April 18, 2016
Sam Cooke’s old song, “A Change Is Gonna Come” is playing in my head these days. Not merely because of the struggles our nation still has with race, but because of the remarkable progress we have made in our treatment of gay people and other minorities. America grows ever more inclusive even as it struggles with political polarization, income inequality, and other troubles. But this post is about different sorts of changes that are most certainly gonna come.
A digital, rather than a political, revolution
Change is also quite evident in the impact of modern digital technology on our lives. The smart phone’s tremendous computing power, coupled to the mobility enabled by the cellular phone network, puts the world at our fingertips almost anywhere. But despite ingenious and powerful instructional uses, cell phones are still more of a distraction than an instructional tool at school. Their size and design promote content consumption, not content creation, and they are ill-suited for guided instruction. A larger screen and keyboard are vital to harnessing digital tools for instruction.
Meanwhile, I am dismayed to see my students lugging around bulging backpacks packed with huge textbooks in an era of e-readers and tablet computers. We should be providing our students with personal digital devices designed for school, but I recognize that our woefully underfunded schools could never afford to provide every student with an tablet or laptop computer, let alone support thousands of them. Or could they?
Even amidst our current school funding crisis, with its daily drumbeat of woe, there is hope for positive change. Inexpensive and very-low-maintenance Google Chromebooks could guarantee all students, even ours in Bartlesville, equal access to digital tools that are truly useful in almost every school subject. Our district is being forced to make the same deep cuts as others around our state, but we can still make things better for students and teachers using bond issue technology funds our patrons have already approved. It is illegal to use those funds for salaries, but we can certainly use them for student technology.
So next year we’ll be piloting Chromebooks in the 10-12 English courses at Bartlesville High School as a prelude to a multi-year rollout of a 1:1 computing initiative. Eventually each secondary student in our system will have his or her own Chromebook, taking the place of the traditional textbooks and putting a powerful content consumption and creation device in every student’s hands, all day long.
I’m going to be a part of that change, but not in the way you might expect. While next year I’ll be helping direct and support the Chromebook pilot project at our school, I won’t ever be using the new Chromebooks in my classroom, because after May 2017 I’ll no longer have a classroom. Change is gonna come…in fact, it is already here.
Curtailing my classes in 2016-2017
Earlier this month budget cuts led to the district not filling the Community Relations Coordinator’s job when she resigned for a job closer to her home. That propelled me into a new job role of District Communications, distributing district news via the district website’s newsfeed and social media. I’ll continue in that role next school year.
Folks have told me for years, “I don’t know how you do all of the things you do in the district and still teach.” They would be right to question how I could still teach four physics classes while I chair two departments, direct a $1.7 million grant to build STEM labs with additional courses at each secondary school, lead our union’s bargaining with the district, create and manage over a dozen websites, and now take on district news and the pilot project of Chromebooks.
The answer is that change is here in the form of a shrinking physics enrollment, the victim of continuing demographic changes. The decline may also reflect the success of the wonderful new STEM courses which I’ve facilitated but not taught. In 2016-2017 our district is going to change that downturn in physics enrollment into an opportunity to focus my physics teaching on three morning classes and free up my afternoons for the new initiatives and all of the other work I do outside the classroom.
Leaving the classroom in May 2017
Looking ahead to 2017-2018, when the 1:1 computing initiative will be taking off, I will have left teaching to occupy a new district administrative position in charge of both Technology and Communication. That position is highlighted on the third slide in an online presentation of district organizational charts for 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18.
So in August 2017 someone else will be teaching physics at Bartlesville High School, ending my 28 year tenure in that role. Fluffy won’t be in the classroom anymore – but she’s often missing anyway, thanks to treacherous catnappers!
I’ve had a good, long run teaching physics in this town. I will have taught over 2,600 students by the time I leave the classroom. When I graduated from college and was looking for a teaching position back in 1989, I turned down multiple job offers, holding out for a job teaching physics most, if not all, of the day. My dream came true when the job in Bartlesville opened up, where I could teach five classes of physics using the same curriculum I’d trained under at the University of Oklahoma.
Over the years my physics classes have fluctuated from 4 to 6 sections, with from 78 to 138 students in a given year. For several years our physics enrollment has not been enough to fill out a teaching day; the last year we actually had enough physics enrollment for five sections was 2011. I have avoided having to teach chemistry as a third science course by filling my time with many other duties, primarily the 20 years I have served as the chair of the science department for grades 6-12. But I’ve taken on many additional roles over the years. The chart below (click to enlarge it) shows major milestones and long-term roles in my work over the past 27 years, and illustrates how things will change by 2017-2018.
The call to serve
I have immense faith and trust in our new superintendent, Chuck McCauley, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for 15 years in his various administrative positions. He has a vision for change and has asked me to help with two aspects of that vision. With his assurance that he is here for the long haul, I’ve decided to invest the remainder of my career in helping him make those changes happen.
I understand when parents, former students, and my colleagues tell me that my leaving the classroom to become an administrator is bittersweet for them. They know how I have served so long in so many ways, heeding the call to teach while working beyond my classroom to bolster our programs. I can assure them that the call to serve is still there, but now I need to heed a call to serve at another level.
Change is gonna come, because it has to
My work has kept me a very busy bachelor for over a quarter-century. But after this summer I will be 50 years old and married, and I recognize it is time for me to restructure and refocus my career. As I have contemplated my future with Wendy, the changes in our school over the past 27 years, and my retirement in 12-17 years, I realize that I cannot keep doing what I’m doing. I need to allow my professional life to evolve along with my personal one.
Even when I’m thinking back, I’m looking forward
When the end is coming, it is time for a new beginning. There are lots of reasons, admittedly both positive and negative, why I have agreed to leave the classroom after 28 years of teaching. But I am genuinely excited about the new opportunities to come. I know that I can make improvements in how our district communicates and how it uses technology. I know we need to change, and that change is gonna come for us whether we are ready or not. I want to help us to be ready for those changes and help make them happen. Change is gonna come, and I’m gonna be a part of it. The best is yet to come.