I have been thinking lately a whole lot about what makes technology “click” with teachers.
Teaching is personal, which turns out to be a blessing and a curse. Our egos get involved, and we don’t want to look like frauds. But at the same time, “personal” means that we strive to make what we are doing for students the best it could be. It’s so hard to juggle both sides of this difficult profession; between remaining “fresh” and holding to our core philosophies to remain the kind of teacher we want to be.
We get caught up in “new” stuff that pushes our comfort zone right into a corner, where we are curled up in the fetal position, trying to figure out how to hyperlink a jump drive into a spreadsheet, or whatever the heck the tech people are trying to push on us today. Besides, where is the humanity in teaching, if we are consistently putting the students in front of screens and asking them to interact with programs and faceless applications?
Our students are facing the dichotomy as well. They go home and their world is social networking, chat roulette and texting. They come and spend 7 hours with us, and they are aware that school is very similar to the school their parents attended (unless there is a high technology thrust). They understand, better than we do, that school is not of this current world, and that they have to adapt, so they do, and try to reserve their technology for downtime or when they are bored. In fact, I have found that throwing new technology, methods and styles at students make them rather uncomfortable because it’s not the way school “is” in their developing brains.
No wonder that students have trouble finding relevancy in what they are getting at school. And, no wonder teachers get frustrated about the plugged in generation, and that we feel inadequate in the face of all students can do online.
Yet, technology is where it’s at in education; it’s not the “next big thing,” it IS education and will now be as integrated as possible. We have all heard it, some embracing it and some resisting it: it ain’t going away, and if we are going to serve our students best, we have to prepare them for life in THEIR world, not the world WE are used to. On the teacher side, we have a lot of influence, and can be the ones to intentionally offer guidance in the best ways to harness the miracles of capability. There are a few things that we can do to both help our students utilize technology to enhance their learning, and retain our philosophy and dignity in navigating unknown waters.
Baby steps. Slow down and breathe- you don’t need to conquer the Internet to use it in your teaching. Learn one tool for the year, and then try something new next year. Maybe you have never done a PowerPoint presentation in a lecture – this might be the year to try it. Maybe you would like to use Garage Band (or even learn about it) to help students do podcasts. It’s doubtful that anyone expects you to be all tech, paper-free all the time. Give yourself a break – you don’t expect students to do it all, so why should you do that to yourself? Small changes, like the addition of email for communication, or having students listen to an audio file in class, shows students that you can connect to relevancy in the world where they are fluent and comfortable.
Admit. Know that you don’t know, but they probably do. Do you know the answer to every question a student asks? Understand that just the fact that you are TRYING something new will earn you points in students’ book. Make that child who texts in class every day assist you for extra credit. In differentiation, have a student teach you how to do something that they know how to do that can help with class.
Name it, and try to get past it. Whatever your reluctance, try to figure it out. Some common fears:
· What if there’s a problem? What if the technology doesn’t work?
· What if I don’t know what I am doing?
· What if students are at different levels of proficiency in class?
· What if someone is on a website that I didn’t know about?
All of these fears are valid, but not that different from everyday teaching WITHOUT technology. You have a “bag of tricks” or a “toolbox” for just those types of situations. Your credibility is not on the line for attempting something and failing at it. You would never say that to a student, so don’t say it to yourself.
Endorse, and then Engage with (as much) Enthusiasm (as you can). Once you get your feet wet, it’s awful hard not to jump in with all of the amazing things that can be done. You already know this, but how students receive a particular activity depends much on the attitude of the teacher approach. Students will feel quite liberated if they know that their teacher is on the same experience level as they are. You don’t have to be doing a perfect cheer every time you utilize technology, but you can process and ask the students what they liked about the activity. If you consistently refer to technology in a negative light, students will understand loud and clear that there is very little connection to what they are to do at school and what they are to do in the “real world.” However, preparation for the “real world” is really what education is all about, isn’t it?
Final thoughts: don’t change everything about the way you teach in order to accommodate technology, but understand that there are other people trundling their way through merging their methodology with technology. They are trying to make it work, and they are scared too. Students will be grateful that you are attempting to connect, and you will find ways that technology MIGHT make your preparation easier and your activities more rigorous. Cut yourself some slack, for crying out loud: no one wants you to give up who you are as an educator, AND students need you to be thinking of their real-life preparation for the happy lil’ citizens they will become. Your role in that very important preparation has never been more crucial, and technology will never be able to fill that role.