High-Tech Teacher in a Low-Tech Town
By Leah Shull
“How are you using technology in your classroom on a daily basis?” I was recently asked that very question when speaking to a group of Ed Tech doctoral students at New Jersey City University. I paused for a moment before answering truthfully. “On a daily basis? I don’t.”
I know what you’re thinking. Does this woman not know how technology can help students engage more deeply with the content? Does she not care about preparing her students for the realities of working in the twenty-first century? The fact is, I do care. I care a lot. But I happen to be a teacher in a rural county in Tennessee–a county that does not have the funds to provide those high-quality, technology-rich experiences that students in wealthier districts are privy to every day. For my students to be able to use laptops, I have to secure a mobile cart for my classroom in advance. That sounds easy enough to do, but there are only 6 carts of 30 computers each for a student population of about 700. For those of you who aren’t great with math, that’s only 180 computers, or approximately a 1:4 ratio. How would you like to share a laptop with 3 of your colleagues? Do you think you’d get a lot done? Most of the teachers, including myself, are anxious for our students to be able to use the laptops, but the frustration of needing a cart and not having one available takes a toll and some abandon the attempt altogether.
This year, I’ve been learning about virtual reality, simulations, drones, and many other exciting trends that are changing the educational landscape in the United States. Unfortunately, those technologies aren’t going to be appearing in my classroom anytime soon. The only technology available to me is a SmartBoard and my teacher laptop. I know many of you are dealing with the same or similar situations, and we know that life in rural America is fraught with challenges. The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2017 that “In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings.”
Here is my advice to those of you who find yourselves teaching in rural areas that lack the level of technology you’d like to have access to.
First, don’t give in to “tech envy.” It can be easy to scroll through Pinterest or Twitter and feel beaten down. I get that. When you see gleaming science labs, engaging robotics programs, and cutting-edge coding classes offered by larger or wealthier school districts, it’s hard to not imagine what you could do with those resources. Keep this truth at the forefront of your mind: good teaching is good teaching. Sure, it might be awesome to be able to incorporate some of the latest and greatest tools into your classroom, but at the end of the day, good teaching is about making connections with students and pushing them to think critically. You can do that without bells and whistles.
Next, focus on what you can accomplish and not on what you can’t. Maybe you’d love to have a 1:1 classroom but know that it’s probably out of reach. You could get on Donors Choose and write a mini-grant for a couple of Chromebooks, couldn’t you? You might have to get creative in how to incorporate limited resources into your classroom, but don’t give up.
Last, realize that by being in a district that is slower to adopt technology, anything that finally makes it into your classroom will have been tested out in in bigger places and proven to be effective. The cutting-edge districts are actually doing the vetting process for you!
“How are you using technology in your classroom on a daily basis?” If I could go back to that moment, I would change my answer. Instead of saying “I don’t,” I would answer more truthfully. I would say, “I’m using technology as much as I am able.” As a high-tech teacher in a low-tech town, I’m doing the best I can. I continue to advocate for my students to try and get them the resources I would love for them to have. Until we get there, I try and keep my jealousy in check, focus on good teaching practice, and comfort myself that the tech we do have is proven to benefit our students.
Bio: Leah Shull is a 6th grade Reading/Language Arts teacher in West Tennessee. She is a doctoral student in Educational Technology Leadership at New Jersey City University. She is a third-generation teacher and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing.