I got into elearning early on, before there were Learning Management Systems or plug and play anything. My first elearning class required that I code HTML in order for students to see the material. I’d just come out of over a decade working in IT so I was one of the few people in the system who could engage with elearning early on. I was deeply involved in virtual learning until I attempted to apply for an elearning management position. After not getting it I was also suddenly also not an elearning teacher any more. I moved in other directions and have developed a successful and competitive computer engineering program instead. In the process I’ve won a couple of awards for integrating technology into teaching and my students have won all sorts of things, so I’m happy with where I’m at.
These days everyone is an elearning teacher. Thanks to a virus dictating pedagogy we’re leveraging digital communications in education like never before. This unique situation has even led to strange advancements like Stephen Lecce actually improving Ontario education by demanding the use of video conferencing when all the other partners had done everything in their power to make it a career ender. That it took a government intent on dismantling public education to move the powers that be in education forward says all sorts of things about how the system works.
I enjoy teaching and I’m proud of what my students and I have achieved in the past seven years. That much of it has been despite the system rather than because of it makes what I do more difficult than it needs to be, but then something came up last week that messed with my pride and I couldn’t not do it.
I didn’t volunteer for remote teaching even though there is huge demand because I didn’t have a medical reason not to and I greatly value the hands-on learning we do in my computer technology classroom. Until we were handed incorrectly fitting PPE and given a dual cohort schedule with twice the preparation, no time to do it and then simultaneous remote and face to face teaching all day every day I was looking forward to coming back to school. Like many I’ve been crushed by this absurd schedule. On top of that my classroom has a long history of HVAC issues and we were running into the thirties Celsius on the warmer days in early September. To say I’m struggling with this quadmester with its absurd lesson preparation expectations, demands of being available simultaneously virtually and face to face all day every day, lack of online and in-school support for students with special needs and ill fitting PPE is an understatement.
As if on cue a job came up for an Information Technology Support Teacher for online learning. I do this job now in our school (and beyond) voluntarily because I can’t sit by and watch my colleagues struggle with technology that I know my students and I can sort out for them. The idea that I could be given the time and space to do technology support at 100% and on a board wide scale rather than in addition to this absurd quadmestered, cohorted teaching load was appealing. I fired my resume and a cover letter at it that contained references from presidents and educational technology icons from across the province and got an interview. This caused me great anxiety. I’ve built a successful program out of a crack in the sidewalk and walking away from it would doom it (our school has just cancelled face to face computer science classes so viable 21st Century pathways aren’t high on the to-do list). On top of that I wasn’t sure how I’d get along on the other side of the curtain in a board office job.
I didn’t get the job. Based on an interview with no technical questions they went with someone else whose answers they liked more. To be honest I think I dodged a bullet there. The moment you step out of the classroom you aren’t working for students any more, you’re working for the system, and the system and I have never gotten along particularly well. As their IT support teacher I would have improved access to tools in a platform agnostic way. I would have found ways to make things work and improve our bandwidth with students instead of telling people to do less with the limited resources they’re handed.
My vision of elearning has little to do with what we can and can’t use today. If Minister Lecce has taught me anything it’s that the powers that be in education are more interested in maintaining the status quo and seeing how little they can do with digital technology than they are in exploring the possibilities to be found in virtual learning. A job holding that status quo has little interest for me and I argued with myself all weekend about what I’d do if I got it. The only part that bothered me when I asked for some clarity on why this other candidate was chosen was the sweeping statement, “all the candidates had excellent technical credentials.”
I’d be happy to go toe to toe with anyone in our school board, our IT professionals included, on technical qualifications. I’ve been an industry certified IT technician and network administrator since the early naughties and had worked in various IT roles for thirteen years before I became a teacher. Since becoming a teacher I’ve picked up two computer technology AQs and multiple Cisco networking qualifications including becoming the first high school instructor (and still maybe the only one) who is qualified to teacher Cybersecurity Operations. My qualifications also express themselves through my students’ success; we’re Skills Ontario medalists for the past four years in IT & Networking Administration and provincial champions twice, we’re also three time national finalists in CyberTitan. I’m not sure what made the other candidates ‘excellent’ in terms of their technical qualifications, but I’d love to see our qualifications and experience in IT all lined up side by side. There are a number of reasons why another choice might be better than me, but falsely levelling technical expertise and experience isn’t one of them.
I’m a keen amateur mechanic. I’ve taken motorcycles out of fields and restored them to operation multiple times. I’ve rebuilt cars and pulled engines. I’m capable enough that I trust my mechanical skills with my life (I do my own brakes and other maintenance on machines with very thin margins for error). I have built up a working garage space, have the right tools and know how to use them, but I’d never tell a qualified mechanic that I’m their equal. The difference between a professional and an amateur should be fairly obvious, yet Ontario education clings to the idea that a university degree trumps any kind of skilled trade… like information technologist. If they want to go with a status quo middle-manager who is aiming for administration then that’s their choice, but belittling my expertise in the process was annoying, though it highlighted an ongoing prejudice in the system. Ask tech teachers why they make less on average than everyone else in the building and you’ll see that academic privilege and skilled trades devaluation is a systemic prejudice.
A few years ago a colleague who is handy with computers (as everyone should be, they aren’t that complicated) casually mentioned that he should go and get his qualifications as a computer technology teacher. He has a university degree so he’s used to doing whatever he likes in the education system; it’s made by and for people like him. I told him that he might find it difficult to generate five years of industry experience on top of professional accreditation in order to qualify for the AQ. Just because you’re a keen amateur doesn’t mean you have the professional expertise to teach the subject, though we’re especially bad at recognizing technical skills in computing in both staff and students in education. It’s the main reason digital skills are a bit of a disaster in Ontario education.
Having highlighted that academic prejudice, Ontario’s absurd additional qualifications rules also railroad professional expertise from the skilled trades side of things as well. I had to almost produce a blood sacrifice to OISE to be accepted into the computer technology AQ because they wouldn’t accept my industry certifications and experience without putting me through a grinder. When I got to my AQ class most of the other people in the program had no background in computers at all. They were teachers from other technology disciplines ranging from cooking to media arts and hair dressing who were allowed to take another technology qualification because they already had one. OISE made it sound like I was going to be dropped into a program full of Grace Hoppers and Bill Gateses, instead I found I was one of the most technically proficient people in the room.
These stupid little short cuts in teacher training belittle the work people put into their professions and undermine expertise in the system, but as long as they are self serving and cheapen the costs I doubt we’ll see anything change. It’s hard to find fault with administrators belittling the hundreds of hours of training, industry qualifications and thousands of hours of work experience I’ve achieved when the system gleefully does it automatically.
I got into class the next day still of two minds about not getting that job until I started teaching again and remembered that what I’m doing here is the single most important thing I could be doing. My students love what we do, I enable them to do things they didn’t think they were capable of and I end each day feeling like I’ve done something genuinely useful and fecund. I think I only considered leaving the classroom because I’m in such physical distress from poor PPE and this absurdly scheduled school year that I grasped at it. Any other year I’d have let it pass by so a future administrator could pad their resume. I am still frustrated at not being able to explore future technology assisted pedagogy on a wider level, but that’s why I blog… that’ll be the next post because even though I’m overwhelmed in the classroom, I can’t let it keep operating at this poor status quo, especially when there is all this fantastic technology around to help us circumnavigate this lousy pandemic.
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via IFTTT Originally published October, 2020.