The Great Divide: Are teachers are just like 8th graders?

Last year, the Junior High Division in my school went 1:1 with Macbook laptops. I could not have been happier. My classroom went paperless, I never had to stand in line at the copier, an I could easily and quickly collect, assess, and return assignments. Never before had I been so efficient at giving students feedback. Never had my classroom been more flexible. I was like a hog in mud.

There were other faculty, however, for whom this transition felt more like being thrown into a different kind of mud. Mud like quicksand. They felt stuck, in over their heads, totally afraid, and paralyzed because they had not yet had the opportunity to learn how to wield this tool properly. What was liberating to me became a significant burden to them.

What was most disheartening to me this past year was not the knowledge and application divide between the “knows” and the “don’t know yets.” We all worked hard to bridge that divide as much as possible.  Rather, what became most frustrating was the emotional divide that sprang up between these two groups. It was scary to see teachers start to take a divisive kind of pride in their knowing or not knowing because this pride stifled learning and empathy on both sides, and it also eroded our sense of community.

I can quickly sum up how this looked. Many teachers who were on the “don’t know yet” side of the macbook fence, started to take the following stance: “This is a waste of my time. I’m not going to classes to learn how to use this. I have better things to do. I’ve been teaching for X number of years, and all of my students have gone on to Ivy League Schools. Are you telling me what what I’ve been doing for the past X number of years doesn’t work? You’ve got to be kidding me. You and your vision statement and your mac books can go to the hot place for all I care.” Their language in the faculty lounge was complaining, whining, biting, and sarcastic. Their approach to learning anything new caustic and reluctant.

I have seen my 8th grade struggling students act exactly this way. They are terrified and frustrated. They don’t see how they can succeed, so they take pride in their failure or they fail to try at all.

On the worse side of the fence, however, were some of the “knows.” These teachers–and I profess that I stepped into these shoes more than once, much to my shame–would show no pity for anyone struggling to learn. They would say or think things like “I can’t believe people aren’t willing to learn. We’re all learners. Any teacher who is unwilling to learn and fail can’t be much of a teacher because they can’t empathize with their students.” Meanwhile, we were whizzing away on google docs, schoology, and twitter, wondering why some of our colleagues couldn’t or wouldn’t step up to the challenge.

We remind me of the 8th grade girl who complains about “failing a test” with a 94– loud enough so that she looks “humble” to all those within ear shot but really displaying her pride in the A.

Neither of these students really care about learning. Neither did we.

What was interesting about this divide was that it grew as the school year went on. Like the achievement gap between struggling an high-achieving students, the emotional gap seemed to widen, and we have not done a great job of bridging it. I even sense the gap between the High School faculty- who are moving to mac books this year- and the Junior High faculty who have been using the macbooks already. It’s like we’re back in junior high school, and all we want to do is either complain about our “grades” or brag about them. As if we find some sort of status in our knowledge and skill base with macbooks.

I hope that as time goes on, these emotionally based groups lose their cohesiveness. A computer should not inspire jealousy or fear or even pride. It is merely a tool. Like a copy machine, like a pencil, like a binder. There should be no pride in knowing how to use one, and those who don’t should seek to learn how to use it solely because it will ultimately make their lives easier.

I wonder if anyone else senses this divide, or if I am just like that 8th grade girl–worried that everyone will notice what I’m wearing, what my hair looks like, or what bag I tote, when no one even cares.


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6 Responses to The Great Divide: Are teachers are just like 8th graders?

  1. Bo Adams says:


    You’ve written a fascinating post. Do you really think the divide is dichotomous? Was it really spectral? We’re there more than two camps? Weren’t there clusters at various places along a spectrum?

    What would the “ideal” have looked like? How could we have avoided and proactively prepared for this so that the experiences of learning together were more unifying than dividing?


    • Bo Adams says:

      Were, not we’re.

    • epdwilliams says:

      Thanks! I think that the divide is not really that dichotomous towards the “middle”, but what I was describing was the worst ends of the spectrum. I agree that there were lots of places along the spectrum, but I do think people tended to drift out rather than middle.

      I think the ideal– which maybe would never exist since we’re human and prideful because of it–but the ideal would be that we have classes for people who are interested, and anyone who has a strength to show off might be able to teach a class- not just the DIS team. I also think that having certain people labeled as the technology group (DIS, for example) without most people knowing how or why those folks got chosen was not a great way to keep things cohesive. I think that if we could help everyone show of their own strengths and let lots more people volunteer to teach classes to their peers, then there may have not been so many dissenting voices. I wonder if we couldn’t have done a better job of seeming less like “know it alls” and more like celebrators of great stuff we saw going on. I think we started to do that during our faculty meetings, but there we were typically preaching to the choir since not everyone could attend. I DO think, though, that we did the best job we could given the extremely short amount of time provided, and I loved the weekly sessions that we held for people to come and learn about particular technology tools that they might need help with. I hope this year we can do a really good job of highlighting more faculty members who are doing great stuff and don’t get recognized for their work as much as others do.
      We’ll see. 🙂

      One more thing, I do think that there is that kind of divide ANY time there is change, not just with technology, but one way to deal with it might be to acknowledge it better. I know I didn’t ever do a good job of listening to those who needed to vent and then help them find solutions. I just figured that people who were venting were not ready to learn– and I know that is not the case now. They just needed a hand finding a way around an emotional obstacle. One thing I am NOT so great at is helping people with their emotions, so I wonder if having some counselors come to help us out with that could have also been helpful. Anticipating the emotional needs as much as the technological needs of the faculty… I dunno.

      • boadams1 says:

        Thanks for the reply, P. I appreciate you taking the time to go a bit deeper into the thinking. I agree that more organic, teacher-to-teacher sharing needs to happen – and at a systemic level, rather than at a random level. Also, I agree that change is about 1) “motivating the elephant” (dealing with emotion; understanding the heart), 2) “directing the rider” (applying logic; appealing to the head), and 3) “shaping the path” (managing the route; ensuring the infrastructure).

        At the time, I felt pretty “tapped into” the needs of the organization. In hind sight, I, like you, believe we could have done better. I say that with no defensiveness…just in appreciation for reflection and wanting to get better “the next time.” I certainly think better thinking should lead to better implementing – in a complementary cycle.

        All the best for improving the system!

  2. Peyten,

    I should be working on my grades (or playing with my girls… or gearing up to head to 7th grade football… or…) but instead I am eyebrow-deep in your blog posts! I’ll be brief for all of the aforementioned reasons. I spend much of my time thinking about how we will – to borrow from Bo and the Heath brothers – motivate the elephant, direct the rider, and shape the path towards realizing our school’s Vision. In other terms, how will we get everybody (or mostbodies) on board with this process of becoming.

    Communicating with such honesty and humility is the kind of courage that will move us forward. Thank you for leading by example and for leaning in to the unavoidable discomfort of growth.


    • epdwilliams says:

      Wow! Thank you for reading my blog. I am pleased and honored that you would take the time! 🙂 One thing I know that has been great this year is that the pace of life has been slower, and already I feel like that divide I talked about is starting to close. I wonder if times of great transition don’t ultimately shake us up so much that we latch on to what is familiar….and only when life seems to slow down a little can we reach back out to each other. This year feels like a time for reaching out!

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