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Not all who wander are lost…

I spent the majority of my career as a technology coordinator/computer technology teacher for students in preschool to 8th grade for the Diocese of Buffalo. I was thoroughly convinced that I was a great teacher. The thing is, if I was so great, then why was it that I began to despise my job and feel more like a programmed robot rather than a catalyst of learning? About eight years into my career, as I began reluctantly wanting to leave my profession, the answer became clear to me one wintry afternoon.

I also spent many years crafting my computer technology curriculum to ensure there was a scaffolding of skills that were “real-world” (yeah, right) and encompassed many authentic (to whom? Me?) experiences for my students. For two long years, I kept going back to the drawing board and reworking my curriculum, thinking that had to be the answer. Then, a turning point occurred one fated wintry afternoon coupled with an ominous snow-packed sky.

My computer lab had the computers all along the outside of the room to ensure that I could see every single student at any given time. There I stood so proudly in front of the room, more or less showcasing MY awesome interactive whiteboard while teaching my sixth graders HTML and Javascript. “I am a rock star!” I whispered to myself as all my students were “actively engaged” in working on a sequence of tags needed to create a website (though “actively engaged” should have been taken for their sitting complaisant and keeping me happy by following along with the exact lesson I was covering that class period on coding). I KNEW they hung on to more than just a word or two that I said, as I have been told that I can be somewhat entertaining. I can get just as excited about explaining code as “Tim the Toolman Taylor” does when he talks about some shiny tool (hey, he can stick to his trade; I will stay with mine!).

Then IT happened. After the last class period in which I was slated to explain how to code, I turned the ownership over to them. It was their time to create their first website. Solo. I couldn’t wait to see what they would create! I mean, they had several classes about ALL the tags through hands-on tutorials presented by yours truly. What could go wrong? More importantly, would they really show what they knew? AND, even more importantly, what had they learned?

Not. A. Darn. Thing (I think I’m gonna need a bigger shovel).

To my credit, most of my students did take a moment to look back into my handmade tutorial and copy line for line exactly what I had written, changing only a few lines of code here or there, or perhaps changing the font color.

Here comes the snow drifts.

There was no original thought. No risk taking. No original questions. Even the cool “Bloomtastic”-made website planning sheet fell to the wayside once the students realized that they actually had to code the thing! Did I mention they were creating a website about themselves?

Can we even begin to discuss how unoriginal and terrifyingly unsafe that is? I mean, let’s tell our students it is okay to post everything there is to know about them to the Internet—even if we weren’t really. Mixed messages? Of course!

Needless to say, we had TALKED about hosting services and publishing, but never actually did IT. Yeah. R-E-A-L authentic.

So, what did I do wrong? Almost everything.

So, what did I learn? I learned that for the better half of my career, I may have been an “amazing teacher” by many accounts, but I failed epically at being an advocate for students' agency, voices, and ownership of their own learning.

I learned that what would drive me from that moment on was not purely my ambition to re-write my curriculum to teach students the latest technological skills, but to reshape my role in the classroom.

Here comes the sun! It helped to melt the snow...and my harsh self-reflection.

I retaught myself how to back off and allow my students to take ownership of their learning in a way that allowed them to be in charge of their own learning. This hands-off approach allowed my students to be both teachers and learners. I was able to develop deep, meaningful relationships with my students that gave me a better understanding of their personalized learning needs.

Although I am no longer in the classroom, I spend a great deal of my time researching ways to reform the education system, mainly by working with educators and administrators. I have to believe that my commitment to education and students will make a small ripple in the ocean of education—even if that is only one teacher at a time.


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