The Bulletin Board Paradox

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Some teachers look at a blank bulletin board and imagine a dazzling educational display. They revel in cutting, pasting, crimping and primping; glory in getting everything placed-just-so, and otherwise happily go about making eye-catching, colorful, creative and highly attractive displays.

I am not one of them.

I, the oldest of four children of a writer and an artist, seem to have gotten just the former’s set of talent genes, and not many of them at that.

I’m so non-artistic that when I was a student teacher in a second grade classroom, my host teacher forbade me using scissors lest some child copy my technique.

I can’t draw a straight line even with a ruler.

I have done exactly one good bulletin board in my five-plus years of teaching. It occurred in my third year for what was then and remains my best extended bit of teaching: The Pizza Project. Even then my students actually hung most of the display.

When it comes to creating bulletin boards I am a conscientious objector.

But no matter how conscientious I am about objecting I am still expected to produce them, a situation that leads to one of the most ridiculous teaching practices I know of: creating assignments solely for the purpose of having something to hang on a bulletin board.

I am teaching my students to use a Ning; to create Wordles, to podcast and to develop stunning multi-media presentations by exercising those vaunted 21st Century skills using 21st Century tools.

Its good for them and it is far easier for me to demonstrate those sorts of things than it is for me to hang papers neatly.

But hang I must.

The school hallways are lined with bulletin boards and they cannot be left empty. After all, they provide the evidence that students are doing something besides enduring rolling waves of diagnostic, predictive, practice and other versions of standardized exams.

It is a frustrating paradox.

Everyone wants students to learn new skills but, because my and many other schools are not set-up for demonstrating and displaying learning using those skills, we continue to have students practice the same kinds of skills used to produce billboards in the 18th Century

I know I teach history, but…

Meanwhile, the billionaire Mayor who runs our schools seems to have given up on my students and others like them.

There’s no money to buy bookcases so I can display the books in my sole-purpose reading classroom, but there is money to lobby for and open new charter schools.

For the past three months there’s been a brand new exterior display sign leaning upside-down against the wall outside our main entrance. There was money to buy that, but none to put it up.

Some schools get document cameras, GPS units, video editing programs and the cameras to feed them material, but I have to buy my own backing paper for those damned bulletin boards.

My students are capable of creating documentaries but I might as well assign dioramas.

A couple of decades ago the United Negro College Fund ran ads with the message that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

It still is.

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8 Responses to The Bulletin Board Paradox

  1. Sandra says:

    Have your students create the bulletin boards on a rotating basis – they can choose their work and put it up, and to demonstrate your 21st century skills, put up the wordles and ning addresses and screenshots. Advertise what you and the students do and the tech. resources you use.

    • Deven Black says:

      Sure, I could bend the 21st C. to fit the 19th, but I’ll have to pay for the printing since the school can’t find me a B&W printer, much less a color one.

  2. Hadass Eviatar says:

    Oooh, I hate bulletin boards too! I had to do one as a student teacher (as part of a math course, no less) and I was just lucky to have a partner who was good at that sort of thing.

    Is there any way you could write a grant to get the printer you need to display your students’ work on the bulletin boards?

  3. […] city teacher complains that old-fashioned bulletin boards take higher priority than technology […]

  4. In my latest formal observation there was a note next to ‘Student Work.’ I had none up. I hadn’t had ink in my printer since May, despite numerous requests and I have a wiki where I put up my students’ work. It IS a paradox. My kids are supposed to be learning 21st Century skills and creating digital work, but, even as a computer teacher, I’m expected to produce paper.

    I finally got a printer and had my 2nd & 3rd graders print Kidspiration idea maps they made. I taped them with scotch tape to the wall outside.

    Happy now, Miss Administrator? 🙂

  5. Melisa says:

    And I’ve been begging for bulletin boards in my classroom to combat the ugly white walls…..

  6. Michael J says:


    ” but I’ll have to pay for the printing since the school can’t find me a B&W printer, much less a color one.”

    How many laser printers do they have in the office? I bet it’s not that they can’t find one as much as “No, you can’t use the printers we use for memo’s to the faculty for stuff from the kids.”

    Printing out stuff from the Ning or wiki is perfect. It will make the kids take the stuff they do there much more seriously. Plus it’s an EZ way to make a bulletin board without taking time & focus away from teaching.

  7. laptoplover says:

    Hey are you a professional journalist? This article is very well written, as compared to most other blogs i saw today….
    anyhow thanks for the good read!

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