Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Teaching, Technology, and Having Fun

Last week I participated in a conversation of dedicated, veteran teachers and administrators that collectively held that something has sucked all the fun out of teaching. This assertion arose out of a discussion that was intended to brainstorm ideas for the direction of our district-wide professional development. Our district has been developing personal learning circles (plc’s) over the past year. It was suggested that in order to work together effectively in a professional manner, it was important that teachers built personal relationships as a foundation. That’s when teachers pointed out that there is very little time to build these personal relationships.

Teachers reminisced about the days where staff spent time together during the day in faculty dining rooms, faculty lounges, in department work areas, and in each other’s classrooms. Outside of school, teachers socialized and hosted dinner parties on the weekends. Teachers knew each other personally as well as professionally. There was consensus that something has changed over the past decade.

Teachers stay in their rooms. If you don’t have lunch alone in your room, it’s usually with the same 2 or 3 people every day. Some just skip lunch all together. Administrators aren’t available as they are required to be at meeting after meeting.

Demands on our time seem to be at an all time high. The conversation suggested several precipitators to stress (in no particular order).

1. Standardized Testing: Schools are craving data and it seems teachers wanted data to support new initiatives and other changes in instruction. However, this emphasis on data has put pressure on test performance which in turn puts pressure on the teachers and students. Yes, we increased % passing on a standardized test by 2.0%. Was it worth it?

2. Space: What were once common areas are now classrooms. Everyone seems on their own during prep periods. Find an empty classroom, find a cubicle in the library, and if you are lucky ... an open computer.

3. Personal Family Time: Demands on the family and our time after the school day have increased to the point where getting school work done at home is difficult at best. Once all evening obligations are met, we are too tired to grade that essay or create that new innovative lesson plan.

4. Technology: Many teachers are feeling a sense that they are falling farther and farther behind the world of technology. People like me keep asking if they heard of Second Life or Second Brain and look at me like I am crazy reminding me they don’t have a spare minute in their first life. They do seem more interested in having a second brain, however.

5. Email: All of us want email to stop…at least for a day. We proposed having No Email Fridays! Several teachers described 100+ email days on a regular basis. None of us have a secretary to sort, sift, and edit. Parents believe they have instant access. Co-workers feel offended if we don’t get back in a timely manner. And if we forgot to put the smiley face with our sarcastic comment….look out! Some of us admitted to emailing the person across the hall.

6. Need for Efficiency: There is so much to do. Beyond the daily routines of lesson planning, teaching, and grading there are faculty meetings, department meetings, CSE meetings, lead teacher meetings, and counselor/parent meetings. On top of that email must be returned, technology must be learned, progress reports (now every 5 weeks) must be updated, personal learning networks created and maintained, professional development to keep up, and extracurricular activities to advise. And did I mention trying to be available to build relationships with kids outside of the classroom setting?

These thoughts lead me to ask several questions. Please feel free to comment on any or all of these questions.

a. Is the feeling that the fun has been sucked out of the work of education felt across the state of New York or across the country?

b. Given the perceptions in our district, how do we strike the balance between demands on our time and maintaining our sanity?

c. Where does technology fit into this equation? Will those who fall behind just slowly move out of the profession?

d. Do we need dramatic change to the current educational delivery model as recently suggested by this ASCD article and bloggers like Will Richardson?


websterbill said...

Two quick thoughts - When Schroeder was a Junior High, we actually ate as a group in the faculty dining room opposite the gym. You actually pushed a tray along a lunch line set up just for the staff. When budget cutbacks eliminated the faculty lunch workers, the room became empty and people began to eat in their rooms and work at the same time. While I see the need for budget watching, I doubt that anyone foresaw the impact that eliminating a separate food line for the staff would create. Secondly and perhaps less important, eliminating smoking within the schools in NYS actually eliminated some of the socializing that occurred in the building. The faculty smoking room was an amazing experience. I don't miss that interaction but from a historical standpoint both of these changes certainly make PLCing harder to ramp up.

Dave Waltman said...

I'd like to add something to this list. Actually 2 things...1)Internet on the teacher's desk and 2) Block Scheduling.

I had some discussions on this post with some other teachers. They suggested that having internet access can be very distracting and time-consuming. Secondly, block scheduling requires teachers to be very disciplined with their time. We might feel as if we have lots of time to plan and grade (especially on the two-block days)but we procrastinate and waste away time. These teachers suggested we have time to grade/plan and's just that we choose not to.

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