I was lucky enough this past week to visit some classrooms and see teachers using Sketchpad in various ways. It’s been seven years since I was in the classroom myself, so for me it was like coming home. It brought back a lot of great memories, though also some reminders of some not-so-great things that teachers have to deal with on a daily basis.
I want to share some of my observations and insights to basically sing the praises of teachers. I want to shout out to those critics of teachers and public school classrooms that until you see what a teacher faces everyday—and walk a mile in their classroom—you have no idea of the hard work, dedication, and amazing things they are doing. With little thanks and little support. Test scores don’t do justice to the true work of teachers.
I visited a high school ESL geometry class with 41 students, crammed into a small classroom with not enough desks. 41 students speaking six different languages, with one energetic teacher, who spent as much time explaining simple words like “straightedge” as she did focusing on math content. No compasses were available (in a geometry class, let’s remember), so she used various lids from containers for students to draw circles. Sketchpad was used to visually demonstrate and confirm students conjectures from what they were constructing with their lids, rulers, and paper-folding.
Then I was in a high school co-taught, special education Algebra class with 36 students, where Sketchpad was used to review concepts of slope and equations for the opening warm-up. The teacher used an interactive whiteboard and a clicker system to get feedback from students, so it was really great to see all the engagement. Later I ended up at a different high school in another Algebra class with 35 students, where the teacher used Sketchpad on an interactive whiteboard to introduce systems of equations. A great lesson, interrupted by a fight in the hall, a student cussing because another student had written on their paper, and four boys in the back hitting and goofing off. You may ask, “why didn’t the teacher stop it?” She did, several times—but with 35 students in a class designed to hold 25 students comfortably, its physically impossible to walk around the classroom and “stay on top” of situations.
The next day I was in a 6th grade class of about 30 students—very little room to move in—but these kids all had computers at their desks and the teacher had an interactive white board. It was exciting to see all the work and creativity. The teacher had students working with Sketchpad, guiding them through the activities, and the aha moments were priceless. The end of the day found me in another middle school class with 8 alternative education students—students that everyone had given up on, but the teacher had determined he was going to get these kids to learn. According to the teacher, these were kids with no fathers at home, all on ADD medicine, and often absent to help at home. Even in the short time I was there, it was obvious that this teacher was making a difference—not only in believing these kids could learn, but more importantly modeling respect, giving them a male role model, expecting them to succeed. It was beautiful to see.
My last class was back at a high school with a repeater Algebra class. Tough kids who constantly tried to interrupt the teacher, or were sleeping at their desk, or coming in late. It was only the 2nd day of the new semester, so you could tell they were testing the boundaries to see what their “new” teacher would let them get away with—which wasn’t much. But the fact that the 45-minute lesson was interrupted every two or three minutes by a student asking to go to the bathroom, or knocking on the door to be let in because they were late (until they got a pass they were not allowed in, but that didn’t stop the knocking), or the teacher tapping a student on the desk to put their head up—it was a wonder any teaching could happen. But it did. She used Sketchpad to help students understand slope—they played “The Slope Game,” came to the white board to move the lines to change their slopes, and explain their reasons. And, they even stayed after the bell to finish because they were so engaged.
What did I walk away with from these observations?
- The big take-away is teachers are overworked and under-appreciated, but not a single one of these teachers had a negative attitude. They were there to do their best to help students learn.
- Teachers are trying to use technology and engage their students. They work with what they have, but time is often against them and they are overburdened with so many district and state mandates that they often can’t do what they need or want to engage their students.
- Class sizes are too big. 41, 36, 35 students in a room? WHAT?!!! That’s insane. But, look around the country and you will see that is more and more the norm because of budget cuts and policy changes. So those people out there blaming teachers for not teaching, look at their class sizes. It’s hard to do all the things you are suppose to—differentiate, individualize, manage class behavior—when you can’t move in your own classroom and don’t even have enough seats for every student.
- Inequity exists not only between school districts, but within a school district. One school has white boards and computers for students, another can’t even get compasses for their geometry teacher. Until schools can provide the same resources and efforts for all students, regardless of location, population, ethnicity, and so on, there will always be an inequity in what and how students learn.
- Teachers are faced with so many more challenges than standardized tests, and those challenges impact everything, including results on standardized tests. We need to stop evaluating teachers solely on the basis of how their students do on standardized tests. Look at all the challenges they face—large class sizes, rude and disrespectful students, lack of resources and materials, lack of parental support, limited time, and constant “requirements” by the district and state—it’s a wonder they show up every day.
But they do. And that’s the beauty of a teacher. So, before you blame teachers for all that is wrong with education, go to a classroom and spend a day seeing what teachers really do. I guarantee that you will walk away with some disbelief and a new respect for those folks out there trying to educate our children.