Back to School in the 21st Century

In the 1930’s my grandma started her teaching day by shoveling a snow covered path to a one-room schoolhouse and splitting wood for the potbellied stove.

Today, we flash identity cards to guards at campus gates, open doors with electronic keys, display notes on whiteboards, take attendance on line, post homework on websites, keep in constant contact with parents, students, administrators and colleagues via the Internet.

Yet back to school in the 21st century has never been more challenging. No matter how long one has been teaching, la rentree is always stressful. To add to our anxiety, our nightly news reports teacher strikes, school shootings and failing test scores in academic settings around the globe. Teachers in France protest the retirement age. (Age sixty sounds good to me.) Students on the West Bank practice safety procedure in gunfire. Where we once learned to crouch under desks during tornado drills for natural disasters, today’s youth are trained to hit the deck to avoid manmade bullets and bombs.

Discipline is a whole new ball game. Chewing gum and wearing torn jeans are no longer a grave offenses Teachers reprimand students not only for talking in class, but for playing games on Laptops and, iphones. Now we confiscate cell phones, iPods and weapons during lessons.

Whereas teachers once caught cheaters red handed copying from a neighbors’ papers, now students take information word for word from the Internet and swear it’s not plagiarism because they got it off Wikipedia. As soon as new tools like Turn-It In are developed, techno savvy kids figure out a way to beat the system.

Text messaging and SMS are wreaking havoc with the language structure, pupils write essays in code. Every line includes “i” in place of the pronoun, “I.” Students can only follow instructions in 20-second increments. Sensory overload from too many electronic gadgets has obliterated their attention spans.

Hyper vigilant, ultra techy kids maneuver around cyberspace with the agility with which we once flicked paper notes folded into mini footfalls across the classroom.

At the touch of fingertips we are immediately connected to data bases filled with student profiles, parent background, and libraries full of facts.

How much information is too much information?

With online courses, videotaped lectures, assignments recorded on phone-in messages, one wonders will the teacher one day be obsolete? Yet, when was the last time the computer offered a smile of encouragement, a kind word or a pat on the back.

We are more connected than ever, but not always in a good way. The teacher’s role, though ever changing, is still invaluable retaining the tenuous link between generations, connecting – school, parent, child – and bridging family and society.

Recently the new superintendent of Chicago suburban high school welcomed back the teaching staff with this message. “I guarantee you my own children will not remember which university you graduated from or how well you know your subject content, but whether or not you connected and met his or her needs.

Perhaps our greatest role in a society that is changing faster than ever due to globalization and World Wide Web is to retain the human bond, to CARE. Communicate, accommodate, respond, and then educate.

I long for the good old’ days of grandma’s one room schoolhouse, when all the teacher had to do shovel the snow, stoke up the fire, clean the chalkboard and teach ABCs.

Posted in education.

One Comment

  1. So true. I just read somewhere that bullying is the result of children not having enough "free playing time." They do not have the social skills that are learned from just playing together in the open air. ADHD is definitely an offshoot of all the modern technology at children's fingertips (that one came from my computer Geek!)today. And a kindergarten teacher I play hoops with tells me about the exorbitant number of her students that are on Ritalin and other drugs!We need to change society. Let's go back to the wood chopping days with Grannie.

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