qualifies people who dip into the pool of learning, teaching and education, to make the insane statements that are thrust before those of us who dare to care?

Then, look for the technosavants. They have on technology running shoes, and whatever we are doing, if we are doing technology, to them is passe. As we pull on our technology running shoes, trying to learn, learning, using models, they spit back at us.. you are not running fast enough, that stuff you are working with is tooo old, or the world wide web is not suitable for learning at this time. Hello? Earth to Space.. we don't even measure the compentency of the people in teaching and learning and all of us know that the world , and the world of education has changed many times in the last decade. Sometimes doing technology work is fun gadgets, new downloads and links, but sometimes it is very frustrating. Then add the technoweenies. They know just enough to be dangerous. Sometimes they work in computer stores. Sometimes they really are geniuses, but the problem is that they cannot translate their practice to everyday classroom experiences and they really don't KNOW education at all. Sometimes they are the technical people in the school. We may get great machines but sometimes they will decide to get shareware just because it is cheap. Or they may not, do not understand technology or teaching enough to know how to choose what the software will be, or to understand the applications that are possible to make with the technology. There is no dialogue often , because these people are different. They are no longer "classroom teachers" first degrees of separation. The story goes on. I have a friend who is telling me that voice recognition will be the latest. That may be true, but when you have one internet connection in the school. Who cares?

Teachers are the real victims in this technology discussion and sadly sometimes the only way to get power is to leave the classroom. Then you don't have to be the victim.You can hit back.

Networking technology is a powerful tool to help improve education and the learning process.

Use of the Information Superhighway:

Brings the world to the classroom. No matter what their socioeconomic or ethnic background, and no matter where they live, the learning field for all students can be leveled. Students are introduced to people, places, and ideas they might otherwise not be exposed to.

Enables students to learn by doing. Research has now confirmed what many instinctively knew -- that children who are actively engaged in learning, learn more. The effects are particularly noticeable among students who were not high achievers under more traditional methods. Networked projects, where students work with others and conduct their own research and analysis, can transform students into committed and exhilarated learners.

Encourages students and parents with limited or no English skills to learn English, in order to expand their economic opportunities.

Makes parents partners in their children's education by connecting the school with homes, libraries, or other access ports.

Makes it possible for educators to teach at more than one location simultaneously. Vastly expands opportunities for students in small, remote areas to take courses on subjects that, for economic reasons, are generally available only to students in more affluent, populated, urban, and suburban areas.

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