The Fear In Their Eyes

My school, which at 500 or so students isn’t so big to begin with, in September will start its third year in an evolution that has seen us break down into smaller and smaller, increasingly semiautonomous academies.

The first three academies were started by the then brand new principal who was looking for a way to turn around what had become an unruly school on a downward path. This year there were four academies; next year there will be at least six. All beyond the first three were started by teachers who bonded around some common idea: the arts; science; or citizenship and community.

My academy for next year is made up of teachers who were not asked to join one of the other groups or who, like me, teach students from different academies. No matter. We sat down together and I was able to convince my colleagues that the thrust of our academy should be collaboration on learning projects using technology.

Our school is so far from the cutting edge in technology that we’re not part of the knife. Our first in-class computers — two Dells and a printer for each classroom — were installed just two years ago. Most of the teachers have mastered receiving and sending basic email, but not all have managed adding or downloading attachments. This spring we got some Interactive White Boards (IWBs) but we haven’t been able to use them yet.

The idea of project-based learning excited my colleagues, but when I talked about podcasts, blogs, wikis, and all the other technologies we could harness, I could see fear in their eyes. I know that look; I see it every day in my students’ faces.

Teachers are overwhelmed by the subject of technology; there is too much to learn, and it needs to be done so quickly. They are afraid that they wont remember what they’re taught. They are afraid of being wrong, of making mistakes, afraid of failing. They are afraid of not being in control, of showing weakness, of cracking the image. They are afraid of not seeming competent, capable and confident. They are afraid of being made fun of.

They are afraid of being stupid.

Afraid of being like their students.

Developing awareness of the similarity of their reactions to what happens when a student faces a challenge might be the most important thing they learn in their careers.

I know its been that in mine.

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5 Responses to The Fear In Their Eyes

  1. Paul Bogush says:

    “Our school is so far from the cutting edge in technology that we’re not part of the knife.” That line is an instant classic.

    If you ever want to plan some very low key collaborative projects let me know. I have done a few with other classes that require no extra work on the part of the other teacher but still come out looking pretty fancy and give the other teacher a sense of the potential of using tech.

    • Deven Black says:

      Classic? Perhaps, but I hope I’m the only teacher left in America who can make that statement even though I know I’m not.

      I’d be happy to collaborate with you, Paul. Its a little late for this year, and I’m not precisely sure what I’ll be teaching next year, but I’ll be in touch over the summer when I have a better idea. Thanks for the offer.

  2. Stewartn says:

    To me, the empathy you feel for your students is perhaps the most essential characteristic of a good special education teacher. If you can give your general ed colleagues a taste of that, wouldn’t that be powerful?

    However, I think if you looked in the eyes of this special educator right now you’d see a bit of that same fear. At the age of 51, after 12 years in my current district and many more teaching in variety of settings before that, I am going to try to dramatically change the way I teach next year. I am going to risk being wrong, showing weakness, making mistakes. I am going to become a co-learner with my students. We are going to work collaboratively to find ways to learn what they need to learn through their own interests using the available technology. And I’ll admit, I’m terrified.

    Yet I am convinced this is the way to go, particularly with the group of students I have coming to me: significant ADHD and LD, low motivation, history of failure.

    The beauty of the web 2.0 technologies is that we can be transparent as we go through the process of learning and we can learn from each other. I look forward to reading about your journey next year and sharing mine with you and others.

    Thanks for another great post.

    • Deven Black says:

      I’m a little older than you (55) and have far less experience as a teacher than you (I’m finishing year 5), but like you, I have made the decision to totally change the way I teach next year the same way you will precisely because I teach the same type of student you will teach next year.

      I no longer have the fear of being wrong, showing weakness or making mistakes because that’s how I’ve been bumbling through teaching so far. My students are used to my looking confused, not remembering where I left the book or the paper or something. They’ve heard me admit to mistakes and errors in judgment so often it no longer creates a stir. I frequently tell my students that I’m sure I’m learning more in our classes than they are, and I never lie to students.

      I also know I, the oldest teacher in our academy by fifteen years, am going to have to model using these newfangled technologies for the young ‘uns. I think with me leading from age, and the students pushing from youth, we’ve got the other teachers surrounded and can convert them.

      Let’s stay in touch, share our fears, failures and successes. It isn’t so scary when you’re not alone.

  3. Deven,
    Your empathy and compassion for your students is commendable. May your colleagues assimilate those qualities first. Once they understand their students’ perspectives, they will be more willing to tackle the technology which promotes learning in their classrooms.

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