People often ask me what changes I have seen in our schools in the many years I have been answering the call of the bells to the classroom. My first reply is usually that we don’t have bells anymore. We have tones.
After that, I usually talk about how computers have changed our schools, just the same as they have changed just about everything else in our world. In my first years of teaching, I took attendance by scribbling the names of absent students on a piece of paper. At the end of the day, I gave the paper to the office secretary. A grade card was just as its name implied. It was a heavy card with the student’s name at the top followed by a listing of his classes. Each teacher wrote in the appropriate grade.
Today there is a shimmering computer monitor perched on the corner of my desk. As soon as the bell rings - correction, as soon as the electronic tone sounds - I tap the keys on the keyboard to call up the attendance program. A few more keystrokes and attendance has been taken. At grade time, the computer program allows me to enter A+ through F marks for each student. I am also given a menu of about 50 “comments” to choose from (“Excellent student” or “Not working up to ability” or the dreaded “Parent conference desired.”) Later the student receives a complete printout, which shows grades in all classes, teacher comments, attendance, and total credits accumulated.
I can also check the computer to find out the student’s address and phone number. This information is useful when the teacher may wish to slightly intimidate a potential discipline problem (“I know where you live.”)
Of course, technology has impacted our schools in many ways. There are computers available for student use throughout the building. The old school library (now media center) will never be the same. Encyclopedia sets gather dust while young researchers roam the vast reaches of Cyberspace for information about literally everything under the sun. High-tech interactive teaching programs skillfully guide learners into mastery of subjects from art to zoology.
Pupils coming into the classrooms of today are children of the computer age. They have grown up playing video games. Their hand/eye responses are fine-tuned. Their brains are wired to leap swiftly from one image to another and another and another. Visual images that to my weary analog eyes might be a blur will make distinct impressions upon their quick digital minds.
Don’t think that computers have eliminated books from school. They are still the mainstays of the curriculum. Savvy publishers have kept up with the times. Textbooks now come complete with supplemental audio CD’s, videotapes, and CD-Rom assistance. This year our English Department has all new materials. There are so many books, workbooks, audio-visual, and computer programs that most of us are a bit bewildered as to how to use them all. Of course, the publisher has a Web Site at our disposal if we have any questions.
I remember well the early years when we were lucky to have one textbook for each child and the only high-tech device on hand was a mimeograph machine.
The changes just keep on coming. Years ago, “security” meant that a teacher stood in the hallway during the passing period. That is still true. But now our school system has its own police force, complete with armed officers who drive cars with sirens and red lights. This year each teacher will wear a photo-ID card. So will each student. Administrators will carry Palm Pilot computers, which can scan the bar code on the student ID card and pull up all data in the computer files. Even visitors to the school will wear special ID tags. Everyone in the building will be easily identifiable.
Yes, many changes are taking place in our schools today. Are some of them a little scary? Yes. Are they necessary? Yes, again. Our schools are changing because our world is changing. Schools reflect the society that surrounds them. As our pupils file back into the classrooms this year, ask not for whom the electronic tone tolls. It tolls for thee.
The first school bells of the year have rung again and kids are back in classes. Of course, they’re not really bells. A teacher no longer stands outside the schoolhouse door, swinging a heavy brass bell. The device that summons children into the classroom today is more likely an electronic tone. More precisely, a series of electronic tones, generated from the main console of a communications system in the school’s main office.
School Bells Don't Ring Anymore