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Are We Better Off Now?
by Kathleen Carpenter

Teachers.Net recently asked educators to respond on the general chatboard to the query: Have we made progress? What is working better now [in education] than in the past? All who responded indicated that we have moved forward. None yearned for the past. Posts extolled major innovations and minor but helpful new tools, positive trends in practices and productive new attitudes. But mentioned more than anything else was technology.

Listing items ranging from photocopying machines to the Internet, educators contributing to the discussion agreed that technology has been a major factor in improving working conditions and instruction.

"When I started teaching, we didn't have electronic calculators." one educator posted. "We had to do grades using one of those huge 500 key adding machines. We also had those circular slide-rule type calculators that we used for figuring percentages"

Another agreed that her job is easier now because gradebook software is available. "I can calculate grades much faster, easier, and more accurately."

Several people mentioned photocopying machines. One poster said, "If you've never used the purple masters and a razor blade to do corrections, you don't know what you missed! The fresh smell of copier fluid has been lost to generations!" he remembered with tongue-in-cheek. "Running large copying jobs used to be a dirty, messy job on the off-set. The older copy machines used to have the rolls of copy paper (film) instead of plain paper and would always come out wet."

Another tool that received the thumbs up was the die cutting machine. Teachers agreed that tracing and cutting out letters of the alphabet and shapes at home is no longer necessary when just minutes of pulling a lever produces what used to take hours of tedious effort.

The Internet was extolled for bringing educators together for peer support. One teacher noted, "Without the Internet we wouldn't have communication with people from so many parts of the globe, and we wouldn't have Teachers.Net where we continuously foster both academic and personal relationships."

Another educator focused upon the Internet as a tool for gathering information quickly. "Information is available instantly!" Yet another expressed gratitude that his students can now benefit from "technology embedded in instruction."

"E-mail!" one respondent enthused. "E-mail is a major improvement in communication between administrator and teacher, from teacher to teacher, and between teacher and students' parents. I love email!!!!!"

"Way better than film projectors!" is how a poster described the VCR, and others agreed that television and video technology have enhanced efforts to bring the world to students in the classroom.

Summing up the feelings about technology, another said, "What's better? Technology. All of it!"

One of the oldest instructional tools has been refined according to one educator who stated that we now have textbooks which are "more diversified and up to date, and which have made great strides in breaking the stereotype barrier." She continued, "Each text comes better equipped with supplemental materials for the practical application of the particular subject." A colleague agreed. "We have more appealing materials to work with, for both children and teachers, especially at the elementary level."

But not everything listed as an improvement was hardware. Many mentioned strides forward in teaching practices.

"Balanced literacy approach!"

"Teaching strategies in context rather than as isolated skills."

"The incorporation of second language learning at the elementary level."

"Standards, and the expectation that all students can achieve."

Posts revealed confidence in colleagues and their willingness to learn and support others in developing as teaching professionals. Describing what she sees as better now than in past years, a teacher offered, "Educators now provide staff development for colleagues instead of relying on professors of education who are divorced from the real world of the classroom on a daily basis."

Also endorsed, "Teamwork! The collaboration among educational specialists." And, "Specialization and professionalism of our field."

Acknowledging that schools now face challenges related to populations which are more diverse than in the past, one teacher wrote, " I believe teachers have a better understanding of the diverse needs within their classrooms and are better at spotting those children with learning difficulties." And some felt that we have moved in the right direction away from "one size fits all" practices.

Recognition of learning styles, the theory of Multiple Intelligences, and movement toward a balanced literacy approach led some to the conclusion that educators are better prepared now to meet the needs of students. "We recognize that children learn in different ways and at different rates. We know that literacy has more than one definition and that children need a repertoire of strategies to use when reading."

One person offered that teachers are applying a better understanding of "how the brain works when learning." And another educator observed that "practical research going on every day" is resulting in improved practices applied in the classroom.

Educators who responded expressed pleasure about the ways parents are encouraged to participate in their children's education. "We know that parent involvement is important and we pay more attention to working towards that."

The no-looking-back attitude of those who participated in the discussion was summed up by one writer who concluded, "Yes, we've made progress. The good old days weren't so good. I've been in education for a long time and continuous improvement must be the name of the game."