Penny Holland stared in wonder and trepidation at the tiny camera shaped like an eyeball. As she and other Virginia teachers listened, a technology instructor explained that she could use the “web cam” to set up live question-and-answer sessions between her students and guest lecturers around the world.
Holland, who teaches world geography at Williamsburg Middle School in Arlington, Va., had not seriously considered that idea before. But as the instructor described how to do it, her fear turned to enthusiasm.
“Wow! I never felt comfortable working a camera with the computer,” said Holland, 54. “I could use this to get guest speakers over the camera when I teach about the Middle East.”
To many of the 400 teachers who assembled at two Arlington middle schools in June, the web cam, the talking word processor, and other devices on display looked like props from an episode of Star Trek. Several teachers wondered aloud: Could we really figure out how to use this stuff in class before our squirming students ran out of patience?
But reality demands that Virginia teachers get over such fears. Under a requirement approved last year by the Board of Education, all teachers in the statestarting in 2003must show they are proficient in a range of technology to have their teaching licenses renewed. And the sessions, the close of a three-day technology training conference held at Williamsburg and Jefferson middle schools, were designed to help teachers overcome that hurdle.
Virginia is one of the few states in the country to link technology proficiency to teacher licensing, although Maryland and several other states are considering a similar system.
“Slowly, many states are coming around to doing this,” said Diane Reed, a technology teacher-in-residence at the U.S. Department of Education. “But Virginia has been ahead of the curve.”
Virginia’s policy requires teachers to show competency in skills ranging from creating a web page to explaining internet copyright law. It’s up to each school district to decide how to test this knowledge. Most districts, including Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun, will have teachers create a “technology portfolio” showing lesson plans that integrate computers.
Many teachers welcome the requirement. But some say it’s asking a lot of teachers who are already overwhelmed with other demands.
Angela Bennett, who teaches English as a Second Language at Arlington’s Gunston Middle School, said she considers herself “an open-minded technophobe.”
“In the back of my mind, I am wondering how I will fit this into my classroom where the students have so much to catch up on,” Bennett said. “I have to find a way to have a balance of teaching English and showing computers to some students who have never used them before. It is a lot of work.”
Reed noted that teachers were not paid to attend the workshops.
“I think this new requirement has its pros and cons,” she said. “In the business world, we pay people to get this kind of training. The problem is teachers’ plates are full, with school safety, block scheduling, the list goes on and on. For some people, it’s just one more thing. You have to find a way to make it fun. The plus side is that it can be.”
At the training, yellow and blue balloons with smiley faces decorated the registration tables. One classroom played Beach Boys music on a computer’s CD drive.
During lunch, some teachers told of colleagues who have said they will retire before 2003 so they can avoid the new technology requirement. But overall, the teachers said they are excited about what they were learning and saw the sessions as a morale booster.
Brenda Harris, who teaches physical education at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, said she had gotten “fabulous” ideas from the workshopsincluding having students map their fitness plans under their photographs and biographies in a computer file and having students design web pages that contain information on why it’s important to avoid drugs.
Birdena Crawley, who works with students with disciplinary problems at Gunston, said when she came to the conference she had a “serious fear that I was going to erase the entire database.”
But she got over it when she thought of her 18-year-old daughter and how much she knows about computers and the internet.
“The kids are going to overrun us if we don’t learn this stuff,” Crawley said.
U.S. Department of Education
Virginia Department of Education