Monday, May 24, 2010

Nature or Nurture? What Makes Some Teachers, Reactionaries?

The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw.
Susan Collins

Most folks in education have . . . a difficult time imagining what they've not experienced. So it's hard to imagine how things can be done differently, whereas in business you have to constantly innovate in order to survive.
Randy Moore ( The Global Achievement Gap, p.144)

A couple of years ago. I was attending an English Department meeting at the request of the chair. Department members were upset about changes being opposed from the top. I heard reasonable arguments against the reforms, but the passion against change was disproportionate to the issue. The intensity seemed rooted in something much deeper and emotional. I was perplexed by this and said something about the attitudes being "reactionary". Some looked shocked, even hurt, as though I had cursed them. "Reactionary" obviously clashed with political ideologies or disposition toward reforming something other than their own curricula!

Maybe, I took a cheap shot, but I think it was right on. And it is true for many intelligent, engaging, and interesting teachers, today, who are fiercely, even blindly resistant to the changes threatened by technology.

Recently, I was sitting with my current academic department and found myself in a bubbling cauldron of fury against technology: When does administration expect us to learn this stuff?. . . . These kids are forgetting how to communicate face-to-face. . . . I don't want to change!

After listening to this for a while, I made a few points as diplomatically as I could:

*Not choosing to leverage our technology in a 1:1 private school puts us at a competitive disadvantage.

*We are never going to be able to recapture for their students some golden yesteryear of school that our memories hold dear. Texting, Facebook, YouTube, et. al., are already part of the mainstream culture.

* We need to change so that we could help our students compete and succeed in tomorrow's higher education and work environments.

Next school year 20% of my assignment will be devoted to shifting our school curriculum to a more student-directed model........Sometimes I wonder if I won't be trudging down to the rock quarry with a ball-peen hammer. (Wish me luck....unless you stand with the reactionaries!).

"Youth Escort" Flickr CC Photo by TheoJunior


WillKnott said...

Well, as always, I can see your point and the points of the teachers, especially those who believe that they are getting their students' minds and hearts ready for the world, broadening it through literature and self-reflective writing. It is a hard love to let go of, Larry.

I don't know where I am in all of this. I am excited to contribute to HUB and will be at the meetings next year and give all a techno challenged ex-officio teacher can give.

I am glad you have that new assignment because I think one of the biggest drawbacks has been the disconnect between the chidings of administration and their own unwillingness to mirror what they want the teachers to embrace.

All too often, I received e-mails at school from a tech coordinator,e-mails which purported to be something I might be interested in for my classroom but which really had absolutely no bearing on my classroom at all.

You are the person to change this fossilization, if anyone can. In fact, I would make you 1/2 teacher and 1/2 tech facilitator. But that is just me. I ain't no administrator.

Ann Lusch said...

Ah, more clues as to what is in store for us next year!

I see both sides, too. Change is not easy. And learning new tools and strategies IS time-consuming, no way around it. I'm an empty-nester, but I can't imagine fitting everything in if I were still carting kids to practices and such.

But the change is needed, for the reasons you state, Larry. So, we need to find the ways to fit it in. Somehow a mindset change is necessary in order for teachers to want to grow in this area. It's not about incorporating technology for the sake of technology, but doing it to accomplish educational goals.

And, we need communication and sharing about our efforts, so we don't each go about re-inventing the wheel. Just as an example: I expended some energy finding out about "persistent URLs" and how to bookmark Gale sources on Diigo, because we weren't able to access the articles we bookmarked. If someone is going there, she should talk to me first! That would save time and avoid at least one headache. Or another: when I was pondering assigning a video option to some students, A.K-K. had just had issues with software on the laptops, so from her I knew what to expect.

So, as to next year, well... good luck. I'm looking forward to it.

Larry Baker said...

WillKnott, Thanks for the comments. I had a conversation last week with a former English teacher on the value of literature lovers leading discussions that cultivate the qualities you describe. I hope you know I value this too. But . . . .do we have to LEAD every discussion? Maybe we can get to some of the quiet ones (are they all engaged?) another way. Case in point: I really disliked teaching "The Return of the Soldier". Had to do it, though. So I made a good show of leading a discussion.

Now I wish I had taken a different approach. Why not have the kids read it and be completely perplexed by it? Let them ask some questions about it. Find the answers to those questions. The book is saturated in history and proto-feminism. Let the kids dig into that and talk to museum curators, experts on military history, psychologists, and maybe even someone who loves the book or Rebecca West. Then bring it back to the group, perhaps with some presentations that really pop. Why not? Once?

Ann, I'm sorry for the teasing. It's been so much on my mind. it kind of dribbled out in the blog.

Forgive me for that, but if I ever start promoting technology of it's own sake (like adding streaming music to my blog for instance), please come down to S-7 and whack me upside the head.

I think education is much more insulated from change than other realms. We're all products of the age-old practices and so is the public. So even if the institution goes for change it may not be endorsed by an outside world that itself is immersed in change (stange!). That's how you get an Obama Education Department that calls for more ed technology, but also stands by standardized testing as its primary change agent. Bad voodoo.

Blaise said...

I agree with Ann. You are really getting me curious with all your hints dropped here and there about your role at Mercy next year.

As I write my narrative for this years reflection I realize change is a slow process and I have hope for my resistant colleagues. This year I have finally figured out how to use twitter for professional reasons...not just to follow Hollywood stars! This is all thanks to you and this years staff in-service. This small step has led me to so many wonderful professionals in my field and a wealth of information important for this new professional.

Larry Baker said...

Thanks for commenting, Blaise! I'm glad you have taken advantage of Twitter. It is the superhighway for most of my own professional development these days.

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