In 2012, the lead wave of students who never knew a world without the Internet, began their freshmen year in college. “Teaching will never be the same,” laments every teacher that doesn’t understand what these kids are doing on their devices or why they’re doing it. Some teachers are quick to label today’s students “digital natives,” naturally wired for a tech saturated world and adept at negotiating the requirements of the environment. Then they explain away short attention span in the classroom, as a result of digital addiction.
But it’s that kind of teacher bias that will short-circuit the effectiveness of their own teaching. As one college student puts it, “It’s only technology if it happened after you were born.” So with every new technology, there’s a curve and period of disgruntled learning. See? Even these natives can get restless.
The reality is that the so-called natives can be just as confused by today’s digital landscape as those of us born in an analog world. Technology is constantly in flux. It can adapt to user needs as well as define them with each gadget that makes our hectic lives a little easier to manage (Alexa, Waze, Smart home devices, etc). And some day each of these devices will wind up in a scrap pile, replaced by something better, prompting a new learning curve.
What does this mean for teachers? It means we have an Ace up our sleeves. It means the core values that inspired us to get into teaching in the first place are just as important today as they were in the days of corded phones and 8 track tapes and earlier. Effective teachers engage and inspire learning. They challenge students to energize their efforts and elevate expectations. They push them to expand the capacity of their internal radars to find new ways to solve problems. They connect students with the World outside the classroom through current events and video chats with expert practitioners and pre-eminent voices. Most important, teachers emphasize dispositions that will help them succeed within and beyond the school day such as patience, empathy, diligence, flexible thinking.
Some day the world will be racked with problems we didn’t see coming. Some day there will be holes that all of humanity had dug for ourselves. When the day comes, we’ll be saved by inspired thinkers and doers– our students– who will strive for greatness, not out of a craving for Likes and Retweets, but for the sense of Purpose their teachers helped instill in them.