There’s a story that may be apocryphal that the U.S. spent several million dollars in the space program developing a pen that would write in zero gravity while the Russians simply used a pencil.
Further, we were shocked to discover that the interior panels of the Russian space ship/capsule were made of wood. Yet they served the purpose perfectly well.
Does this indicate a kind of channeling of thought in America? We start with the need for a pen without questioning whether we really need a pen. We want to show how high-tech we are so wood is out of the question, without assessing the purpose and whether inexpensive wood would work just as well.
The term ’thinking outside the box’ has perhaps been overused and may not be quite accurate, but to pursue the image, maybe we don’t need to enter the box in the first place.
At my school, attendance must be taken within the first five minutes of class and on the computer. At this point in my rant, computer people can drop off b/c they will assure us that the computer could not possibly be wrong; it’s the OS or the UBC cord or the network administrator or the server or…… IOW, computers must not be questioned. Yet I find myself dealing most periods with the fact that the teacher who used the computer the previous period did not log off, so I have to shut the computer down, turn it back on, wait for various things to be “loaded”, put in one password, wait for that screen to come up, then enter another password and wait for that screen to come up, then click on attendance with great care b/c the word jumps after a couple of seconds and you can find yourself clicking on gradebook or something you then have to wait to appear before you can get out of it and find attendance…….. then you have to find your class and wait for that to come up…….. meanwhile, your students have graduated.
Who invents these useless things? Someone who likes computers and who would rather be sitting at a computer than interacting with students, that’s who. A simple bubble sheet picked up by a runner and taken to the office would suffice. And why in the first five minutes?
I am sure dutiful admin types can come up with all sorts of reasons for computerizing all this (save money by not having to hire a date-entry clerk), but in the final analysis, we have to look at what computerizing teaching does. Take putting lesson plans on the computer as an example. Since now, instead of the principal taking a look at your lesson plan book once a year, someone (?) looks at your lessons, the obvious follow-up to that is to key your lesson plans to some sort of system of goals and objectives. That makes sense. The lesson plans should be designed to reach a goal and within the lesson plans should be the objectives leading to that goal. Numerous such goals/objectives systems have been devised for fl teaching. Instead of familiaring teachers with these goals/objectives and how they work out in real-world lesson plans, teachers are simply ordered to put the code for an objective with each lesson.
The first problem that pops up is that whatever system of goals/objectives is designated for use may not be well designed. If so, then the teacher struggles to match what he is doing in the classroom with some goal/objective in the list. Secondly, even if it’s a good list, there are a large number of goals and objectives. In the case of fl, the ACTFL goals are only 5 and are well done. Objectives are another matter. In the course of a period, a teacher may hit on several things found in the list of objectives. And don’t forget, the teacher has to write out that objective along with its alphanumeric code. That proves to be a lot more cumbersome than one might think. If you have 4 preps, as I do, that means coming up with 4 lesson plans on almost a daily basis, finding the objective that each lesson is aiming toward, finding the code for that objective, and then seeing to it that the lesson actually does that.
What I’m afraid happens is that teachers may begin tweaking their lesson plans to make them conveniently fit the stated goal. In other ways, the teacher may find himself channeled by not only the technology but by encumberances brought on by a plethora of demands generated by local, state, regional and federal oversight. Several times I’ve been coached on what to say to roaming investigator who, I am assured, will poke into every corner of our school to find out what is “really” going on. Never have I been approached by anyone about anything. Moreover, on evaluations of me personally the only way anyone would know some of the really good things I am capable of is by the notes of the observer. These evaluations don’t seem to be designed to get to what makes for a good teacher. All in all, this is disappointing for a profession that supposedly has the most highly educated and brightest people – teachers.
Which brings me to another point: just who DO we get into teaching? Frankly, I see a lot of teachers who work very hard, care a lot about kids, and do think that what they teach is important. However, any teacher who has any pretenses to intellecutal acumen quickly comes under at least ridicule if not suspicion. How did we come up with this image of a school teacher as a drudge, an insipid character, a bore for sure, when in fact most people can dredge up the name of at least one inspiring teacher or coach? My own take on this is that it is the fruit of American anti-intellectualism. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told I should teach college b/c I am so “academic”, by which they mean I read books.