Arizona K12 Center Executive Director Dr. Kathy Wiebke reflects on how technology's role in teaching has changed and her appreciation for Arizona's educators as we enter Teacher Appreciation Week.May 03, 2020
I started my teaching career long before there were computers in classrooms, Wi-Fi, or Google. In fact, I think the only technology available to me at that time was a calculator. At some point, we got an electric ditto machine in the workroom we were pretty excited about.
In 1994, I was part of a team that opened a new school, and that is when the bells and whistles came out. For the first time, I had a phone that rang in my classroom, a computer, and a Wi-Fi connection. Back then, it was the only school in the district that had all these things, but, over time, the technology was ushered in at every school.
I remember that a district administrator mocked me at the time for wanting a phone in my classroom and said in a sarcastic tone that I was welcome to the one on his desk. I remember thinking that he reacted that way only because he had a phone. ‘Do you know what it is like to go up to the office every time a parent calls or to wait in line to use the phone in the lounge?’ I remember thinking in response.
I truly understood then the line between ‘the haves’ and the ‘have nots’—not just for teachers but for kids. Teachers have been making do since the beginning of time. There is no further evidence needed other than a visit to any Target during July and August. Teachers have always closed the gaps.
Our schools have always been playing the game of ‘catch up.’ I challenge any person working in any business to remember a time they didn’t have a phone, computer, and a Wi-Fi connection as a readily available means to communicate with the public they were serving. They probably can not. Yet, I can guarantee there are teachers that can remember just that and the day a computer was wheeled into their room. Our schools have always been the last priority for things that others take for granted.
On March 15, when our schools were abruptly shut down, everyone was caught off-guard. There was no plan in place. All of a sudden, the students that were in your room were gone. I cannot even begin to fully comprehend the anger, sadness, and pain this caused educators and their students.
What many people do not realize is that for the vast majority of teachers, the students in their classrooms become much like their own. Like our own children, teachers celebrate them, worry about them, get angry with them, and, most of all, love them. From March to the end of the school year, there are time-honored rituals and traditions. First is spring break, and every kid knows that when spring break ends, testing begins. For those kids in high school, there is prom, the proverbial ‘ditch day,’ and graduation. There are end-of-the-year parties, kindergarten graduations, and yearbook signings. Overnight, these rituals seemingly disappeared.
Then, the reality of teaching their students remotely set in. With no experience in any of this, teachers working alongside the other education professionals in their schools and districts, went into problem-solving mode. Within days, they were set up and online. Were they trained in online teaching? Probably not. Did the kids have access to the technology? Some yes, but I bet most, no. Were they teaching in their own homes using their own Wi-Fi? Most likely. And, sadly, like our students, many of our teachers do not have the home set-ups or the equipment to accommodate this type of schooling. On top of it all, many have their own children and you can only see how the challenges multiply.
What I have not heard is one complaint. In fact, my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds are filled with teachers going out of their way to make sure their students are safe and learning. I have seen photographs and videos of teachers going out of their way to comfort scared children and going to homes and teaching from a distance hard to teach concepts.
This is who teachers are, and this is who they have always been. They go to extraordinary lengths to make sure their students are getting what they need at any moment in time. They do so when they don’t have the proper training, tools, supplies, or support. They put one foot in front of the other and do their best.
Teachers by trade are hopeful people. They believe in the impossible and the improbable. They are dreamers. They get us all to believe that, if we work hard enough, anything is possible. That faith in their students gets them to think big and about the possibilities tomorrow might bring, even in a pandemic. Right now, teachers are a beacon of hope in a sea of despair.
What can we do to support our teachers? First, let’s acknowledge all they have done to keep school and learning moving forward these past weeks and months. Has it been perfect? No. But nothing has been so far; everyone is doing their best. Teachers are always finding those ‘teachable moments’ to challenge children to dig a bit deeper and think a bit differently. To that point, let’s use this as our teachable moment and recognize that our schools are severely under-equipped. Schools should be our first priority and not our last. Let’s make sure that teachers and their students have the tools and resources to learn both in class and at home. Let’s ensure the proper supports are in place to give our teachers time to learn and collaborate. Let’s make sure our kids have what they need, so that all students have access to rich and robust learning opportunities. Finally, let’s accept the fact that not anyone can teach. It takes more than content knowledge. There is a distinct set of skills, knowledge, and dispositions that make a teacher a teacher.
Teachers have always done amazing things, but, these past weeks and months, they have demonstrated to all of us that they are truly superheroes.
Thank you, Arizona teachers, for all you do to keep our kids learning and school as school —no matter where those walls happen to be.