Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Luxury of Knowing

We could hardly have known it at the time.  Known that there might be a way that we, as teachers, could keep track of how some of our students were doing long after they exited our classrooms for the last time.  Of course, there are some teachers who couldn't care less.  Just a few, in my view.  But for most of us, we care about the people our former charges are becoming.

When I retired from full-time teaching I knew very little about Facebook.  Other than it involved being "friends" with one's peers, it was mostly used by college students and had just begun to infiltrate the universe of high schoolers.  That was only 10 years ago.  Since stumbling on to my own account on Facebook, mostly to sign an Amnesty International petition, I've been able to have contact with a few hundred students from about 25 years ago to the present.  I rarely ask them to friend me, as a sign of respect for their privacy.  But if they find me and request "friendship" I will oblige.  It's been worth every second.  I have a chance now to see them as mature adults, parents, teachers, and thoughtful, decent human beings...for the most part.  That's priceless.  It gives me the luxury of perspective so that when I'm with a group of educators today, especially beginning teachers, I can allay their fears about what really matters.
Even though I get into a classroom now and then in my work with student-teachers and first year teachers, I sometimes doubt how long I could last today if I returned to full-time teaching.  That's because so many things are tied t the computer.  From audio visual materials to attendance taking and record keeping, it's all done on the keyboard.  Lots of advancements but something is lost even amid all the gains.  Kids today will never know the sound of a movie projector or a record player.  Even the technology with cassette tape recorders is hugely outdated.
I did a lot of oral history type projects with my students; how does one go about that today.  I guess digital tape recorders are the preferred method, but again, it's a matter of re-tooling everything and everyone.  Still, it's worth it.
Now and then I hear from a former student out of the blue.  Their stories and emotions are touching.  They make me incredibly aware of all the kinds of learning that can take place in a classroom. They remember much of what I remember, but add insights and often, things I could never know.  Most gratifying are those who apologize for not being as motivated or not contributing their best efforts at the time.  Still, they acknowledge what was available for them at the time and feel so strongly about how they have changed that they are compelled to contact me.  It's humbling, yet fascinating.
All teachers remember their first class.  Mine was in the early 1970s and if they are on Facebook I don't know.  They knew me as a student-teacher who was in his 20s at the time and who was finding his way.  I recall some of their names, so I could do a bit of research.  There are advantages and disadvantages in doing that.  The students who were last in my classes know me as a journeyman.  Someone who taught their siblings, and in a few cases, their parents.  They are computer savvy and seem to easily find me.  Facebook has become a sort of Zen Coan.  I'm still figuring out what it all means and could mean.

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