Friday, December 4, 2009

Teaching without a Safety Net

Over the next few weeks I will be presenting some guest posts from key folks in my personal learning network.

Lynn Waldsmith is a high school English and Journalism teacher who has become an active ed tech adventurer. Here she reflects on how she have used tech in her courses and why she is determined to do it.

When parents, teachers, and other adults discover that I used to work for The Detroit News, many give me these knowing glances and comments. “Ohhh,” they say with a nod and a smile. “Aren’t you glad you’re no longer in journalism? You got out just in time. Bet you’re glad you have a ‘safe’ job now.”

While it’s true that traditional jobs have been slashed at newspapers everywhere as the transitioncontinues from old media to new, I decided to become a teacher for two reasons: I love to teach young adults and I love my subject matter – English and journalism. Indeed, embarking on a mid-life career switch felt anything but “safe”. I wasn’t running away from technology to the safe, non-technological haven of education. I was leaving a career that I had been quite good at and had always enjoyed. But teaching was a risk that I wanted to take. Indeed, I wanted to share my love for the subject matter and inspire others to enjoy it as much as I always have.

So it strikes me as ironic that many teachers fail to understand that they are not immune to the shift in the technological paradigm that is affecting journalists. It’s just slower in coming to education. Just as new media journalists must embrace change, so must teachers be willing to take some risks in the classroom -- or risk failing to help their students think critically in an increasingly complex global marketplace of ideas.

Like most time-starved teachers, I know I can’t possibly become a tech-savvy wizard overnight. So I’m trying a few things at a time and learning while I go. This year, in particular, I made a more concerted effort to incorporate more technology in my teaching. I decided to try a blog and podcasting for the first time. I’ve been using the blog for my journalism students to post weekly updates that either reinforce something we’ve discussed in class or preview an upcoming topic. The blog works as a great tool for including links to outside reading or video clips of real life examples of things like bias in the news.

In my British Literature class, I introduced podcasting as an activity at the end of our unit on The Canterbury Tales. Students had to create and record their own “modern” Canterbury Tale. Then they attached their podcasts to a google site that I created for the class. While there were a few glitches along the way, these podcasts were, for the most part, a successful way for students to emulate and appreciate Chaucer’s work while sharing and showcasing their creativity. I have even tried Twitter this year for the first time, and while I don’t like it as much as blogging or podcasting, I no longer feel Twitter is for the birds.

In short, I no longer worry about whether my students have more tech expertise than I do. They often do. So what? They don’t have my world experience or expertise in the subject area. I also know what every good journalist knows: there is no safety net. We must all adapt and take risks.


"Balance without Safety Net" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Ikhlasul Amal

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