How to be a champion user at your school

Many teachers feel left behind by their ultra-savvy students. Here's how you can share your skills and bridge your own school's "Digital Divide".

Many teachers feel left behind by their ultra-savvy students. Kids who have grown up with a plethora of technology use it blithely, but are desparately in need of teachers with the experience, wisdom, and critical thinking skills to help them use these technologies as effectively (and safely) as possible. Oftentimes, those teachers best equipped to bring technology to the classroom are also lowest on the totem pole in a school.  It's the recent college graduates who were able to download lectures for later review as podcasts or IM their dormmates to check answers on the night's homework who can interact with kids in meaningful, relevant, and modern ways.  At a recent faculty meeting, several very experienced teachers asked me what a blog was.  On the other hand, when I created a MySpace account to research one of my earlier posts, I found two other relatively new teachers with MySpaces whom I quickly added to my "friend list."

Teachers who have been around the block a few times realize that their students are in touch with a world of technologies on which they simply may not have a firm grasp; these same teachers, though, being teachers, are remarkably eager to learn and tap into anything that might pop the earbuds out of their students for a few minutes.  Virtually all of us who work with kids every day also realize just how clueless young people are about Internet safety, piracy, copyright infringement, and intellectual property.  With the exception of Internet safety, these issues predate computer technology, but, given that this is the context in which our students think, we need to help our students comprehend these issues in ways that are relevant to them.

So where am I headed with this?  I am not by any means saying that all teachers who aren't card-carrying members of Generations X or Y and who do not participate in extreme sports on the weekend don't bring technology into the classroom effectively.  Many do it very well.  However, many more really struggle with information technology as much as first-year teachers struggle to hold a classroom together or keep a reasonable rankbook. 

This is instead a rallying call to the younger teachers, the teachers who are fresh out of college and green behind the ears, who all too often sit quietly at faculty meetings, and who are struggling to find their place in the school hierarchy. I am suggesting that these teachers have something very valuable to offer the senior teachers in their schools.  Most schools have really positive teacher mentoring programs in which the best educators partner with new teachers and help them survive the first few years of teaching. 

What these mentoring programs frequently miss though is the easy use of technology that new teachers often bring to the table.  While 25-year veterans may be able to manage a classroom singlehandedly with a silent glare (I'm still working on my teacher face), the blistering pace of technology may leave new teachers in a much better position to relate to today's students and use Internet resources or digital projectors, create a class website, or otherwise use a variety of media to keep students engaged.

Several posts and discussion threads on this site have revealed a significant unmet need by students to learn to wisely use the the technological tools available to them.  What better way to get at this than pairing an experienced teacher and his or her 50-60 years of wisdom with a teacher who has grown up with information technology in exactly the same way as their students?  There is a real synergy to be had here and teachers with the digital know-how, regardless of age and experience, need to actively bridge the "Digital Divide" that exists in our schools.  We may not have time or money for professional development, but we need to make the time to get ourselves on equal footing with our students if we want to effectively guide them into adulthood in a digital world.

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