By Teachers, For Teachers
Most of the teachers I know didn't set out to be tech teachers. They got here via the PE department, or the 4th-grade classroom, or when they were laid off as an IT manager at some small company.
Few took college classes to teach K-12 technology, nor did they say, "Gee, I have all the skills to be a top-notch tech teacher at my son/daughter's elementary school. I think I'll apply." Most of us got here because 1) Our current job disappeared (the Brits call it “made redundant” -- isn't that cool?) and this was the better alternative to unemployment, or 2) our principal offered us what Oprah calls a “life-defining moment.”
So here we are, doing our best, minute-to-minute, hoping we can solve whatever catastrophe the universe throws our way, figuring out how technology has changed education, usually with a solution that has something to do with servers and permissions.
Fifteen years into it and still flummoxed on a daily basis, I wish someone had offered up this advice when I first crossed the tech lab threshold.
1. You don't need to know everything. Do what you can and the rest gets kicked upstairs. That's right. You are human. You don't wear a cape and you can't leap tall buildings.
2. You can make mistakes in front of the students. Really. Common Core is about problem solving – show your students how you work through a problem like audio failure or when a website won't load. They'll see your calm approach and emulate it when solving their own problems.
3. Tech isn't a digital puzzlebox, the end of a Mobius strip, or the solution to an irrational number. There are only about 20 tech problems that occur 80 percent of the time. Know them and know how to solve them. I'd include them here, but that would make this a massive article. I'll cover it in my next series on how technology has changed education (stay tuned … ).
4. Common sense isn't common. Don't expect it to be. When a teacher frantically tells you the Smartscreen doesn't work, start at the beginning: "Is it plugged in?" Every techie I know starts there and after 15 years, I know why: It works.
5. When you wake up in the morning, remind yourself that no one can scare you -- you're the tech teacher. You do know more than the teachers. Don't start by apologizing because you don't know what you're doing or telling her/him how you've never seen this problem before. Take a deep breath, think about it, consider the options, and start. Chances are, you'll figure it out.
6. Tech works better integrated into classroom inquiry. Sure, you can create fun projects that use cool tech tools, but learning will be more authentic and scalable if students see you working with the classroom teacher. I use that term loosely – “working with.” Sometimes, grade-level teachers barely have time to breathe, much less meet to discuss tech tie-ins. I've been known to chat up parents about what's happening in class, wander through and read room walls, ask students. I'm not above interrupting a teacher's lunch with “just a few questions.”
7. Don't jump in to solve student computer problems. If they've already seen a solution, let them work it out on their own. I have three extra computers in my lab and parent helpers always want to move students to a new computer when their usual seat is “broken.” I don't let them. I have the student explain what the problem is and think through solutions. Only if none of them work do I allow switches.
8. There are days when coffee and aspirin count as two of the four food groups. Don't let it bother it. It will pass. Your job as go-to geek requires you to always be available. Tech teachers don't get lunch hours or set breaks. When someone has a computer emergency, they need it taken care of NOW. Respect that. They've tried to make a tech lesson and now something doesn't work and they're frantic. Take care of them. It doesn't happen that often. I promise.
9. Let students redo and make up work. Without taking points off. Wait, you say -- I'll have double the work! Truth, I've been doing this since I started and get only a handful of redos for each project. Sometimes I grade it with students and use the opportunity for teaching. The students who really care will really benefit. The others won't take you up on it.
10. There will be days when you and anything tech are barely on speaking terms, when you couldn't fix another broken digital device if it came with a free puppy. When that happens, talk to other tech teachers. Online is a great way to do that. Join tech teacher groups, share problems, offer suggestions and discuss how technology has changed education. You will feel brilliant and thankful for the kindness of others.
11. A feature is not a bug. The computer or the iPad or laptops aren't broken when doing what they're supposed to do, even if the user doesn't like it. Gently point that out.
Now go get 'em -- you're ready!
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.