“This technology stuff is really… it’s quite a learning curve.”

Sandra1 called our office with a few weird Chromebook occurrences, so Patrick and I went to her class. After 20 minutes of troubleshooting (as she guided her students in silent reading), she came over as we were packing up to leave.

I smiled and asked, “What else can I do for you?”

She put her hands on her hips and shook her head as she said the pink phrase at the top of this page. “LIke… these kids, they just don’t know how to write anymore. Looka this.”

She jogged across the class and grabbed a small composition book. She flipped through it as she trotted back, before opening it and saying, “See?”

(Artist’s rendering)
image: Wikimedia

Patrick and I looked at the moderately legible sentences on a page. “And… this is lower than usual for your class?” I asked.

“Oh, way lower!” Sandra raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure if I want to refer half of these kids for OT2, but a bunch of them just have such poor handwriting. I’ve seen a decline in penmanship in recent years, and this class is the worst so far.”

“And penmanship is important to you?” I asked. In situations like this, I find that getting the other person to keep talking is always the best move. They will reveal more about their feelings, which is what happened here.

“I mean… it’s a problem, because how will they perform without computers? Think of all those people in Florida with Hurricane Irma: they can’t type on a computer if the flood knocked out all the power! Kids these days can’t even write a letter!” Sandra seemed to notice that she was raising her voice, so she took a breath. “It’s just… they spend so much time on computers — and they have for years now — I don’t know if it’s the right thing. Like… what are they giving up to be good at typing? There is such a thing as too much technology.”

“I agree,” I said, as soon as she paused. “There is definitely such a thing as too much technology. And, Sandra, it sounds like you’re asking the right questions and trying to prepare your students for 5th grade and for whatever comes next. Let’s talk again in a week or so and see how you’re doing. High five!”

As Patrick and I drove back to the office, we discussed the conversation and realized a couple things:

1.) Sandra is closer to the end of her career than to the beginning, and she’s scared that she’ll send poorly prepared students on to 5th grade — students that can’t write a letter or don’t have good penmanship. Sandra’s concern for her students has been — and still is — a noble one.

2.) I travelled a lot this summer, and veteran teachers across the U.S. murmured to me some version of Sandra’s fear:

The classroom is changing, and I don’t know if I can keep up.

The video above scares the hell out of some teachers. At the very least, it makes us wonder, “Hmm…

If students can use apps like this to find answers, what kind of problems should I be giving in class?”

Twenty-five years ago, there were no Chromebooks, no iPads, no online math practice apps, and teachers like Sandra learned to teach well in a classroom where she had total control over students’ behavior and students’ access to information.

Now only one of those is true, and all teachers must adjust to being one of several sources of information.

image: Geograph.ie

Veteran teachers like Sandra have built a castle of pedagogy and are now watching as odd-looking foundations for new towers are being poured in the classroom next door.

image: Pixabay

The excellent pedagogies of the future look only slightly similar to the practices of many teachers who were once deemed “excellent.” Teachers like Sandra who were proud of their castle are watching as more and more focus is being paid to the weird-looking building next door.

image: Pixabay

I’d feel some fear, too, if I were in that situation. My very identity, my castle that I’ve worked hard to construct, is waning in value. Why doesn’t the principal come into my room as often anymore? These workshops seem further and further out of reach. What is a “single sign-on?” We aren’t teaching cursive anymore?

That fear of looming obsolescence must be addressed before Sandra will care about any app or program or device.

~Matt “Install a brewery in that castle, then everyone wins” Vaudrey


UPDATE: 19 September 2017 We sat together in a training for the new English textbook, and she had this to say:

I don’t like feeling incompetent and with this (points to the new ELA textbook), I feel like I’m not … I’m just totally overwhelmed. Everybody else seems to be doing fine! It’s like I’m the only one who’s struggling. I’m not the type of person who can just do the minimum and be like, ‘Ugh. I did it.’
*sigh* I want to do a good job. Everybody else has the skills to do this stuff and I’m just worried that I don’t have the skills to teach effectively…. that’s it! I’m worried I don’t have the skills to teach effectively.

We ended with some positive self-talk and right-sizing (“Do you really think you’re the only one in that room with questions? It seems like you’re just the only one brave enough to ask a question.”) but we have more work to do to alleviate the fear.


1. Not her real name.
2. Occupational Therapy – when a specialist works with a kid on physical skills, like fine motor for penmanship.