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What do I hope you remember about me as your computer lab teacher?
My enthusiasm! I was so fortunate. In the middle of a job I loved, teaching first graders in a school that valued developmentally appropriate, early childhood instruction, I was given the opportunity to create a computer lab and the curriculum to go with it. I loved teaching kids and I loved technology. What could be better?
Our beginnings were quite humble. We pulled together a lab using one Mac computer from each classroom, but also leaving computers for classroom use. Children had to share computers in the lab, and computers had to share printers. We’re talking primitive sharing, not networking; I unplugged the printer and plugged it into the neighboring computer so you could print your stories using tractor pin feed paper. And I did it very carefully. If one of the pins in the Imagewriter cord got bent, it could be a minor crisis. No printing from two computers and no spare cords. Over time, the lab was continually updated, expanded and kept state of the art.
We were a school where few students had computers at home, but you had a reputation for being able to use computers better than other students in the district. Your teacher joined me in the computer lab, and we worked together, learning and teaching. It was exciting for me and for you. It was learning at its best. I used my knowledge of good teaching to integrate what you were learning in the classroom with our technology projects. As the standardistas took over education, that became more difficult to do. Learning became focused on skills instead of knowledge. The computer lab became “child care” for teachers so they could attend Professional Learning Committees. It was a welcome release of pressure for you as a student. I tried to give you what you needed: mouse skills for K while you learned about jellyfish and celebrated holidays and paint programs for first grade to work on math and writing. In second grade you wrote and indulged in clip art in PowerPoint. Third graders, do you remember the excitement of beginning keyboarding and using Publisher to create visitor brochures about the state of New Mexico? Some of you even got to proudly present them to legislators when you visited the state capitol. Older students, we worked on projects too, but we also dipped our toes into the emerging world of blogging, emails, and Internet safety (which I see many of you practicing today). Our district was trying to enter the digital world in a safe and thoughtful way. To look back now, it appears to have been baby steps, but that was the beginning and it was an exciting and important time. We also struggled with learning about the confusing world of copyright laws and fair use. I hope all of that helped you as you moved on to middle school.
Testing—the Beginning of the End
For many years in the computer lab we always had a word of the week, a technology term that we learned to expand our vocabulary. At the end, even that got put aside. Three times a year, the schedule was thrown out the window as we had to take the required Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. It was quite high pressure. When you were younger, most of you didn’t understand and were thrilled with the seemingly high score. As you grew older, the “cut score” reality set in. Regardless of how well you scored, it was rarely high enough and you could have always scored higher. There were rewards given by individual teachers and by the school. Even more pressure. Some of you must have felt like failures. You weren’t. The system failed you. What you probably didn’t know was that people above your teacher were telling your wonderful, hardworking, caring teachers that they were failures as well.
At some point I became too expensive as a certified teacher. The only written qualification for my replacement was that he or she should be able to use Microsoft Word. Seriously, that was what was viewed as necessary to do my job? This “assistant” (who she was assisting?) was charged with the care of you, two computer labs, scheduling, ordering equipment, preparing reports, training staff members, and a lot of technology maintenance. I worked with my replacement on the transition, and she is very capable and wants the best for you. The hardest part of this transition was moving my focus from all of the students at the school to only a classroom. I felt so responsible for all of you. I was also a little disappointed that the administration did not announce this change to students. Many of you felt I had abandoned you. This was definitely not the case, and nothing made me happier than to see you on campus and get one of your great smiles and maybe a hug.
What do I hope you remember about me in the computer lab?
A teacher who cared about you as a person and not a number on a test.
A teacher who cared about where you came from and what you went home to. A teacher who helped you learn about writing, language, art, math, science and developing technologies as well as about computers.
A teacher who tried to share with you things that would help you in your classroom and in your life.
A teacher who loved school and tried to provide opportunities for you to love learning as well.
A teacher who respected you because YOU are a person worthy of respect.