Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scalpel...Retractor...Folder...Save File....Faster Nurse, we're loosing them.

By Mark T. Burke

Imagine your Doctor attending a conference. Would you be utterly shocked, even a little frightened if you found out your Doctor had attended the "Scalpel Basics for Doctors" seminar? The scalpel is a standard tool of the trade in the medical world and we expect all Doctors to fully understand and use one with professional expertise.

Would a parent be shocked, maybe even frightened if they found out their child's teacher had attended a session at a conference to learn how to create folders and manage files on a computer? They should be if they're not. But based on my attendance at several music, education and technology conference over the last 12 years, I would say that more often than not, the sessions most attended are those sessions that deal with the basic tools of education, like the scalpel session to the Doctor. This scares me, frightens me even.

I had a great time at the PMEA Summer Conference. For those not part of the PA Musical Education world, PMEA (The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) holds an annual summer conference to bring together educators, discuss the latest and greatest as well as share indicators on the state of our profession. This conference was the latest conference pointing to a real issue in the teaching profession. The issue is there are many, MANY teachers still learning to use the common technology tools of our trade such as the computer.

My hours of driving gave me time to think about how we've gotten to this point in educational history. Can we really have teachers in 2010 that do not demonstrate the essential skills of computing? Yes, we can and do. As I thought about the reasons, many came to mind. Some will no-doubt make people angry. That's ok to me. I make no apologies for wanting our kids to get top shelf education. As I heard at the conference, we must first and foremost do what's best for the kids, it is not about us. Well, it is about us really...we deliver the education. But the point is, we must at times be dispassionately introspective so that we can grow and do what's best.

So why do we have teachers unable to demonstrate the basics of technology application in the classroom?

  1. Indifference -- Teachers who work in an environment where skill progression is neither rewarded, recognized, encouraged, or offered.  Therefore, teachers can either take an interest or not based on personal motivation or lack there of.  Either way is ok to them and their school system.  Ultimately indifference creeps in and can win.  
  2. Personal Interest -- Teachers who aren't intrigued by what technology can do for music and music education choose to ignore it.  If it doesn't have meaning to teachers, they have no need and therefore students have no need.  
  3. Unwillingness to Fail -- Teachers who are afraid of looking weak if they try a new tool and are not successful immediately.  Some have a really high level of fear over failure.  To often, failure is viewed as "I don't get it -- within 10 seconds of hearing how." 
  4. WIIFM -- "What's In It For Me?"  If using technology simply adds responsibility on to my role as a teacher, if it adds on time and effort and I get NOTHING for it, then WHY?  
  5. Peer Pressure -- I've heard this before -- "Why go to that training, come play golf with us."  The pressure to not really enjoy what we do often comes from our fellow teachers.  The faculty room VORTEX keeps people feeling as though attending training and learning new things is a waste of time, something only new, novice teachers do.
  6. Lack of Support at Home -- Teacher need professional time outside the classroom. I remember a wise person telling me -- you can't learn while you are working...you must dedicate time to personal growth away from what you pick up on a day to day basis.  While I do believe you can learn while you work, I believe we must not confuse learning and development for what we learn while doing.  Teacher must make time during their PERSONAL time to grow and learn and that means making sure support comes from home as well.
 Do any of these issue sound familiar?  They should.  These come straight from the "teacher's handbook" of why kids struggle to demonstrate mastery in our classrooms.  We as teachers are not immune.  Notice I didn't say anything about money, or time, or access to tools.  Those are excuses, not reasons why we can't master the tools of our trade.  We can work around excuses but we must work to overcome issues.

I am advocating that for all conference from here on out, that we assume everyone has the basics of educational computing down pat.  I believe we should enter every session knowing that all teachers know how to use computer to a level where file creation, management and application use is understood so that we can move right into the more important integration and creative applications in our classrooms.  I am actually tired of attending conferences where the bulk of time is wasted on how to do the most basics of things.  I believe we can increase attendance and change the level of performance within our profession if we all take a look at the issues above and address them within our own careers.

How would you assess your own basic technology skills and those of your fellow teachers?  Are you ready for more advance topics regarding educational technology benefits and use within schools?  

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