The Straw Breaking My Professional Back

Cranky Blogger Warning: From time to time here on the Radical, I feel like a ranting lunatic driven by emotion rather than solution-oriented blogger driven by reason.  Now might just be one of those times.  Take what I write tonight with a grain of salt — or a gallon of gin.  Dealer's choice.


Poke through my thoughts about technology's role in public education and you'll hear me preach over and over again about the importance of working to transform teaching REGARDLESS of the number of computers you have in your classroom.

That's a very personal message simply because I don't live in a 1:1 world. 

Heck, I don't even live in a 10:1 world.

Like most teachers, I've spent the better part of the past decade making due with limited access to labs with dozens of computers in need of Flash updates.  Sure, we've got a few laptop carts — but they've sadly become dilapidated wrecks that we can't afford to replace. 


For the most part, I've tried to be tolerant of that reality. More importantly, I've consistently encouraged anyone who bothers to listen to be tolerant of that reality, too.

"It's not like your schools and districts don't WANT to provide you with access to the kinds of digital tools that you need in order to change teaching and learning in your classroom," I'll say.  "It's just darn near impossible to appropriately outfit classrooms given the limits of district budgets."

There's some truth in there, right?

Times HAVE been unusually tight.  Geez – here in North Carolina there hasn't even been money to give teachers cost-of-living adjustments in the past 4 years.  Where ARE we supposed to get the cash to invest in classroom technology.


But I'm sick of being tolerant, y'all. 

I'm sick of hearing critics hammer teachers for being resistant to change while I'm STILL sitting in cut-and-paste classrooms full of textbooks, glue sticks and safety scissors.  I'm sick of educational soothsayers conjuring up visions of 21st Century learning environments that I'll NEVER be able to create with the three working computers plugged into the corner of my classroom. 

I'm sick of telling my students that they'll have to wait until they get home to answer the questions that they care the most about.  I'm sick of standing in line behind twelve other teachers waiting to make photocopies because handouts are the only instructional resource that we have consistent access to. 


Most importantly, I'm sick of pretending that I stand a chance of convincing kids who understand just how personalized and engaging learning can be that my ridiculously quaint, completely unplugged, intellectually standardized classroom is anything OTHER than a big, fat waste of time.

The genie's out of the bottle, y'all. 

Like Scott McLeod recently argued, our kids KNOW that traditional learning environments are irrelevant — and pretty much everyone with a pulse KNOWS that our schools need to change, but NO ONE is willing to put their money where their mouths are. 

You (and I don't care if "you" are a pundit, a parent or a politician) want to see my instruction change?

Find a way to give me some new tools to experiment with. 

I don't care how you do it. Force through some ridiculously sick bond referendum earmarked for technology and technology only.  Figure out a way to make Bring Your Own Device Programs work in your communities.  Pass the hat at Chamber of Commerce meetings. 

But whatever you do, quit ranting about the crappy job I'M doing until YOU'RE actually willing to pony up some cabbage or to help cut through red tape to create solutions that give me a fighting chance of actually doing my job well.

Quit crying about the dioramas my kids are making when the supply closet is chock-a-block full of crayolas.  Quit acting so surprised that my kids aren't networking with the world when the only lenses that we have to look through are dated textbooks.  Quit asking for "timely feedback" when I'm collecting data by hand with clipboards and post-it notes.  

I guess what I'm saying is quit asking me to perform instructional miracles.

My well of professional tolerance has run dry. 


(Glad I got that off my chest.  I almost feel better already.  Now where's my red checking pen? I have 130 essays to grade.)


Related Radical Reads:

How Limited Technology Budgets Failed My Students

More on the Challenges of Wondering in Schools

Your Data Dream. My Data Nightmare


14 thoughts on “The Straw Breaking My Professional Back

  1. Janet |

    Hi Bill,
    I’ve been thinking about your post since I first read it. I remember the days without technology.
    So, I decided to write a post on a non-tech project students love. Perhaps it can be adapted to your setting or curriculum needs.
    Hang in there – I know great learning takes place without technology.
    Janet |

  2. Trish

    OMG, Bill…Thank you so much! I just stumbled across your blog for the first time! This is everything that needs to be said to lawmakers, parents, or whoever about education today. You echo what my colleagues and I say every single day. And now we have Standard #6 to deal with. Can you please publish some of your thoughts in the large-city newspapers here in NC? And, then, send a copy to every politician in Raleigh? Nothing’s changed, but I feel better to know that other educators feel as we do. Thanks!

