Robotic Teachers/Robotic Students – Is this what we want?



ALSO NOTE:  I have friends on Facebook who teach in the Cumberland Valley School District.  I have not spoken to them yet, but I will.  I hope they will call or message me after reading this.  But I want any district officials becoming sleuths and trying to figure out where the info came from to know it wasn’t someone they could find on my Facebook feed because I don’t want any one having repercussions based on my opinions.


Teaching the curriculum that I wrote for my classroom was fun and rewarding. I thought the information was important.  However, there were often other things that occurred either on a fairly regular basis or in a special moment that made my teaching even more rewarding.  These moments were when I was certain that I had done something that would impact my students for years to come.  I was able to make a difference.  There are two kinds of these moments that come to mind immediately.

One of these moments that happened on a fairly regular basis was when I could reach students and turn them on to reading, when I could turn them into readers, people who love reading.  I worked hard to teach them how to read critically and to read well.  I taught the various tools a writer uses to impart their ideas.  But when students found the pure joy in reading, I knew that they would be able to open doors to any learning they wanted to have and entertain themselves with reading for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps you’ve had that experience.  Do you remember having the privilege of a teacher reading a book to your class when you were in school?  There is a certain wonder in that shared story time.  Was there a time that a teacher had books in the classroom and let you choose a book that interested you?  A time that you could curl up with a book and get lost in a great story?  This is the way readers are developed.  This is the way a love of reading is created.  

I know the joy that my high-school students had in the times I read aloud to them.  Sure they knew how to read, but hearing a well-written story read aloud by someone who loves doing that is a rich experience.  We don’t outgrow the love of a good story.  At the end of the school year when I asked students to tell me which books they loved and which they disliked, invariably the ones that the students liked best were the ones I read aloud.  

Many of the times I felt most successful as a teacher involved a student suddenly developing the love of reading a good book. Every year I had students who told me that they hadn’t actually read a book in years.  At that moment finding the right book for that student became one of my main objectives for they year.  I was successful quite often.  

  • When I became the librarian, I had a football player come in and say, “I have a challenge for you.  I hate reading.  I need a skinny book that I’ll actually read.”  I found it.  He came in and challenged me again, “You did it once, but can you do it twice?”  The third time he came in to get a book, he brought his teammates and told them, “Ask her to get you one. She’s good.”  That’s a win!
  • One student who hated reading, fought with me about reading assignments, and had graduated, came back and asked me to recommend a book.  When he said his job involved a lot of down time and he knew I could help him get books that would interest him, my heart swelled!  Win!

I could go on with stories like these, but you get the point. 

The second type of moments when I felt that I could make a real difference happened in special times and special circumstances.  Teachers call these “teachable moments.”  They are the times when something is happening in the world, in the country, in the community, in the school, or even in the personal life of a student.  

  • I had times when students talked to me about how a boyfriend or girlfriend was mistreating them.  I had the opportunity to speak to them about standing up for themselves and not allowing this to happen.  
  • I had times when students confided in me that they were doing things to inflict harm on themselves.  I was able to go with students to the guidance counsellor or to their parents to help them work through situations that were scaring them, burdening them. 
  • I had times when I had to stop teaching the planned lesson and talk to them about how to deal with the loss of a classmate in an automobile accident, a drug overdose, or a suicide.
  • I had times when the world was turned upside down like September 11, 2001.

You can’t just soldier on as if nothing happened.  You have to help them process, you have to allow them to speak, and you have to help them access help.  When I could do that, I knew I had done more than teaching them English that day.  Hester Prynne, Jay Gatsby, and Huck Finn are of zero importance in those moments!  The children right there in front of the teacher must me the reason for all we do in a classroom.

This morning I heard truly disturbing news about a local school district that is taking away those opportunities from their students and teachers.  I was told that a teacher from the Cumberland Valley School District was looking for a place to give away books because the teachers were told to remove them from the classroom.  I later had that confirmed.  It seems that everything that they will be allowed to read will be online, on a computer.  No curling up with a book.  No chance to select something interesting to them individually.  No personal touch at all.   

From there the information I got was even worse.  This school district that has always had an excellent reputation is adopting something that is called a scripted curriculum.  This means that if you walk into any second grade classroom in the district on any given day all of the children will have the same exact lesson in the same exact wording.  On first glance all second graders doing the same thing on any given day doesn’t sound too out of line.  That is until you consider some very real, very human factors.

In a scripted curriculum, the teacher doesn’t use his or her own words to explain something.  They read a script – imagine having a text book read to you and just how engaging that would be.  On day 17 of the school year, if the students don’t comprehend what is being said or the way the concept is being explained, it really doesn’t matter, just keep moving along.  The teacher cannot stop and take the necessary time to fully teach the concept.  They can’t vary from the script because they might not be able to pick up on day 18 where they must.  

