By David Jackson
— For years I have heard the comment, “Computers are going to replace you in the future.” Well, after this round I will have to say, “No they will not.”
At the same time, I do see that distance learning is here to stay. I have watched my children currently in college connecting with their professors and classwork more online than ever before. So, what is better — traditional school or remote learning?
Neither. We must look at the learner and not the resource. After 30 years of teaching, I have encountered all kinds of learners. I have been to all kinds of conferences on teaching and what it comes down to is the individual needs of each student. What is their motivation? What is their skill set? I would like to tell you every child who sits in my science course is reading at the appropriate level, has all the math skills, is a complex thinker, has a stable home life and is emotionally ready to ignore their phone.
Being online is great for the self-directed learner. They can motivate themselves to finish their work, read for understanding and spend the proper time reviewing the concepts. Now is a chance for them to excel. I am seeing these students doing very well, which is awesome. These types of students should take advantage of this avenue of education available to students.
In addition, every student needs to be able to learn remotely in some capacity, since our society is heading in that direction. On the bright side, this situation is forcing students who do not excel at this type of learning to step up and build a skill set they will need in the future.
However, those who need direct intervention because of a lack in their reading, writing, math ability or motivation are now out of reach. I have seen many children over the years excel in my classroom even though they entered without the necessary skills. When we can reach these learners, one-on-one, we see an improvement in their skills and motivation. That personal time with peers and an instructional leader who monitors them provides a powerful motivation. I impact their learning more effectively when I am in the classroom. I can see those who understand, those who are struggling and those who have given up. Sitting at my computer, working remotely, I just see lists and numbers to be filled in. Who are these students? Are they working on the material? Have they finished or have they shut down and refuse to ask for help?
But let us not forget the time component. Students seated in a classroom can be moved forward in the content with greater success — maybe not perfectly but more efficiently. Students online still need assistance but, without a schedule, I am getting emails at 11:15 at night. In a classroom, all I need to do is step up to the board, review the material and students are back on track. Not online. Now, I must email each child separately, or try to get them all to sign into a “live” session to get help. It does not take much imagination to see how difficult it is to get a group of teens to gather in front of a computer at the same time each day. If only chemistry was a popular video game.
To be honest, I am a social being. I love school and I love teaching. Being around the students and my colleagues gives me life. They motivate me and give me a desire to get out of bed. I am a people person. How many of our students need these interactions and are struggling with this shut down? I have a friend, who is a superintendent, who always reminds me that sports were the only reason he made it through school. Every activity — drama, choir, band, football, basketball, swimming, student council, robotics, etc. — shapes the lives of our students and fulfills a purpose in their growth. Online learning has merit, but will computers replace me? Only when every teenager thinks and acts the same. Good luck with that.
David Jackson is a teacher at Eaton Rapids High School.
PHOTO INFO: Eaton Rapids High School staff, 2020