The department I work in is loud. Most of the people that staff this department have been allotted a space to work in room 666 of the building. I don’t know how anyone manages to get work done in that room filled with teacher’s desks, students, and educators. I use a satellite office that is a few hallways removed from all of the chaos that is in room 341. There are only 5 of us that occupy that space and it’s a slice of heaven in the otherwise hellish building. I have been forced to utilize space in 666 for a few days because the school decided that the satellite office should be used for testing – a practice that I despise in its current state. I only needed one day back in that space to be reminded why I decided to remove myself from it at the beginning of this school year.
One cannot help but listen to the incessant ramblings of those gathered around the common area where food is exchanged along with stories and, often times, unsolicited advice. There was a discussion happening that caught my ear yesterday. It centered on a topic that I like to gain another’s perspective on. The insights from outsiders (and by outsiders, I mean people not in my head – mainly me) is something I really contemplate when I leave these conversations. What intrigues me most are the opinions of seasoned vets. These people have been teaching since I was in high school. Hell, some of them were my teachers. Anytime one of them says something that deals with the current state of their classrooms and the students that make up their rosters my ears perk up. They always go back to the year that the downfall in the caliber of student came. It’s talked about like a day of reckoning. Interestingly, they always say that 2005 was the first year they began to notice this change. This is the year after I graduated from high school.
The shift in the shared characteristics within the student pool has caused many of us to question what is happening with kids. What’s going on at home? What are they thinking? How will things turn out for them in the future? And then, there’s my ultimate question, how can I continue this job when I no longer enjoy the act of imparting knowledge?
You often hear older people make comments about how things were better years ago, and I always ask myself if I have just fallen into the pattern of comparison and diminishing. Do I have that distorted “old-foggie” syndrome that I once thought was inherent to anyone who was old (like over 50 years-old old)? To check myself and my world view, I talk to students to gauge whether or not I have aged out. There is still a connection I can make with quite a few of them. I have asked if they notice that their peers are disconnected. I even talk about specific behaviors – like mindless web browsing to find answers. I have been assured many times over that it’s not just an observation I have made with no merit. They have noticed it too. Sometimes when I make an observation about a behavior or an attitude I am bewildered by, the other students give me a stare as if they are in a trance, and then there’s that spark in their eye. They think about it and can point to friend that does the same thing or they admit to carrying themselves in the same manner I have called attention to.
Back to the discussion in room 341 at the crowded gathering grounds; the head of my department made a rather simply stated but completely accurate observation about the current state of the student body. They all have the information we have. It’s a click away. When we tell them what we are going to teach they can stop listening. In order to attain the knowledge that we have, one need only to Google and there are thousands of resources that pop up.
Of course, some of them have inaccuracies, but there are a few reputable sources the kids know they can use. They have become savvy enough to discriminate between sources that are credible and those that are trash. I am happy about that because this is something that we teach. Once that instruction is received, there is no limit to the things they can do online.
Instead of the information coming from a teacher and online materials serving as supplements, they learn from the internet and use the classroom as the supplement – if they use the classroom and the teacher at all. A few years ago, cell phones did not have the same computing power they have now. Students literally walk around with a small computer in their hands 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Don’t believe what a teacher says? Google it.
Having trouble paying attention and need to learn the information for a test tomorrow? No problem, goof off now and Google later.
Need a video on top of the video in class; better yet, didn’t watch the video in class because you needed to do homework for another class? I’ve got the answer, just Google it so you can stream it later.
The instant access can be overwhelming, but it is all they know. This is how they have grown up. By no means am I asking for mindless followers, I need independent thinkers that are not afraid to be wrong for the sake of learning. Instead, this society is cranking out people that are efficeint at internet browsing and copying. Free thinking, noticing your own observable growth, and social interactions are being sacraficed for points and marks.
The expectation is that teachers are prepared and able to provide students with the tools and materials they need to learn – and maybe master – some content. The internet takes care of that, and there is no person needed to bridge the gap. There are some social lessons that we can offer students, but if they are not engaged then we are just looking at them while we are in the same room. So, are teachers only at school to babysit? Is there an age, or point, at which the value of a professional individual who has dedicated time to helping you learn is recognized? Do we ever really see a teacher as an invaluable resource, or will the niche be overrun by techology? I am not anti-tech, I am quite the opposite – I enjoy the integration. But when is a student a learner (like, an actual seeker of information for the benefit of self)?
The whole idea of teachers not being needed reminds me of an episode of the Twilight Zone. The premise of this episode is that some positions in the future will no longer be needed. Here’s the quick synopsis: There’s a man named Mr. Wordsworth. He’s a librarian and it is some time in the future. There’s a head speaker that represents the state and he tells Mr. Wordsworth his job is obsolete and therefore he need not exist. There is no place for him in this world and he has no strengths. Is this the dystopian society we are destined for? Will teachers be the equivalent to Mr. Wordsworth?
There are so many great resources that are web-based, and they have turned on the modern day teacher. The same place an educator may go to find ideas is the place the students go to find the answers. One teacher commented that she went on Pinterest to find something new she hasn’t tried, and the kids searched and found the whole activity. What is the point? Should we not try new things in classrooms? Should teachers not be allowed to share? What if kids were only allowed to show their understanding by actually completing something with just the knowledge the teacher has given?
What happened to the veil that existed between student and teacher?
The internet happened. Technology advanced and smacked education and those that have dedicated their lives to it in the face. The respect has been lost. The things that I learned in undergraduate and graduate programs are no longer enough to give me a level up on the generation that I watched grow from infancy.
Did I waste my time, my money, my efforts? I put in so much work and for what? The lines were drawn in the sand and they have been degraded like a strong sweeping wind in the Sahara. All evidence that the line was there to begin with have been erased.
The only thing that separates me from the student is time. Time is precious, and I will not waste any more of it. Life is too short to not have meaningful experiences that do not require a machine to filter what I can see with my own eyes. The lens between the world and what is happening in front of us needs a break sometimes. I choose to log off.