  3. Marsha

    Dear Bill,
    I think it’s good to be cranky about things like this. You’re right that they have us between a rock and a hard place.
    And what fires me up is how whenever someone wants me to create workarounds, they lay on the guilt trip that “Given the constraints, we made this decision because it’s best for the kids. We know you’ll make it work.” They know full well, I’m going to make it work and just needed a helping hand.
    If it makes you feel any better. I work in a state where we have union representation. It still means holding up signs in your union meeting where no one pays any attention to the issue.
    I’m coming that way on Tuesday….hope to see you.

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Marsha,
    First, thanks for stopping by. Just seeing your name in my stream made me just a little less cranky. The fact that a teacher I admire and respect so much sees the same challenges that I do was the icing on the cake.
    I think what bugs me the most is that I’ve been finding workarounds to the crappy settings I’m pickled into for so long that people have just come to expect that of me.
    Policymakers don’t even bother to think about actually solving the problems simply because we’re solving them already. Then, when we stumble, they begin the “fire lazy teachers” chants.
    Some part of me wants to stand up and fight back. Then I remember that I work in a nonunion state where “fighting back” means holding up signs that no one pays any attention to anyway.
    (Can you tell that I’m still cranky?! ; )
    See you soon I hope,

  5. Marsha

    Cranky Bill…..I’m rolling on the floor laughing WITH you. I thought I was the only one with an avalanche of post-its and clipboard assessment notes!!!!
    My favorite is this…you sign up for a computer lab that has 25 computers yet every class you have is 30+ students. Any ideas what to do with the other 6 or 7 students….and then we are criticized for not using labs!!!!
    I’m glad I watched loads of MASH episodes way back in the day. All those countermanding and crazy-making orders make me draw inspiration from Trapper John or Hawkeye in order to cope.
    Hang in there dude.

  6. Edthoughts

    This is exactly how I feel. I’ve hit the wall. I’m tired of treating the use of computers like they’re a special treat. I use a computer regularly in my work and personal life, and so do a large percentage of our population.
    Your post is right on. I’ve adopted a, “By any means (morally and legally of course) necessary,” attitude toward getting more computers into my classroom. To that end I’ve launched a used laptop drive. With the laptops I’ll collect, I will wipe the hard drives, install Ubuntu and use web based applications like Google Docs and Edmodo.

  7. John Ferriter

    From what I hear about apples ebook initiative, all teachers in America should fight for implementation. This could reduce hard cover textbook cost to $0.00. It would also completly engage our students. Let’s go everyone… Now is the time for the biggest paradigm shift ever seen in education!!!!

  8. Shana

    I am one of those parents working hard to cut through the red tape, raise funds and build understanding and support in administration, teachers and other parents. I’m hitting lots (and lots!) of brick walls and resistance – including those who don’t want to change from those outdated textbooks – but thank you for the encouragement to keep working to get the technology and tools in place for teachers like you. I’ll take a deep breath and keep working. It’ll happen someday, I hope.

  9. Milesmac

    Reminds me of Jerry Lundegard in the movie Fargo in the ice scraping scene. Work, work, work, rage, heave a sigh, cary on working. One of my own mantras is “take what you have and get on with it.” There certainly are times I get frustrated and impatient with the pace of technology innovation. Thanks!

  10. Janet |

    In the book _Focus_, Mike Schmoker argues that curriculum and good instruction are more important than technology. If instruction is bad, it will be bad with or without technology.
    However, good instruction is made even better with the technology tools. I’m in a 1:1 and can’t imagine teaching without it. The quality of student work since the 1:1 (and since my students were able to bring home their computers) doesn’t even compare to projects three and four years ago.
    Where to get the money? I’m not sure. I know that the cost of replacing out-of-date textbooks is high. I have hope that, when peer-reviewed, ad-free, textbook-like content becomes available, computers will be a cheaper option than textbooks.
    Janet |

  11. Dave Orphal

    I’m having a hard time typing through the tears. Some are from the laughter you have pulled out of me with you whip- like wit and insight.
    The others are tears if frustration because your post #soundsfamilar!

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