Basket Weaving: Changed Mantra Part 1

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • May
  • 18
  • 2005

In this context, “mantra” refers to long-held, though unspoken, beliefs of teachers. The danger is that these mantras are wrong and prevent what may be some of the most useful instruction a high school can give a student or a college can give a teacher.

Teachers expect that students enter our class with basic computer skills, despite the fact that they often do not teach such skills (or even know those skills themselves); teachers assume that some other instructor is giving lessons in computer literacy; teachers often see anything new entering their teaching scope as an extra burden; teachers are not given any instruction in computer literacy (teacher training programs make these fallacious assumptions, too).

Mantra One: It’s Not My Job

Shaking their heads, wishing students knew a bit more before they walked in the door, imagining how much more content they could cover if students were fully prepared, teachers in classrooms across the globe are frustrated because they have the current course curriculum to cover and discover that, in many cases, they’ll need to cover much of another course’s curriculum, too. My English 3 students are not all at the English 3 level (at least they aren’t at my conception of what constitutes the English 3 level). As a result, I have to spend some of my time covering what I feel should be covered in English 2. “It’s not my job to teach them English 2,” I mutter, passing the buck as I do so.

However, our bigger problem is that the curriculum we often feel should be covered before our class is a hidden curriculum: computer literacy.

It’s More Than Just Your Curriculum

In addition to the English 3 curriculum, I need to cover computer literacy, too. As teachers, we often assume students inherently know just about everything there is to know about computers. They know how to save a document; they know how to email a document; they know how to dowload and print that document; they know how to set margins for that document; they know how to include pictures in their documents. Since all of our students were born during a time where computers have quickly become ubiquitous and some teachers were born before a computer would even fit into a classroom let alone a purse, there’s an expectation that students know what to do when they sit behind a keyboard and “research” or “write.” As such, those skills are often ignored, untaught to even the most desperate of students.

Truthfully, a very small percentage of students know all these things. And those students who know computers well have plenty of other things to learn about the internet and some of the special things their favorite applications can do to make their lives easier.

There’s a basic computer literacy curriculum that I need to develop before the start of next school year. Deb Roepk, of Computer C.O.R.E. in Virginia, describes the goals of my idea curriculum perfectly (Quicktime Movie). Most of my students don’t know short cuts, don’t know how to completely close programs, cannot eject a disc on a Mac to save their lives, and generally know very little about how to operate a computer. Even the computer savvy kids are at a loss of how to copy and paste a Web page into a Word document and format it to print on as few sheets of paper as possible, a quite difficult task to undertake. Ask them to create a proper MLA citation for an online source? Forget it.

Here’s the problem that we run into repeatedly in education: it’s not *my* job. That’s the mantra of many teachers. In a career where so many things that truly aren’t our job are expected of us, that mantra is spoken rightfully so at times. At other times, it spoken out more out of spite than out of right.

As an English teacher, it’s not my job to teach the kids computer literacy and computer skills. It’s no where on my content standards and it’s no where in the standardized tests my students are expected to perform well on. The quadratic equation would be just as relevant to my subject area.

If it’s going to make my job easier and their education more meaningful, then I should do it. If I don’t do it, who will?

The danger is that “If I don’t do it, who will?” is a slippery slope to which there may be infinite additions. Maybe I should teach them oral hygene while I’m at it. Afterall, if I don’t do it…

Really, it comes down to what makes the curriculum more successful, challenging, and meaningful. I was just speaking with the kids today that I dream of a class that is run 100% by students. Students decide what to read, what to write, what to do each day, what conversations/projects to initiate, etc. If I get to a point where I can make that happen, I can’t let the fact that I may have to teach the students a few things that are outside my content area stop that from happening. If it’ll lead to a better class, even though it is out of your area of expertise or course content, teach the students how to weave a basket.

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