I Hate Technology in the Classroom, or, How My Latest Unit Totally Tanked

“See, THIS is why I hate technology in the classroom,” I muttered, furious as usual.

Lately I’m furious, especially in my second period class: poor freshmen! With fresh sticks of gum in their mouths, bleary and crusty-eyed from late-night Sconex sessions. “Good morning, you’re late,” I chant. “All right, folks! Mouths closed, pens down, eyes up here–K, spit OUT your gum, it is MAY for crying out loud, hello?–As I was saying…” All in one breath.

So there are two carts of laptops, supposedly Internet-ready, plugged in and ready to go. They take up 30% of available classroom space, which is dwindling in the crowded room. I TESTED them, even. These puppies are CHARGED. They are ready to facilitate my brilliant students’ nascent zines, in this “guerilla media” unit, wherein they report on the real Bed Stuy, not the “Do or Die” of urban myth, but the actual stories of the people who live here.

“Ms. M, mine don’t work,” someone pipes up. “Ms. M, mine just turned off by itself.” “Ms. M,” says S, waving her arms wildly, “this one doesn’t connect to the Internet!!” “Hold on,” I say loudly, the voice of reason (stay calm!). “Do any of these connect to the Internet?” “No,” they chorus. “Mine just turned off, too!” someone else says. “It said ‘low battery!'” she cries. Charged, my ass.

And that was how I was reduced to a crumpled pile of Ms. M today, four periods in a row (I kept thinking I’d solve the problem by the next class, but no, sad clown, that is not what befalls you as you try and try to teach with technology–NEW PROBLEMS keep sprouting like fungi, but faster). I raised my hands to the heavens, crossed my eyes, cursed whoever thought it was such a great bloody idea to put computers in classrooms, and lowered myself to the floor in front of the whiteboard.

By 3:00, I was an embarrassment. “I mean, why do this project at all?” I heard myself ask. “Yeah!” agreed my students with enthusiasm.

One could write many paragraphs discussing exactly HOW to use technology in the classroom, about how NECESSARY it is in this changing world, how critical it is to literacy, to reasoning, to research, to finding a job or a college. How important it is for teachers to feel empowered and competent with such technology, to be able to troubleshoot and solve problems with ethernet cards or firewall whatevers. How we need to have a culture of accountability and mutual respect in the room so students can work independently.

But my students never took typing. Keyboarding is arduous and time-consuming; thirty minutes leaves barely enough time to open a document. None of the laptops accepts CDs for saving work (newsflash), nor do any of them print, so I had to run around the room with a single USB drive, opening and saving every kid’s piece. (Surely there is a printer attached to the cart, you say. Yes! There is! But it doesn’t COMMUNICATE with the machines, despite the thicket of cords running from it to the laptops and back again.) My students also might be able to wield Treos and Sidekicks with considerable swagger, but “saving as” or “undoing” or formatting or using shortcuts or even trying to muddle through it when you’re not sure, on a real computer, is daunting or impossible.

Try managing that train wreck while simultaneously managing the day-to-day order of your students, who by this late date, are furious they have to be in school at all. And frankly so am I. Did you feel the air outside today? Jesus.

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