Teach your children well

I just couldn’t do it. Teaching seems like the job from hell these days. Bullying, test scores, no child left a dime, school prayer, and now technology as GOD. And I’m not a luddite.

It all seems so sensible, smaller classes make a big difference. But what school district has any money, especially in Arizona, where the way to trim budgets is to cut education, get rid of teachers. Some districts are putting everything they have into technology.

According to “In Classroom of Future, High Technology but Stagnant Grades” (see link above), many studies found that “technology has helped individual classrooms, schools or districts.” Writing scores improved for eighth-graders in Maine after they were all issued laptops. But the statistics are far from conclusive.

To me, it’s all about recognizing every student’s learning styles and strengths. I recall some years ago when the whole language/phonics debate raged. My sister-in-law, Sandra Wilensky, a terrific first grade teacher and later a tireless principal in Acton, Mass., told me she could teach any child to read. The key, she said, was to use whatever techniques, or combination thereof, worked for each child.

The same is true today for technology vs. paper and pencil learning. Do what works for each student. I remember having 100 students in my five high school U.S. history classes, and that’s a downright luxury compared to classes with 40 kids in them these days.

When I was a young, enthusiastic teacher back in the late ’70s, I gave my students writing assignments, which was unheard of at the time. They complained: “This isn’t English class, you know.”

I gave fewer and fewer written assignments as I got older, as I had two children,  because I didn’t want to stay up till 3 a.m. grading papers. How can teachers today engage students in real education when they have such overloaded classrooms? Rote memorization for meaningless test scores — not for understanding — is about all they can do.

Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford, says that “research showed that student performance did not improve significantly until classes fell under roughly 15 students, and did not get much worse unless they rose above 30.”

Maybe school administrators magically believe that technology will help teachers deal with unwieldy class size. In Chandler, Arizona, The Kyrene School District has spent a fortune on laptops. Maybe it’ll help and maybe it won’t. I’ll admit that for the most part the jury is still out.

Amy Furman, a teacher at Aprende Middle School in the Kyrene district, says, “I start with pens and pencils” but computers help students with the editing process. And many students prefer working  on laptops. For one thing, it’s what they’re used to in everyday life.

I can’t help feeling sympathetic toward Erin Kirchoff, president of the Kyrene teachers’ association. Teachers in Arizona must purchase their own tissues, pencils and paper, on top of traditional personal spending on supplementary books.

Questioning the large technology expenditures in her district, Kirchoff’s plea is, “Give me Kleenex, Kleenex, Kleenex!”

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