Computers win ... and students lose

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I have spent 16 years teaching in the Coeur d'Alene School District and over 20 working with kids. Three years ago I could not have imagined writing this letter. I am aware of the animosity toward teachers by some community members. It is not my intent to make a political statement, though I see much of this animosity taking a political tone. I write this because most of the negative comments I hear originate from people with no classroom affiliation, and because I see and experience the tragic effects of decisions made by those who have little or no teaching experience.

I observe profit being valued more than wisdom. Our school programs, once built on a solid foundation, are now in jeopardy. Since the introduction of the Luna policies, teachers have become less important than computers. There has never been a strong definition of how computers would be utilized; in our department world history will become a "blended" course, half teacher and half computer.

My immediate concern is the impact this decision will have on student learning and student character when the computer supplants the teacher. Forty-nine percent of instruction for world history will be computer driven. In sound pedagogical practice the computer can be a valuable resource, but it is the teacher who determines their best use so that student learning can be complete.

Successful students must learn certain values such as patience, hard work, self-discipline, honesty, respect for others, etc. Teachers instill those values, not computers. Teachers serve as positive role models and successful learning requires positive human interaction. In training we were informed by a district official that "with the incorporation of this program you will not even have to interact with your students." For those who do not understand how such an approach to teaching can damage a student's education, there is no reason to explain further. You will never understand.

Damaging, too, is the inevitable rationalization that a teacher who instructs only 51 percent of the time is merely a part-time teacher. Eventually administrators will recognize those teachers as only part-time instructors, pay them part-time wages, and eliminate their benefit packages. No respectable teacher will accept those positions because we, too, have to feed our families. Your children will be supervised by persons willing to work for part-time wages. World history was chosen because it is not required by the state for graduation; neither is geography. The veterans I have known, from World War II especially, will be appalled when they discover our omissions.

I don't understand those criticizing teachers and our system of education saying we need to return to "good ole ways" and "traditional values." I was born and raised in this community with these values. Aside from my family, the most influential and positive adults in my life were teachers. My family and teachers are the very reason I became a history teacher.

Regardless, the point is that I teach the values that were taught to me, including respect for others, hard work, honesty, self-discipline, patience, integrity, kindness, etc. Teaching has been a blessing, and not because of summer vacation. During the summer I am a student who attends classes and continues to work with kids as a baseball coach. If you prefer, I have no problem with year-round school. I work evenings and weekends grading papers and creating lessons. My colleagues work just as much. I am not touting my performance; it is just that the community needs to get over this lazy teacher perception.

When people see unruly kids in the community, schools tend to be blamed. Understand, as teachers we are deeply concerned about such behaviors, as well, and most are a result of forces outside our schools. They are not a product of our educational system.

I now see individuals taking over decision-making positions in education who have no classroom experience, implementing programs that have made the classroom critically vulnerable to their destructive impact and counterintuitive to education. There is too much noise regarding the state of education that is distracting and destroying the true nature of education, which should center on the student. Students learn best when they have caring and reputable teachers. And we have them in the Coeur d'Alene School District. However, this is changing and if left unopposed will destroy our quality of education leaving our students, our community and our state to pay for these mistakes.

Few of us are willing to step forward to protect our valuable education system. By writing this letter I put my own job in peril. We have been told not to rock the boat. But I believe this is exactly what the forces who are dismantling our schools are hoping for. Being a teacher today is to live in fear - so we close ourselves in our classrooms and try to find ways to widen our moats and protect our jobs. Others embrace this invasion, perhaps not realizing their jobs may be lost to it.

The conditions in our history department will inevitably spread to the other departments. As for administrators who think they are safe, eventually teacher numbers will dwindle and there will be little justification for keeping more than two administrators per building to preside over part-time teachers and students who lack the skills necessary for success. The spirit of this movement does not have our children's best interests at heart. The motive is profit at their expense.

Tracy Turrell is a teacher at Lake City High School.

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