Tradition vs. 21st Century

Hello friends. I haven’t written in a while because the well ran dry. In the past month, water has been trickling in, and I have been doing some educational soul searching. 

In the past year, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a teacher anymore. The political and bureacratic system had beaten my spirit down.  With prayer and thought, I still don’t know the answer, nor do I have the answers for education, but ideas or revelations are headed my way slowly. Let me explain.

In my school district, we have been on the 21st Century journey. It’s all about technology, personalized learning, and project based learning. This journey is a whole new methodology of teaching…a new mind set, if you will. It is about the teacher becoming a mentor and the student becoming his own personal teacher. It is about the student being accountable for his own learning.

At first, it sounded interesting. We are in the 21st Century. Education needed to catch up with the career and college world, right? Our children were failing the standardized testing and look bad to the world so something had to change, right? As usual, it was the teachers fault, right?  The journey begins…

Phase 1 – We are told that we shouldn’t hurt the students’ feelings. Don’t worry if they can’t spell or read. Make them feel good about themselves so they will rise to our expectations. Don’t dare discipline them or give them consequences because they may cry…and then Mommy will be mad.  She’s going to sue you and the school system.  Our school system has so many lawsuits that we had to hire another lawyer this year. It’s ironic that we want our children and schools to succeed, but we want to sue them at the same time.

Phase 2 – This is the computer generation. Let’s reach them by putting technology in their hands. That will make them learn.  It will be fun. They will be engaged. Excuse me for being unprofessional for a moment, but what genius thought of this? I know, Bill Gates. Did anyone stop to think that this was a way for his company, and thus him, to hook children on electronics and allow him to make even more money? Of course, there was no research on this, so let’s try it anyway.  Over the last 10 or so years, research has come out that using technology is detrimental to learning because it distracts. Hey, I know, let’s put a beer in the hand of an alcoholic and tell him not to drink it (analogy). How is this genius idea working for us in the schools? Whether it is BYOT or laptops, it is an abismal failure for the kids. I will say that those students who are honors or AP, do fine with technology. These students have maturity and discipline. Unfortunately, our average students do not (and that is ok). The bortom line is the research says that our brains do not multitask well, and those who think they are great multitaskers, do the worst. You see, our children spend most of their academic day playing video games, texting, surfing the Internet and social media (where a great deal of cyber bullying exists), listening to music (because it helps them concentrate…no it doesn’t, they are still multitasking), watching tv, movies, and videos, oh, and looking at tennis shoes, fashion, and what up with Hollywood.  It seems when a teacher tells a student to put their phone away, it is an inconvenience. How dare the teacher tell me that. Technology in the hands of your children is detrimental to their learning. Period. On the other hand, technology in the hands of a teacher can be inspiring and engaging. We should be focused more on how teachers can use technology.

Phase 3 – Personalized learning is the buzz word. In a nutshell, it means that each child is taught from where they are. That sounds great in theory, but in a class of 35 to 40 students, how is that done? A teacher cannot turn her back on a student for one second without another seeking  attenton. That’s the problem. No one really knows how to do it well. The experts rolled it out without a plan and without being in the classroom to test if it could work successfully. Yes, I agree with personalized learning. Every teacher I know has been doing it since they walked in the classroom. This is not a new concept, but it is a dying concept. Since they have been increasing class size, they are making it more difficult for a teacher to help a child individually.  Still everday, I walk over to help a student where they are and take them where they need to be. It’s what I do as a teacher…always have and always will.  But, it sure would be more successful if I didn’t need to manage the other 30 some-odd students at the same time, if I could just trust them to behave and stay focused. I wish I could take some time to focus on that one student.

I know, you are thinking that the student should come to tutoring. No, the parent can’t pick them up for a plethora of reasons.

Phase 4 –  Project based learning is another buzz word. Unfortunately, it takes a village, and most villages aren’t ready at the same time we are. Scheduling is difficult.  It also takes a great deal of planning between the company and the teacher. Guess what, teachers don’t have much time as it is between teaching, before and after school meetings, school meetings and professional development during planning, parent phone calls, logging phone calls, answering emails, and turoring. We could possiby work on it in the summer, but we have to know what we are teaching ahead of time, which seems to happen less and less, if at all.  

I believe you get the picture. I really want to understand my students, know their strengths and weaknesses, customize their learning, and help them be successful, but I feel like I’ve been thrown into shark infested waters with my hands and feet tied. 

There has got to be a better way. So here is my attempt at a solution for our schools.

1. Discipline with strong consequences that are met everytime. If parents are not happy with our rules and service, they can march themselves over to another school with their voucher, homeschool, or have their child do online school. Today, there are many options.

2. Decrease class size to 20, maybe 15. Hire more teachers and begin to customize and personalize.

3.  Look at the curriculum and make it 21st Century. Where is an investing class, budgeting class, a real life math application class? Should literature be an art? Should we focus on reading and writing more in English class? Where are the foreign languages for a 21st Century learner? German, Italian, French, Russian, Arabic…How about geography, world studies, and ancient studies. Dont get me wrong, traditional subjects and teaching methods are vital as well. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water, but we need to enhance our curriculum and know how to use traditional and modern teaching techniques.

5. Last but not least, technology should be forbidden until 11th grade AND proof of maturity and discipline, with the caveat that it can be taken back for improper use.  Not all students will get technology because it must be earned and maintained. 

As I have stated earlier, I don’t know the answers, but I have been working as a teacher for 15 years. I know the system and how it works. I know what works for students and what doesn’t. I’m sick and tired of “suits” who have never been in a public school system, or who have been out of the classroom too long, telling me how students will be successful. If they knew what they were talking about, our schools would not need to be fixed.

Wooh, I’m tired. That was a lot of pent up frustration  coming out. Well, at least you know why I havent posted lately and where my mind has been. Believe it or not, my rant is not a complaint. I want to succeed so my students can succeed. I am tired of the wheels turning round and round with the same results every time. It’s not that hard folks. I’m sure you have ideas as well.  Feel free to post them. 

Thank you.





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