The Misuse of Screens

As today’s students gain more and more access to technology in the classroom, the issue of misuse of “screens” increases as well.

To illustrate, a story. Not from my classroom but my summer job. I drive for Uber. Recently, Uber introduced Uber Eats in my area. If you’re not familiar, Uber Eats is a ride for your dinner. Or lunch.

My first Uber Eats experience took me to McDonald’s. I would be delivering lunch to a bank teller working about a mile and a half away from the restaurant. After I accepted the delivery on my phone, the app flashed directions to McDonald’s on to my screen, and then instructions on how to obtain the order once I got there.

I pulled into a parking spot, removed my phone from the cradle suction-cupped to the windshield and headed in. I guess I hadn’t been inside a McDonalds for a while, because I was surprised at what I found. Patrons weren’t queued up at the registers. Instead, they entered their orders at a series of poster-sized tablets on stilts. Why have the employees enter the order on their register screen second-hand when the diner can do it for themselves on an interactive menu?

(Sidenote: traditional face-to-face ordering is still available)

The cashier asked me for the order number, which I read off my phone, and she typed into her screen. A moment later, I was walking back to my car, the bank teller’s lunch in my hands.

Before I could drive to the bank, I had to press a few buttons to confirm that the order pick up went well. Then the first of the directions to the bank showed up. Two rights, a left, and another right later, I was in the bank parking lot. I delivered the food in the lobby, confirmed by hitting the check mark on my phone screen, and hit the road in hopes of scoring another customer.

To complete the story, remember that the bank teller used his phone to access the Uber app, tapped his screen a bunch of times to both order his lunch and give me a five-star rating.

The misuse of technology and screens I referred to at the beginning of this post falls at the hands of the teachers, not the students. We can’t ignore that fact that screens and technology and a world of information are in our students’ hands at all times. It’s fine to allow students to use smartphones as electronic dictionaries, but it’s not enough to replace something made of paper with a device.

“But they’ll just look up the answer in, like, two seconds on their phone,” you might say. Then why are we making them memorize it?

“Screens are everywhere, all the time. But my room is going to be a break from that.” Um, ok, but, what are we preparing them for?

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equiped to deal with a world that no longer exists — Eric Hoffer

This year I vow to learn alongside my students. From my students. I’m not only going to corporate technology in lessons. I’m going to encourage students to lead the way through their screens. To do anything different is to prepare students for a world that no longer exists.

Throw away those numbered phone-collection pouches and join me. Harnessing the power of technology is crucial to teaching like a teacher in 2018. 

It’s your turn…

What do you think? Do you agree with Mr Middlesworth or not? Let us know below in the comment section.

I’m just a regular old teacher. No cape, no eye patch. I have no synonyms for innovation but I do want to do my job as best as I can.

Teacher? No Superhero

I had a student once who hated math. That is, 12 of the 13 years of his schooling, he hated math.

He loved it the year he had me for Algebra. I know because he told me so. He told me then. He came back the next school year to tell. And after he graduated.

His mother emailed me endlessly, thanking me. Praising me. At one point, she called me “some sort of superhero.”

There’s a narrative that exists on social media and the web: teacher as superhero.

Scan any teacher in-service and you’ll find this on a t-shirt, “I’m a teacher, what’s your superpower?” Fictional superheroes are fueled by things like the sun, nuclear accidents, spinach, and “I don’t know how you do it’s.”

I get that last one a lot. “You teach middle school? I don’t know how you do it.”

Wait a second, does that mean I included Teacherman in the fictional category of superhero?

Yes.

I was a superhero to the student I told you about above. Probably a few more over my nearly-quarter century of teaching.

But not all of them. Not even close.

Supergirl saves everybody. Always. I don’t think I’ve ever watched an episode in which she didn’t eventually save the day. Now that’s a superhero.

Was I a superhero to all the students who passed through my class and have no recollection of it? To those who were bored to sleep? To those who struggled with their homework every night?

Or what about the student with the overbearing father I once taught. The student was a selective mute, and a selective worker as well. The accepted strategy with her was to not force her to do any work. Just allow her to work when she wanted to, and not when she wasn’t comfortable.

One day, I encouraged her to try a worksheet. I knew she could do the work, and I thought it would give her some confidence. I was right.

I told this story in a subsequent meeting with the father. He launched a wagging finger across the table at me. “I told you not to push her. She can’t handle that!”

I apologized. I said it wouldn’t happen again.

And it didn’t. I left her alone with regards to her work. Even in the wake of the small connection we made over the worksheet that day, I still backed off.

Was I a superhero to her? Clearly, she was controlling when she talked and when she did school work because her father had control of everything else at home.

I didn’t see it at the time. I should have. I should have acted on it.

“But Mr. Middlesworth,” you say, “don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re only human.”

EXACTLY.

And how about the kid who didn’t fit the mold of school and now has a manual labor job? How do you think he feels when he hears that teachers are superheroes? Forgotten? Left out? Villified?

We’re not superheroes. We’re teachers. We work with children. We make connections that last a lifetime (some of those connections may be negative). But not with every kid. Not even close.

When you don’t feel like a superhero, don’t beat yourself up. It’s fine. The best we can do is do our best.
Want to do something heroic? Treat every single kid with kindness. No matter what. You don’t even need to wear a cape to do it.

I’m just a regular old teacher. No cape, no eye patch. I have no synonyms for innovation but I do want to do my job as best as I can.

Summer: the Ultimate Educational Argument

From September to May, Facebook feeds are littered with discussions and arguments between teachers and non-teachers on countless topics like:

  • Common Core
  • Accountability
  • Differentiation
  • Grit
  • Homework
  • Teaching to the Test

But one topic— more than any other— inspires angry emojis, melts keyboards, and conjures unfriendings…

Summer. More to the point: summers off. “Teachers are overpaid! They get the whole summer off.”

I used to spar these dragons with my pool-noodle sword:

“We take a lot of continuing education classes” and “It’s actually only, like, two-and-a-half months” or “I’ve hiked Route 66 in search of the perfect lesson plan.”

But just like I knew what I was getting into when I became a teacher, others knew what they weren’t getting into. Every other job goes year round. And most pay better than education. Much better.

Of course, I think teachers should make more money, but that’s a topic for a different day. For now, I’ll have to make due with 89 consecutive days off…oh and, of course, coffers-full of payment in angel tears and children’s smiles (also fodder for another discussion, this notion of payment in heavenly reward and how it has affected teacher salaries).

Teachers, the point is this: Enjoy your summer. If you want to take classes or read books in your discipline, go ahead. If you need to take on a side hustle to make ends meet, do that too.

But if you want to lie on the couch or on a raft in your pool or on a giant lily pad in a pond in eastern West Africa, do it! And don’t feel a second of guilt about it.

We all made our career choices. This is what ours gets us.

(DId you miss what Teach Like a Teacher and Mr Middlesworth are all about? Click here to find out )

I’m just a regular old teacher. No cape, no eye patch. I have no synonyms for innovation but I do want to do my job as best as I can.