Monday, July 21, 2014

Has Technology Reduced Teachers’ Stress or Increased It?

Has Technology Reduced Teachers’ Stress or Increased It?
            Has technology reduced teachers’ stress levels or increased it?  Teachers are connected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with electronic grade books, web pages, social media, text-message programs, and computerized instructional programs.  Although all of these programs increase both communication with parents and instructional effectiveness, does it decrease teachers’ stress levels or increase them? 

            What was teaching like forty years ago?  In February of 1976, I was hired in an inner-city high school to replace a teacher who had decided to move back to the middle school.  In those days, we recorded attendance and grades in roll-books containing many pages of large spread sheets.  Because the school had a large mobile population, students were frequently transferring out and transferring into my classes.  As this happened, my neat little alphabetized roll-books became disordered with students crossed out and others added to the bottom.  This meant I had to recreate my roll-books every quarter to maintain some order.  Of course, in today’s world electronic gradebooks hide students that are no longer enrolled and re-alphabetize students when new ones enroll. 

            To determine a student’s grades in those days, a teacher had to decipher that student’s percentage based on the tests and assignments that were given during his enrollment.  This meant that each student’s grade had to be calculated one at a time.  In today’s world, the electronic grade book does this for teachers every time a score is added.  Furthermore, the parents and students can access their grades through their computer, their smart-phone, or have text messages or emails sent to them regularly.  The old roll-book could not do that.

            What happened when the roll-book got lost or stolen?  It did happen.  It happened to me my first year of teaching.  I left my roll-book on the corner of my desk, locked my door and went to supervise a pep rally.  When I returned, my door was still locked, but my roll-book was gone.  Years later, a former student confessed to me the details of this crime.  Three students came to my room during the pep rally.  One of them stood as look-out; one of them unscrewed the vent in the bottom of the door; and the third crawled through the opening, retrieved the roll-book and crawled back.  Afterwards, they replaced the vent and its screws, took the roll-books three miles from the school to the Arctic Circle Dive-In Restaurant.  Next, they dug a hole behind the parking lot, threw the roll book into the hole, poured gasoline on it, and lit it ablaze.  Afterwards, they buried the ashes.  Quite an elaborate plot to get rid of the roll book, but as a novice teacher its loss sent me into a panic.  I asked my principal what I should do.  He suggested that I say nothing.  If I knew my students well enough, I should be able to estimate their grades.  I did and not a single student or parent questioned me about them. 
            I was not the only teacher to have their roll-book stolen.  The science teacher managed a movie theater at night to supplement his income.  One night at the end of quarter, he put a pile of uncorrected tests and his roll-book into a briefcase.  After his shift at the movie theater, he was locking up with briefcase in hand when a robber, thinking he was taking home the nightly receipts from the movie theater, pushed a gun in his back and demanded the briefcase.  The teacher gave it to him knowing how disappointed the thief would be when he discovered the uncorrected tests and the roll-book.  In today’s world if a student or a thief were to take a teachers’ roll-book (if they indeed had one) it would not matter.  If their school was to burn to the ground and all of the teachers’ computers were destroyed, it would not matter, because all of the grades are backed up on the cloud and no one really knows where that is.  

            Obviously, electronic grade books make grading easier and safer, but is it less stressful for teachers? The constant connection between parents and school has created many helicopter parents.  As these parents become more demanding, the stress level for teachers increases.   For example, at the end of seventh period one afternoon, one mother was waiting outside my door anxiously inquiring whether her daughter, Elizabeth, had turned in her assignment that period since she did not see it on the grading program.  I had to explain to this parent that I have to actually read the assignments before assigning them a grade or entering that grade into the electronic grade book. Since I taught seven periods (not six periods with consultation like I had 40 years ago) with 40 students in each class period, I had to read 280 papers before I could record the grades.  In another instance, on a Friday I had collected all 280 of my ninth grade students’ ten-page research papers and had gone home for the weekend.  About midnight, my husband went into Sudden Cardiac Arrest.  Needless to say during that next week while I sat next to my husband in intensive care watching him in his drug induced coma, the papers were not a high priority; nevertheless, I was bombarded with angry emails demanding to know when their son or daughter’s paper would be corrected and recorded on the grading program.  Electronic grade books are easier and improve communication, but I can’t say they reduce stress.

            Other applications that have vastly improved communication between parents and teachers include: school and teacher web sites, Twitter, Facebook, and Remind 101 Scholastic Read 180, Accelerated Reader, Scholastic Reading Inventory Test, STAR, My Access Writing Program and many others improve instruction and allow teachers to evaluate students’ learning and individualize instruction. 
            Facebook and Twitter may allow student to access their teacher with particular questions about assignments, but also can create problems for teachers.  For example, I heard of one teacher who posted a picture of her enjoying a beer in the Beer Gardens in Germany during a summer vacation on her personal Facebook page.  When she returned to school the next fall, she was fired because a parent saw the picture and felt it was inappropriate for a teacher to be seen drinking alcohol.  Be very careful with social media. Make sure you have very restrictive security and be cautious about what you post.  If you use it to communicate with students make sure you are only communicating about how to complete an assignment.  Keep it very professional or it can create issues.  A better choice is Remind 101 which allows you to text reminders about assignments to parents and students, but they cannot respond to them.  If students or parent needs to communicate with you, they can still talk to you in class or email you.  

            Although technology improves communication and the quality of instruction, it adds extra work for teachers.  As a teacher, I usually arrive an hour early to answer emails, update my web site, sent out text messages on Remind 101, and update the agenda on my classroom white board.  After school each day, I stay an hour to respond to writing on My Access, enroll new students in Accelerated Reading, and update my grades on our electronic grade book.  It is like the laundry; if you don’t keep up, it will overwhelm you. 
            Teaching can be a stressful job.  Teachers need to take a break from it once and while, so learn where the off- button is on your computer.  Don’t always take it home with you. Don’t put your school email on your smart phone and know when to leave that computer at school.  When you need a break, take one. My dear Aunt Fae, once told me about a teacher she had an Onequa Elementary School who 70 years ago.  She told me how “Old Lady Kennelly pulled off her wig, and as bald as an eagle ran around the school and swung about the tricky bars.  Don’t be “Old Lady Kennely.”  A relaxed, happy teacher is a better teacher.