A few months ago, a tech director for a fairly large school district looked me straight in the eye and said “I’m not giving teachers desktop overrides to anything on our filter ’cause I know damn well they’d abuse it by going to eBay or somesuch or taking their students to places they shouldn’t.” (And that’s a quote that I wrote down right after the conversation.)
I don’t want to make this another post about how bad the general reputation of teachers is in some places, nor do I want to make it about how much filtering is going on under the guise of “we can’t trust the teachers.” Nor do I particularly want this to turn into a State of the Web in Education type post. But as school districts around the country start gearing up for the new year, there doesn’t appear to be much of a shift in terms of the perception that teachers can’t make good decisions about using the Web, and, more importantly, that teachers should be supported as learners themselves in the classroom.
Case in point: Chicago. Read the comments the Alexander Russo’s post “No Social Media for CPS Teachers” and you’ll get a sense of how much fun it is to be a teacher there under the new district guidelines regarding teacher and student technology use. In the post, he quotes one teacher as saying
The message to me is strong and clear – innovative, tech savvy teachers should look elsewhere for employment...I guess this means that the interactive website I’ve spent this summer designing for my students with open-source WordPress is off limits. I can’t share video we create on our own. I can’t ask them to compare and contrast two of our own videos, or one of our videos with someone else’s, or two videos from elsewhere. I can’t solicit student responses on core content. I can’t post accessible calendar information. I can’t post a contact form for students who forget or lose my e-mail address but know the website we’ll use on a weekly basis. I can’t host interactive Flash tools that my students use on a regular basis.
And in the comment thread, there’s this:
I use technology extensively in my curricula. I’m just going to stop using it. In addition to the patent absurdity of the Board’s policy, I’m just not willing to risk my job.
But the worst part is captured, I think, in this op-ed piece in the Washington Post by former teacher Sarah Fine. It’s titled “Schools Need Teachers Like Me. I Just Can’t Stay.” Aside from talking about the difficulties of teaching in the inner city, she also brings up a more general perception:
There is yet another factor that played a part in my choice, something that I rarely mention. It has to do with the way that some people, mostly nonteachers, talk about the profession. “Why teach?” they ask.
Do my lawyer and consultant friends find themselves having to explain why they chose their professions? I doubt it. Everyone seems to know why they do what they do. When people ask me about teaching, however, what they really seem to mean is that it’s unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long. Teaching is an admirable and, well, necessary profession, they say, but it’s not for the ambitious. “It’s just so nice,” was the most recent version I heard, from a businesswoman sitting next to me on a plane.
I used to think I was being oversensitive. Not so. One of my former colleagues, now a program director for Teach for America, has to defend her goal of becoming a principal: “When I tell people I want to do it, they’re like, ‘Really? You really still want to do that?’ ” Another friend describes her struggle to make peace with the fact that a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession. “I want to be able to do big things and be recognized for them,” she says. “In the world we live in, teaching doesn’t cut it.”
I often feel the same way. Teaching is a grueling job, and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it.
I know that’s not a universal impression, but there’s just no question that in many places across this country, teachers are not perceived as learners, as scholars, as leaders. They’re not supported in their own learning, and they’re not trusted to make good decisions about social Web media in the classroom. Without getting into a long drawn out discussion as to why that is, I’m wondering what we can do about it. Do social Web tools provide some opportunities for teachers to participate in ways that might raise the perception of the profession? If not in global ways at least in local ways? Just wondering…
The good news is that shortly I’ll be painting a picture of a district that really does get what it means to treat teachers as learners and support all the messiness that goes around that. Coming soon…I hope.