When the district I taught in had an assistant superintendent (known to all of our teachers as He-who-shall-not-be-named) who was pushing for this, we bulked.  One of our teachers who taught trigonometry and calculus point blank asked him, “What do I do on day 124 if none of the student understand the concept yet?” His reply was to keep moving, and her response was a very adamant “THAT’S NOT TEACHING!”  I know I had principals come in to my classroom to observe and ask to see my lesson plan only for me to say, “Look back at Tuesday’s plan because we’re still there.  They haven’t grasped it yet.”  And I firmly believe, as did those principals, that I did what was right for the students!

That same assistant superintendent told us that he wanted “anyone who comes in off the street” to be able to know where we were and to pick up and continue.  What!?  As my colleague told him, “Not just anyone can do my job.  I’m good at what I do!”  Even as a teacher I wouldn’t pretend that I could walk into other teachers’ classrooms and pick up where they left off.  I’m not educated in all of those subject matters.  But, of course, if all I have to do is read what is on the paper and never answer questions, never clarify, and stick to the script…well, I have a degree in drama so I guess I could carry it off, but it wouldn’t be teaching.

(I have to interject here that the district where I worked had the good sense to dis-invite him for the next school year.)

In addition to having written the curriculum, I was lucky enough to be able to adapt my lessons to the students who were in front of me.  I had a long list of novels and books approved by the school board from which I could choose to teach each year.  If I had a class that was struggling, I could use my professional expertise to assess that information to determine which books to use to best teach the concepts I wanted the students to know.  I didn’t teach the same book to every junior class section in a given year or from year to year.  I gave them a book they could and hopefully would read that allowed for me to teach them the concepts in a way they could learn it.  The day after a student died by suicide I wasn’t forced to go on reading the final act of Our Town that takes place in a grave yard and had the dead character speaking.  I could adapt and go with what is happening.  When there was a fire drill, I didn’t have to worry about where I was in a script!

A scripted lesson would result in no real life interactions, no natural discussion, and building of trust between the teacher and the student.  If we take away the personal connections between teachers and their classes, which I am certain this move would do, there will be many effects down the line that maybe no one is thinking about.  More children will fall through the cracks.  More will fail to learn.  More will fail to get the mental health needed.  More will be hungry or abused without someone noticing.  More will face depression with no one to go to.  More will suffer from bad choices, drug abuse, etc. that goes undetected because not one teach will be able to know the student well enough to see the changes.  Parents don’t and can’t always catch these things.  Some don’t parent well, some don’t parent at all.  But even the concerned, good parents will miss things or have them hidden by children who don’t want to get in trouble or disappoint their parents.  It takes the whole village in close communication to raise these children.

There is a teacher shortage in this country that is growing rapidly.  This will exacerbate it.  The person who told me what CV is doing has a close relative who has taught there for years but who is now considering whether she can continue.  I know many teachers who would absolutely have to quit under these circumstances (myself included) because it takes away the heart and soul of the work.  Teachers obviously don’t go into their field for the riches, fame, and opportunities for travel!  The good ones do it because they love children and have a passion for teaching.

Personally I believe that this trend has everything to do with the political and cultural atmosphere right now.  Teachers don’t dare engage Joey in a conversation about his family because Joey happens to have two dads and they might be accused of teaching homosexuality.  Some of the books they have around might be written by someone who is Black, might be about a person of color or a woman who made a difference and changed society, some of them might have facts that certain people want us to ignore.  Teachers don’t dare let little Susie read a book like that for fear of being accused of teaching CRT.  

So school districts run out of fear that they will have protests by some very, very small minorities that are very, very loud and angry.  Loud, angry, and afraid to allow their ideas to be seen in the light of day for what they are.  So districts in fear will attempt to make curriculum completely inoffensive — which is, in reality, impossible and the effort to do so leaves it so bland as to be worthless.  Kids will be bored out of their minds!  Kids who are bored don’t learn.  Kids in school who become bored and aren’t learning become behavior problems (One person introducing scripted lessons told a group of teachers that the behavior problems should be ignored and you just keep going.)  Children who are bored, don’t learn, and become behavior problems eventually become drop-outs.

I have another fear.  Who is writing the scripts?  We will be told they are “experts” and that they “have studied” this method.  But really, WHO are they and what is their agenda?  I’m not naive enough to believe there won’t be one.  Think about which countries in this world would have only one way of disseminating information and would control the wording that is used to teach it.  This isn’t education. It is fascism.  It is spoon-feeding a doctrine without deviation.  It is indoctrination with no discussion or dissent allowed.

I know there were students who didn’t always like what I said.  I’m sure I said some things in my classroom that some parents might not agree with.  I’m also sure that my one voice expressing something, when other teachers may well have been expressing the opposite, did not indoctrinate a whole class for all of thirty plus years of teaching!  They heard many points of view.  I know that students were free to disagree with me (and they did), ask questions (and they sure did that), and to come to their own conclusions of whether I made sense or was full of BS.  If every teacher is forced into playing the same note everyday, there is no room for or freedom for discussion.  There is one idea and it is to be learned and obeyed.  

I fear for the children in so many ways right now…this is just one more.

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