by Robert Brintnall, 06/13/2020, Buckley, MI
New Tricks for Old Dogs
At a staff meeting earlier this year the principal demonstrated a teaching tool where kids held up a special card to represent their answer to a question. Then the teacher could scan the whole room with an app on their phone and instantly project the results on a screen. The principal assured us it was a very simple app to install and use.
I whispered to a younger colleague, which in my high school is every colleague, that I had never successfully downloaded an app on my phone.
She smiled sincerely, “Don’t worry Mr. B, I can help you if you like.”
I sighed feeling old, they’ll be helping me out to the parking lot next. On weekends I wear T-shirts older than half my work friends. I could retire in June, but hope to work another year, we’ll see.
Then on Friday the 13 in March we had another staff meeting and this one was far more serious. We were shutting down, that day.
We needed to get every kid that walked in the door logged into a setup google classroom for each section. I panicked a little. I had messed with digital learning platforms, but had never set one up from scratch. With help from others I frantically learned how to make an on-line class and get students into it. I had my 5 running just before the last bell.
Frantically trying to learn new systems, programs, and presentation tools has pretty much dominated my professional life ever since. No more scissors and glue sticks when I cut and paste, this old dog has gone digital.
I should pause to say that I am not at all complaining about my job expectations in these difficult times. I have many family and friends that are laid off and consider myself totally blessed to be a teacher right now. A lyric from my generation: “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do”.
Blessed or not the challenges are huge. I wanted to do more than email worksheets so I frantically learned how to make presentation videos. I had digital access to my textbooks, and frantically learned how to take it off line, break it up into smaller nibbles with my own explanations and insert it into various google friendly formats. I even got ambitious and made a real world video from my phone having students calculate slope on various wheelchair ramps in my neighborhood. But it took half a day to make that lesson, and I was intending to do 16 presentation videos a week.
It wasn’t enough to frantically learn how to do something, I had to learn to do it better and faster. Teachers love to overuse analogies, the one being beat to death right now is that we are all trying to build an airplane while it’s flying. But it wouldn’t be so over used if it didn’t hit home.
So what keeps my Sopwith Camel in the air? The same thing that’s kept me at it for 25 years, the small victories.
I have a freshman with health issues that missed a lot of school during the year and always struggled to catch up and learn in the hectic day to day of a large freshman class. She is thriving academically in this environment, every assignment in and all very well done.
I have a very nice email from a parent thanking me for the effort I’ve been pouring into my videos and presentation materials. I printed it out and hung it over my desk and stare at it while the circles spin on my laptop.
Then there’s the amazing growth of a young man who as a freshman had more write-ups than turned in assignments, now he’s a junior that leads his algebra 2 class in submitted on-line responses.
I also had to grow a bit, and it too was painful. It has been over a decade since I opened myself up to students like this.
I once worked at a school just for at risk youth and troubled teens and gave out my personal number often, till I got a text at 4 am, just asking me if I knew when he could come back to school since he had been suspended.
I didn’t reply, thought I would from school when I could find out and give him an answer. Once at work they told me Jay had taken his life, just about dawn.
It was hard, and I began to protect myself, shield myself, and never gave out my personal info to students. But something had to be done with the current crisis to make contact easier and now a 100 crazy teenagers have my personal cell. I get texts often, and a few calls, and it’s ok.
Every old dog has to bury a bone once in a while and move on. We truly are all in this together, another overused expression, because it’s true.