A (Kind of) Love Letter from Teachers to Education Technology

Dear educational technology,

These days, we run into you everywhere. People who think you’re just what we need have gone out of their way to introduce you to us. Some even criticize us for not showing more interest. So, why aren’t we more into you? Well, if you want to win teachers over, here are some things you need to know.

You’re not the only one we’re seeing.

When teachers claim our calendars are full, we’re not just playing hard to get. We may be getting to know several programs at once, investing time and hope in each of them, only to discover that it’s just as hard as ever to find one really good match. Meanwhile, the kids now spend so much time in front of a device that some of them are wearing special blue-light-filtering glasses. With all the pressure to stay screen-ready and tech friendly, a good old-fashioned paper assignment sometimes feels like a relief.

We want to know you respect us.

Teachers have plenty of experience with “time saving” tech products that require two hours of tedious busywork for every hour they save. During the getting-to-know-you phase, we look for signs that the benefits you’re promising are matched by a genuine desire not to waste our time. So if you want to start things off on the right foot, show some consideration. A 90-minute webcast of an under-prepared presenter mumbling through a “how-to” PowerPoint in another school’s auditorium is arguably more insulting than making us sit through a bad presentation in person.

We’ve been hurt before.

Teachers want products that are user-friendly—and that won’t leave us feeling used. If we hit an embedded glitch in front of our students, or have to troubleshoot during computer-based high-stakes testing, it will be hard for us to trust you again. So please, work out your issues before introducing yourselves.

We get suspicious when you promise us the world.

These days, a sufficiently motivated student can get the equivalent of a college education through a smartphone. Or they can spend all day playing video games and watching porn. Even the best high-tech solutions won’t override human nature. Kids who struggle with reading will struggle through computerized directions; cheaters will find high-tech ways to cheat. Sure, we want to hear what makes you so great, but you’ll get farther with us if you don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

The games can get old.

At first glance, the #gamification of education seems like a good idea. I mean, who doesn’t like fun? But meaningful relationships take real work, and learning sometimes requires students to apply themselves in a way that feels boring—especially when compared to the sizzle of an online game. To add to the issue, some popular “learning” games don’t keep their promises: the kids might be exposed to some course material, but the game doesn’t actually require them to learn it. Getting students to concentrate and make an effort for extended periods of time is a problem as old as the teaching profession itself. It’s even harder now that kids have access to “the cupcake game.”

Sometimes the problem isn’t you. It’s us.

Your software is only as good as our schools’ hardware, and many schools still have slow computers, or not enough computers, or don’t have the Internet bandwidth to stream videos and interactive lessons into multiple classrooms. Your three-minute video may take five minutes of buffering to load on our interactive whiteboard, which feels like a lifetime in a class full of rowdy seventh-graders. If high-tech lessons take a toll on classroom management, or require us to track down the IT guy our school shares with three other schools, don’t be surprised if we decide we’re just not compatible.

Deep down, we still believe in love.

Sure, we’ve got some trust issues, but that doesn’t mean we’re nostalgic for the days of clapping erasers and calculating grades by hand. We’ve had good experiences with technology, too, and we’d love to have more. The good thing about teachers is if you treat us right, we’ll stick with you, and we’ll tell all our friends how great you are. Until we’re certain you’re the one, trying to take it slow doesn’t mean we’re not interested.

We just want to know we can count on you before we introduce you to our kids.

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Honesty, humor, practical advice, and occasional oversharing.