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.