My mom, who graduated from high school in 1948, asked me a couple of years ago how I make it as a high school teacher in “this day and age.” She ranted about how the kids are so into drinking and sex that they must be impossible to teach.
I thought about this for a bit before asking, “Didn’t kids drink when you were in high school?”
“Oh my, yes!” she said, and then went into a series of anecdotes about kids loading the back of their cars with beer or harder liquor on the weekends, or bottles snuck into school dances. She laughed when she told a couple of the stories of wrecked cars (this was before seatbelts!) and hangovers.
When she finished, I asked, “What about sex? Weren’t there kids ‘getting busy’ in the 40s?”
“Oh my, yes!” and she was off on an entirely different set of stories about lying to cover up where her friends were, and pregnancy scares, and girls who “went away” for a few months to “visit their aunt.”
Her stories feed into my belief that very little has changed with our kids. I bring this up because I often hear older folks complain that the kids when they were in school were different. They were more respectful. They studied harder. They were in every way “better.”
I just don’t believe it. I started high school in 1969, graduating in ’72. I don’t remember a better set of kids in my classes than I face now. We had kids who were disrespectful. We had kids who didn’t study (I think I was one of them). In fact, we had way fewer kids who headed off to post-high school studies. We had more dropouts.
So, I don’t see much change there.
I also hear numerous stories about how the working conditions for teachers have deteriorated. Certainly the conditions aren’t exactly the same, but I don’t think the working conditions were ever “ideal,” whatever that would mean for teachers. We’ve always been asked to do too much with too little.
I bring this all up to talk about what I think is better. My contention is that kids and teaching haven’t changed much, but there are some obvious improvements from my point of view:
First: E-mail. I love that I can communicate with parents and they can communicate with me on our own schedule. I don’t have to phone during their dinner, and they don’t call me just as I’m getting ready to go out with my family. They can communicate their concerns or questions, and I can reply at my own pace. Plus, I can attach handouts and assignments.
Second: Sharepoint Sites. Kids can find out what we did in class, get the handouts, view video, join online chats, etc., all on their own. I like that this is a 24/7 resource for kids. They don’t have to wait for class or for an audience with the teacher to get what they
Third: Class at a Glance. What a powerful tool teachers have at their disposal with Class at a Glance! It doesn’t tell me everything I need to know about a kid, but when I combine it with test results and info about their other classes from Parent Bridge, it tells me a lot.
And Fourth: Parent Bridge. Parents don’t have to wait until the report cards come out or for parent/teacher conferences to find out what their students are up to. With a handful of key strokes, they can tell how their kiddo is doing in class, what they did on the last test, if they’re missing any work, etc. The kids can check also. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a fruitful discussion with a student because she had a question about grades from Parent Bridge.
I’m not a big fan of standards based learning or core curriculum. They’re certainly not revolutionary. They won’t magically remake the schools’ mission or method of delivering instruction. They’re new names for old concepts.
But I am a big fan of tools that teachers can use to do a better job. I think the four changes I’ve listed here do just that.
~Jim Van Pelt