In a recent post, I discussed three cultural markers that have made teaching more difficult for those of us who teach today than it was for our own teachers. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the ways in which teaching is a lot easier for us today than it was for our forebears.
The World Wide Web is a huge repository of lesson plans and learning experiences for our students. Our students today have information at their fingertips in a way we never did. If I don’t know the answer to a question a student asks, I can look it up instantly. When I was student teaching in 1997, I had to write something like twelve weeks of lesson plans. It was grueling and hard, and the ERIC databases we were pointed toward weren’t much help, nor was our on-campus curriculum and materials center. I imagine student teachers today have a much easier time with this particular task — they can draw from lesson and unit ideas shared freely or at low cost by other teachers who have tried them out. In addition, state standards and educational organization standards are widely available for student teachers to study and access. I can’t remember that I was given a copy of any standards by my professors, but my mentor teacher did allow me to photocopy her copy of Georgia’s QCC standards.
Technology has also allowed us to create and save documents easily. I still have a file cabinet, but almost all of the stuff inside it exists on my hard drive. That wasn’t true when I started teaching. Software has made it easier for me to keep track of the documents I create. We don’t need to save handouts in a file for 20 years like our antecedents did. We can save them on hard drives, CD’s, flash drives, or other media. In fact, we can even scan documents we don’t have in our computer and put them there.
We can take professional learning courses and college courses online (in some cases), obviating the need for trekking to schools across town one or two evenings a week in order to earn PLU’s for our certificates or advanced degrees. We can work more or less at our own pace at a time that suits us. Online learning gives us a certain amount of freedom over our learning that our own teachers didn’t have.
Technology has also allowed us to collaborate. I never would have dreamed we’d have something like the UbD Educators wiki five years ago. I couldn’t have imagined that blogging and social networks would spring up around educational interests. Now we can connect with teachers of our own discipline and others, and we can share ideas, commiserate, plan together, write together, research together, and help one another in a million ways that wouldn’t have been possible when our own teachers were in the classroom.
Our world has become small, and some have said, flat through technology as well. Collaboration isn’t limited to teachers; students can also work together and learn from each other. Students in Bangladesh and Camilla, Georgia can learn about globalization together and continue the work with other students around the world. Students in Atlanta’s Jewish community can teach students in Idaho about the Holocaust or connect with students in Israel and explore what Judaism means together.
The more people we have working together, the better our results are. Because we can share and collaborate in ways our own teachers never would have imagined, teaching is, in this way at least, easier for us than it was for our own teachers.