If you're thinking about becoming a teacher, you're probably aware that schools have come under a lot of public scrutiny lately. But many current teachers would argue that there's never been a better time to teach. With all the recent technology resources and innovative teaching strategies, classrooms are an entirely different world than they were just 10 years ago.
Today's Classroom Has No Walls
Justin Reich, educator and co-founder of an organization that connects teachers with technology, explains the difference between his own seventh-grade history class and classes today. Reich says that when he was a student, he was given two resources for the year: a textbook and a primary source reader. "The reader contained 20 documents," he recalls, "and they were the only documents we read all year." But today, Reich says, "a history teacher can choose from the millions of documents archived online by thousands of libraries and archives around the world, including not just texts but images, audio recordings, film clips, and ephemera."
Back when I was teaching English and my students had finished reading The Diary of Anne Frank, we managed to set up a live interview with a Holocaust survivor via distance learning. The connection came with a three- or four-second delay, the picture was a little jerky, and the sound wasn't very good, but my students were thrilled by the experience. Today, of course, there's video streaming, YouTube, and thousands and thousands of easily accessible resources that don't require any special setup. The classroom has expanded far beyond its physical limitations.
In addition to vast educational resources that students can tap into by themselves, Reich notes that many also have access to computers, electronic notebooks, smartphones, and apps that allow them to process information in multiple forms. Instead of the old "read, study, test" instruction method, students can absorb and present information in creative, personal ways that indicate their mastery.
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This leads to more proactive, engaged students. "It's much easier for teachers to use their classroom as the space to seed interests," Reich wrote, "letting students explore them deeply in the fullness of time, knowing the web has the capacity to support almost any learning interest." This is a key innovative learning concept—rather than just moving on when the unit is finished, students can return to a topic later when their capacity to understand and explore an idea has grown.
No More Business as Usual
While teachers today have far more resources, using them effectively requires rethinking our approach to teaching. With so much available, students need guidance in sorting out what's useful, meaningful, and valid. The opportunity for students to spend time surfing the web instead of researching the topic is enticing, so teachers need to plan carefully.
Integrating technology requires a different kind of lesson planning, a different set of guidelines, and most likely a different kind of rubric for grading. Using this new form of instruction also requires that teachers help students understand fully what constitutes plagiarism and why it is such a serious issue. Teachers who have taken online classes may already be familiar with some of these instructional guidelines.
There's Plenty of Support Available
This change to integrating technology in the classroom can be a little intimidating for current teachers or those planning on becoming a teacher, especially since some of your students may be more comfortable with technology than you are. But just as students have more resources at their fingertips, so do you!
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Even if your school doesn't have formal teacher training for new methods, you can easily connect with teachers across the country who teach the same subject or share your particular interests. You can access videos on demand and live streaming to tap into best practices. There are many websites and blogs that offer information and platforms for discussion. You can access workshops online and communicate with teachers and experts in the field to develop skills to enhance your teaching.
So if you're thinking about becoming a teacher, now's the time. You can tap into resources and instructional methods that weren't available even a few years ago. Knowing how to use this technology can move your classroom to the next level and make it more interesting, creative, and fun for your students—and for you too.