Teachers are introduced each year to a plethora of educational buzz words. They are expected to cover the curriculum at a pace to accommodate multiple classroom abilities that may have ranges as extreme as eight grade levels. They are expected to practice classroom management skills coping with special needs along with those of their regular students and nurturing all at the same pre-set pace.
Adding to this work load are state, local, and district standards for learning, state competency testing, new technology standards for students and teachers, and constant pressure from government officials, parents, and even religious groups to improve education, reform the classroom, and better develop our nation’s children. As many as half of all new teachers respond by leaving the profession finding more pay and less stress elsewhere.
This has been the case in my experience, particularly in my Communication Arts classroom, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to move into the Technology teaching position. As a radical constructionist, who strongly believes in providing an authentic experience for students where they “think critically, solve problems, analyze sources, make good judgments. gather, sort, internalize, and share information with others” (The Teacher's Mission). As I made the transition from a class centered on PSSA Preparation to one built around multimedia authoring, Internet research, online collaboration, and desktop publishing, I experienced a welcome role-shift from what I had been so uncomfortable with in my CA classroom since the NCLB change back to the complex, multi-faceted role of Radical Teacher. I've never been able to succinctly capture this role in language. Typically, I have referred people to multiple articles and resources on the web by people like Alfie Kohn. As I read the material from Simkins, Cole, Tavalin, and Means (2002), I was provided with a very accurate word picture of what it is I do, or at the very least attempt, in the classroom, which is more than guide on the side. Incidentally, they did not have a magical term to sum this up, but rather triangulated the position of this concept by attacking it from multiple sides.
First there's the idea of the teacher as project-manager. It's hard to think about that without thinking of Donald Trump's “The Apprentice”, but this role in the classroom is not near as fraught with conflict. According to Simkins, Cole, Tavalin, and Means (2002), this means “they have a host of responsibilities, not the least of which is planning. Many teachers find that the ultimate success of a project-based unit depends heavily on the thoroughness of advance planning. Once projects are underway, teachers provide coordination to ensure that things go according to plan” (p. 101). This is probably the most challenging facet of my changing role and in establishing the learning environment. I'm more of a fly-by-the-seater than a planner, but I understand the importance of planning in the constructive classroom, particularly when multimedia projects are involved. The “Executive” (Simkins, Cole, Tavalin, and Means, 2002, p. 103) is an essential role at the middle school level. My students, as seventh and eighth graders, are not used to being given enough leeway, at least at the beginning, to manage people and resources, determine appropriate standards of performance, or ensure that predetermined goals or objectives are met. The “Therapist” (p. 103) is probably one of the roles I most look forward to. I feel most satisfied as a teacher, when my students knowingly accept responsibility for their choices and approach their learning authentically without all of the posing and pleasing of myself or their peers. This is a point that segues nicely into the role of “Liberationist” (p. 103). This is the part of me that “Sees moral and intellectual values as part of the content of teaching [and] demands that work has value and purpose” (p. 103).
Ultimately, the more I encourage students to explore the applications we're using and develop "the ability to determine and use the appropriate technology tool(s) for the task at hand in a manner that allows seamless transfer of created objects and documents to flow easily between the selected tools without outside intervention" (Vicki Davis, 2008), the more I will not be seen as the expert, at least not of computers. I'm okay with that.
In a world where so many of my students have “mastered software and conquered web site construction, can search for information, copy it (without thought to cybercitations), and produce a multimedia essay in less time than it takes [me] to write the assignment on [Edline]” (Relating to Students), it is more important for me to create an environment that encourages:
- Student learning through involvement with authentic, challenging tasks
- New roles for students and teachers
- Professionalization of teachers
- Creation of a culture that supports learning both in the classroom and beyond the school walls
(Overview of Technology and Education Reform). Also, I must allow for inclusive discussions of copyright as it relates to technology, calling upon sources such as CreativeCommons.org. This land of digital immigrants teaching the digital natives has made life a bit less comfy for those of us in education who still wish to kick it old-school, but it has also opened a great opportunity to make good on the old cliché that I learn as much from my students as they do from me.
Simkins, M., Cole, K., Tavalin, F., & Means, B. (2002). Increasing student learning through multimedia projects. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.