Most schools these days have a computer teacher. Or a technology coordinator. Sometimes both are the same person. Some schools have neither. It is imperative that all schools have both, not only in title, but two different people doing the two vastly different tasks. But they both need to teach...
A little background: I am the full-time computer teacher at a k-5 elementary school. In a week I, contractually, have twenty-five instructional periods (plus one prep and one lunch period per day). I see roughly five hundred students in a week. I am also tasked with managing and maintaining all the instructional technology in the building. Most classrooms have SmartBoards and every room has at least one iMac and one MacBook. There are almost one hundred iPads, distributed to staff (used for small group work, academic intervention services, paperless assessments, etc). I support the staff on the iPad initiative with professional development and technical assistance as needed. We are also a Google Apps for Education school, and yes, I manage and maintain the backend services related to that.
So, what do I do and where does it fit within my definition of the two roles? I see it break out like this, using my regular tasks as a guide:
I teach twenty-two periods out of twenty-five. That means I am left with three periods a week for my role as technology coordinator.
I love teaching. I love working with staff. I love setting up systems and workflows (every student’s work is server based and can be accessed from anywhere in the building, and I can manage and maintain all systems from my desk), but with only three hours a week, I never have the time to fully execute tasks.
All schools need technology. All schools need someone to assist teachers in effectively using technology in their classrooms. But in this day and age of mobility, is there still a need for a “computer lab teacher?” Yes.
One of the things I find most valuable about being a teacher is the experimentation. Being in a lab with students I get to try out new things, see where their capabilities lie. Working with students teaches me as much as I teach them, possibly more. It also sparks creativity, on both sides. Often I’ll give an assignment and a student will ask a question I hadn’t thought of. When I work with teachers, I am able to explain instructional technology to them not in a theoretical way but in a way stemming from practice. I know, I have thirty computers, one for every student, it’s not the same as a 4th grade class... But it is, sort of. Seeing students as a teacher I know the burden of paperwork, grading, differentiation, all the things classrooms teachers are faced with. But I also know what students are capable of, technologically. I know strengths and weaknesses I can share with teachers to help them best develop plans for their own rooms. As a lab teacher I get to know students from every grade, and I get to work with them for years. I feel that is invaluable in helping classroom teachers who only get them for a single school year. As a teacher I have perspective and experience with the students and technology that someone not in an instructional position lacks (not to say out-of-classroom people lack instructional knowledge, but the computer teacher is in a unique position to be a classroom teacher across the grades, looping, in essence, with every student in the building).
So, why the need for two separate positions? There’s multitasking and there there’s too many tasks. I do a lot, and I do it well. But I could be a better computer teacher to my students if I had fewer out-of-classroom responsibilities. I could also be a better resource to staff if I could devote more time to pushing into their classroom and working with them during the school day to integrate technology.
But if you have both positions, why make the coordinator teach? What better way for someone to train staff than by having used specifics technologies, platforms, and lessons with students? The most effective professional development sessions I’ve ever sat in are the ones run by teachers who spend a significant portion of their day with students.
Budgets are tight, there is no denying that. There is also no denying technology’s role in society and its ever growing presence in our daily lives. To stretch a computer teacher so thin they are not supporting either constituency to the fullest or to deny the school community of one of the roles is a disservice to all involved.