Shortly after returning from the Christmas/New Year break my principal told me that due to a new focus on raising the achievement levels of special education students, all the special ed classrooms would soon be equipped with the very first wall-mounted Smartboards in our school. Oh boy!!
For the first time in recent memory special education would get a new resource before anyone else and we would be trained how to use them effectively. Oh boy!!
Sure enough, when we returned from spring break, the special ed classrooms, plus a few more, had brand new SmartBoards wrapped in smart-looking black cloth covers and with long slim bags of thick plastic holding the special pens and eraser to use with the boards. Oh boy!!
Two of the other classes that got the SmartBoards are the eighth grade Regents-level English and Math classes. I’ve seen the SmartBoard in action in the math class and I sat through a lesson on quadratic equations much more attentively than I did when Mr. Falk tried to teach me about them 40 years ago. I got it this time, and so did the current students who clamored for the opportunity to use the magic board to plug in minus-b and the square root of b-squared minus 4ac. Oh boy!!
For the past couple of years I’ve been reading about the transformative effects interactive white boards (IWBs) like Smartboards have on teaching and learning, how they increase student engagement, renew teacher enthusiasm, make it easier to differentiate lessons, provide more hands-on opportunities and really help visual learners like most of my students. Oh boy!!
But that is not what is happening in my classroom or in any of the other special education classes. Actually, almost none of the special education teachers have taken those nifty black covers off the boards or even peeked behind them. You see, unlike the two top-notch Regents’ classes, the special education classrooms did not get a projector; a laptop computer; and specific kinds of cables, the other equipment needed as part of the IWB magic act.
Its like we’re trying to cut the pretty lady in half without the box or a saw.
We’re told we could use our classroom desktop computers which, if functional, are anchored in place facing walls that don’t happen to have the SmartBoard mounted on them. Difficult, but we’re used to working in difficult situations and would figure out how to deal with it. Also, the projectors, whenever we get them, would not be ceiling-mounted, the common arrangement when the IWB is immobile. Instead, we will be required to dismantle all the connections and, for securely lock the projectors in closets or cabinets most of us don’t have in our tiny rooms, then reassemble the system again the next day. Would you do that for 184 days a year, or are you more likely to go through that process just a couple of times before deciding it is just easier to leave the thing in the closet and forget about it? Me, too.
I understand that money is tight, but I wonder what it means to my students to see those idle boards hanging there taking up previously useful space. Do they know that the Regents’ classes full of top-level students are, once again, getting better treatment? What conclusions would they draw from knowing that? What would they think about seemingly intelligent and well-meaning adults spending over $2,000 for each SmartBoard but not coming across with the extra $1000 or so necessary to utilize it?
As I sit in my empty classroom at the end of another long, difficult day trying to motivate students who are so sure they are going to fail that they won’t even try, I’m wondering how I can hope to raise my students’ self-esteem when they continually get messages that they’re only worth partial investment in resources. I’m left shaking my head at how a system composed of thousands of well-educated professionals can be so consistently careless about the meta-messages it delivers through well-intended but poorly executed gestures.
As excited as I remain by the potential of IWBs and as excited I was to see one mounted over my blackboard (rendering that ancient technology useless), I wish these SmartBoards had never been installed. Instead of making my job easier they are making it that much harder leaving me to wonder again why I am continually gullible enough to think that this time will be different, that this time my students are going to win.