Forum Friday – Praise for the Non-Tech Teachers

On Fridays I like to pull an interesting resource and/or topic from the Tech Savvy Ed Forum to share and discuss with a wider audience. Today’s post comes from a year and a half ago, but still remains highly valuable today as it focuses on recognizing the efforts, energy, and understanding that non-tech teachers put into their use of technology every day. They may not be the most savvy of users, but they make up the majority of teachers in the U.S. (as I’m sure they do elsewhere around the globe), and deserve every ounce of encouragement that we more tech-savvy teachers can offer them.

Rick, a member of the forum, started the conversation with these comments:

This is where I sing praises of the people I work with. When I fix a problem for a staff member I explain exactly what happened (when I can), what I did to fix it, and why it was causing them difficulty. You know, they actually do listen. Now, in many cases, before they come to me with a problem they have discussed it with one of their contemporaries, often have a theory or a comparison to give me, and I can then walk right in and get to the heart of the problem. None of this, “It doesn’t work.” I am further impressed. They have so much to do yet they take the time to listen to me and to talk to each other about the things that always occur when dealing with this new age. That is teamwork and makes everyone’s jobs a bit smoother.

Now, whether or not you agree with Rick that non tech-savvy teachers can truly change their habits given the proper encouragement and communication, you have to applaud his highly effective communication skills. Too often tech support staff (in schools or business) can effuse a sense of superiority while smugly solving your technological problem. It’s not that they don’t care, and I’ve had several positive experiences with the tech staff in my school district. Rather, it’s the lack of effective or sympathetic communication that shapes our experiences with the IT people.

But the lines of communication go both ways. It isn’t always the IT staff that’s to blame. Quite often, a tech-savvy educators’ efforts can meet with frustration from a staff member that follows the “this is broken, come fix it” mentality when address their technical support at school. This sentiment was echoed in a recent episode of Geek-Ed. The folks down in Pinckney, MI agreed that it’s much easier to work with staff that has put a modest amount of their own time and energy into solving a problem, before picking up a phone to request assistance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that every teacher needs to troubleshoot hardware and software issues before calling in tech-support. But when the techie does show up, it helps if both parties (the techie and the teacher) can have a meaningful dialogue beyond a typical exchange:

teacher: it’s broken, I have no idea why, it always does this.

teach support: move out of the way so I can fix it (and then get the heck out of here before you complain about something else)

Even taking the brief amount of time to explain to the technical staff what you’re trying to do with the software or hardware, and how you’re excited to use it with your students is enough to start a cheerful dialog. And likewise, paying attention to what the tech person is doing, possibly even asking questions about what can be done in the future to prevent the issue, can go a long way to making the techie feel as though you’re making a concerted effort to relieve their overloaded work schedule in the future. And if technical people take the time to explain why a problem occurs, and how a teacher can prevent it in the future, they’re helping to encourage and create problem solvers, not maintain a culture of problem makers. It sounds like Rick has adopted this method in his school district, for which I applaud him, because the only difference between a tech-savvy teacher and a non-tech teacher might just be a simple sympathetic ear, and a few encouraging instructions.


  1. Twice this week I’ve been called to a room because “the projector is broken” to have to inform folks…..”the computer would also have to be turned on….”.

    Yeah, on one hand, they really don’t have a clue how the system works. On the other hand, I know they’ve been using the thing for quite a while without a glitch at all, and we had that same stupid monthly generator test last night that turned some things off. I take it as a sign that my stuff is so reliable that when it doesn’t just LIGHT UP like it’s supposed to, the assumption is that something bad happened. Also, we’re not quite standardized enough for a troubleshooting guide…yet. It will come.

    There is only so much I want teachers to have to learn – after all, troubleshooting electronics is not why they’re there. On the other hand……is looking for the little green light too much to ask?

    On the other hand, I know there are a bunch of folks that DO troubleshoot stuff…..I just don’t get to see them that much.

  2. I think its important that there are currently two generations of teachers teaching one that is going to retire soon and didn’t have computers until later in their career, then the other half has had computers introduced to them while they were still in school. I am posting this response as part of an assignment in a “Computers in Education” class I am taking that is required for my teaching degree. I think that as time goes on you will see more and more teachers are more comfortable with technology.

  3. Andy: I like your analogy of “if something happens then it must be bad.” We really are getting closer and closer everyday to having most tech work as effortlessly as driving your car or working your stereo. Then again, there are those that still struggle with driving and changing the radio station 🙂

    Robert: Despite having the two generations of teachers, there’s definitely a comfort level with technology that has to be considered. You’re right, the younger teachers will be more likely to pick up technology skills quicker and with greater purpose, but I’ve seen veteran teachers pick up new technology skills quite easily, as long as they dedicate the time to learning.

  4. And actually, keying off Robert’s comment…..a lot of younger people are technically adept….but not all. And as teachers get more tools, they’re not all simple tools. Email, IM, social networking sites…..easy. Putting together GOOD video and multimedia teaching materials….hard….and complex not just on a technical level (although as you build resources for repetitive use, things become complex), but also in a story telling or pedagogal way (or however you spell that).

    In a roundtable discussion of techs with our assistant superintendant, the AS remarked that for some things we might have to wait out retirements of people that do not want to adopt or become proficient with technology. I posed the question that I suspected we weren’t really changing anything in that there wasn’t much I could see in the screening and hiring process that assured new folks…and we’re talking support staff and administrators as well as teaching staff….that the new folks were proficient EITHER; that we would likely hire a technophobe as not that afternoon, and they might be around for 20 years.

    That got a 20 second pause (from someone I think of as very smart)while she processed and realized it was true. Just being younger may change the odds some, but doesn’t guarantee much.

    I suspect a lot of folks would be interested to know what “Computers in Education” is like today in a SOE curriculum. If you like, I’ll open a thread and invite you to comment in the forum, or you could just open a post.

    What ARE they making sure you know these days??

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