In Defense of Teachers: Unfair Expectations in Making, Coding and Tech

Multiple times per week, I see claims on social media that teachers who aren’t coding are somehow causing inequities amongst students or are inefficient themselves.

It’s mind boggling to me that people can say this and even more so considering that the same statement used to be said about teachers who fail to use technology when we all know that having a teacher who puts her/his heart and soul into students trumps tech every time.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe that kids should indeed have access to use technology just as teachers should be using it but this generic message of tech being the definer of great teaching ignores all of the systemic inequities that keep it from happening.

…just as it does with making/tinkering/coding

Technology Still Isn’t A Priority

I have the pleasure of being connected to technology specialists from all over the country and the overwhelming conversation happening amongst these groups is about ways to “get teachers to use the tech”. Yes, the people who are hired by school districts to support these efforts are often struggling to do the actual work of getting tech in the classroom, even in 1:1 environments.

The fact of the matter is that whether we like it or not, what matters most often in schools are those points that are measurable by state/federal standards. Teachers are being evaluated according to student performance and when that kind of pressure is on, people will always do what they know for sure works versus what could probably work. Ask any teacher planning for their evaluation.

That’s not to say that the right technology wouldn’t make a difference. It does.

…but when you are fighting “we have to do X, Y and Z because of testing”, it makes it even more difficult for those hired to support technology use to “convince teachers” of using such tools when the overall thinking of the district/school is more focused on numbers irrelevant of how those numbers are achieved.

The need to “convince teachers” is still mind boggling to me but I get it. If you were under the constant pressure of data and performance appraisals, you’d get it too.

With that said, it’s crazy to have school technology/media specialists and then expect them to do the leg work of support when they themselves lack support in doing it or are not joined at the hip with curriculum.

Technology will always exist in a vacuum as long as those who support the work are relegated to their own corner to fend for themselves.

Mis-Prioritized Technology Efforts

For every teacher jumping on the tech band wagon, there are those who see many “edtech” tools for what they are…junk.

And that’s ok too.

We have a way in this field of recreating wheels that have existed forever and naming them other things. Some teachers are just so eager to get the tech in class that they too fall prey to the glitz and glitter of social media infused edtech. They use it and thrive just fine.

There are those, though, that see a google doc for what it is and does. They don’t need a fancy name to add links and “interactivity”. They literally know that these are functions of the tool itself.

They also don’t need “sticker infused images” of books to know that the most important tool of reading is engaging content and real dialogue.

They’ll never have flipgrid fever. They are giving you all of the side eyes possible.

I dare anyone to tell teachers like Jose Vilson that their teaching methodologies need work. I’ll wait.

On one hand there are schools who have failed to support the very tech people that they have hired.

On another hand, there are some tech people who seem to lead by technology trend or hashtag over great teaching.

I’m not sure which is worse right now. I’m really not.

Coding/Making with No Support Shouldn’t Be a Thing

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my department to lead a tinkering/coding initiative on two campuses for a small group of 120 students. On Tuesday, I worked with a teacher to facilitate a circuits lesson using squishy/paper circuits and Microbits.

This is the work that makes me smile daily while also demanding that crash and burn at the end of the night. I absolutely did!

I would like to honor every teacher that I know with a gold medal, trophy, raise, spa treatment, dinner cooked via chef and all of the things…all of them…

This is hard work yo!

Anyone that claims inefficiency amongst teachers not doing activities such as these when they have zero support shouldn’t be afforded a platform to speak.

Please do not come for me with that whole, “if you’re tired at the end of the day, the kids weren’t doing the work” nonsense. It won’t end well for you…at all.

There are quite a few teachers who will do the work of tinkering themselves to figure out what they need because they want kids to have these experiences. I was/am one of them.

I also recognize that those of us who do this work, especially for a living, are not the norm. It’s unfair to expect otherwise as this is more personality trait or interest than anything.

We just threw “coding” on top of what we think that all teachers should do but this hasn’t been a part of teacher education…ever.

It’s most certainly not integrated into day to day planning.

It’s also not properly prioritized or supported in schools because the thing is that coding, itself, shouldn’t be.

Computational thinking, on the other hand, should.

It’s not about a single lesson or buying all of the coding robots available.It’s about having a plan and support to make sure that teachers have the knowledge and time to teach what we know will support students as whole learners in a world that is increasingly more digital.

Our field is evolving and in that spirit, there are so many technical skills that we must own in order to be what kids need.

There also must be support in place along with support of the actual support.

Maybe instead of criticizing what teachers aren’t doing, we should instead talk about what school communities need in order to support our future growth.

On a side note, props to those who work on the ground of classrooms and share that work from a realistic lens. You cannot talk about what schools or classrooms need to be if you are so removed from this space that you fail to see the real challenges that teachers/school leaders face daily. The struggle is real and won’t be solved with a “multimedia text set” or “coding robot”.

Dreamer, Blerd, Educator, Disruptor of Ridiculousness, STEM & Digital Access Advocate