There’s always been something mystically cerebral about people in technical professions like engineering, science, and mathematics. They talk animatedly about plate tectonics, debate the structure of atoms, even smile at the mention of calculus. The teaching profession has its own version of these nerdy individuals, called technology teachers. In your district, you may refer to them as IT specialists, coordinators for instructional technology, technology facilitators, curriculum specialists, or something else that infers big brains, quick minds, and the ability to talk to digital devices. School lore probably says they can drop a pin through a straw without touching the sides.
When I started instructing K-8 technology in the teaching profession, people like me were stuffed in a corner of the building where all other teachers could avoid us unless they had a computer emergency, pretending that what we did was for "Some other educator in an alternate dimension." Simply talking to us often made a colleague feel like a rock, only dumber. When my fellow teachers did seek me out -- always to ask for help and rarely to request training -- they'd come to my room, laptop in hand, and follow the noise of my fingers flying across the keyboard. It always amazed them I could make eye contact and say "Hi!" without stopping or slowing my typing.
That reticence to ask for help or request training changed about a decade ago when technology swept across the academic landscape like a firestorm:
- iPads and then Chromebooks became the device of choice in the classroom.
- Class SmartScreens became more norm than abnorm(al).
- Technology in the classroom changed from "Nice to have" to "Must have."
- 1:1 became a reality.
- Students researched online as often as in the library.
- Students began spending as much time in the digital neighborhood as in their hometown.
- Textbooks morphed into resources rather than bibles.
- Student work was stored in the cloud and submitted digitally rather than as sheets of paper into the teacher's Inbox (that really was a box).
- Students collaborated on work, sharing virtually, and then publishing digitally.
That made the tech teacher (or whatever you call her in your school) the cornerstone to all things education, which brings me to the gist of this article: Teacher Appreciation Week -- May 6-10. This year, for that special day, give your technology specialist a gift they will truly appreciate: Talk to them. Before trying this, do a little research about these geeky folk who relish challenges and live for a problem they can't solve. Here's a short list of tips, taken from my own personal experience and that of my tech teacher friends, that will help you have a more positive experience when you confront this big-brained Sheldon-look-like:
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- You can’t scare them. They’re techies. Try kindness instead.
- Patience and tech are synonymous. Techies are intrigued by problems, so don't mind spending lots of time on them. Know that going in.
- Bring food. Techies often forget to eat, or ate everything in their snack stash and need more.
- Some days, tech looks a lot like work. Distract them with an interesting problem.
- Start the encounter with a discussion on “Dr. Who,” Minecraft, “The Big Bang Theory,” or “Game of Thrones.” Find a clever tie-in to your topic.
- Understand that tech teachers often think trying to teach colleagues to tech is like solving the Riemann Hypothesis (many consider this darling of mathematical problems impossible). Bone up on basics before the meeting.
- Life after the 100th crashed computer is what might be called a life-defining moment. If that just happened to the tech teacher as you walked through the door, turn around and come back another time.
- Understanding a techie who’s in the zone is like understanding the meaning of life. Again, – leave the room; come back later.
- While tech teachers can get your computer working, your smartscreen humming, and your students all online at once, there are days they need a dictionary to understand everyday English. Be gentle.
- Know the difference between the "Happy-techie" face and the "Go away" face. Act accordingly.
- Their heads are like “The Matrix” on steroids. Don’t try to understand them – unless, of course, you’re a geek too. Then, you’ll feel at home.
- The tech teacher does remember times when colleagues solved their own tech problems and appreciate it. So, do try to fix your broken computer yourself (i.e., check the plugs and power buttons) before visiting.
- Avoid words such as "Meh." These started geeky but are now mainstreamed and boring. Geeks, nerds, and tech teachers hate being bored.
If you're already on talking terms with your school techie, here are a few gifts they'll like better than post-it notes or a new scarf:
- Snacks -- chocolate, chips, pretzels, or anything eaten quickly and by hand. They're allowed to eat at their keyboard because they know how to fix it.
- A problem they've never seen before.
- Something written in binary, hexadecimal, or Klingon.
- Tickets to the Las Vegas Defcon, one of the world's largest hacker conventions. You don't even have to go with them.
- A t-shirt that says "I paused my game to be here" or "Pavlov's Cat."
If you don't understand one of these gifts (like hexadecimal, DEF CON, or Pavlov's Cat), don't give it to them. Techies are curious and might ask you about it.
Other gifts to avoid would be any that revolve around the three P's: 1) paper (like letter-writing paper or post-it notes), 2) pencils, or 3) plastic. I know -- #3 is difficult to avoid, but geeks, nerds, and tech teachers have a higher-than-usual intolerance for destroying the environment.
That's it. I'd love to hear what creative gift you gave your school's tech teacher.
More About Being a Tech Teacher
What’s a Tech Teacher Do With Their Summer Off?
A Day in the Life of a Tech Teacher
Applying to Be a Tech Teacher? Here’s What You Should Say
How to Teach a Tech Lesson–the Movie
How to Set Up Your Tech Classroom
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 ed-tech resources, including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in ed-tech, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, a CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on ed-tech topics, contributor to NEA Today and TeachHUB, and author of two tech thrillers. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.