Confessions of a 1:1 English Teacher or Why a Technophobe Gave 100 High School Students iPads

English Teacher

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet 

connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Jonathan Franzen

Disregard all of Franzen’s rules for writing.

Alfred Cedeno

Prone to dramatic gestures, I once drove a large American truck over a small American computer. It was winter, last winter, actually. In fact, it was almost exactly one year ago. I decided that the internet was a synthetic place that had the power to rip one’s soul from one’s body, or something like that. And even if that wasn’t true, it was a place with enough articles on Chicago sports that I would be so distracted that I would never become a great writer, husband, teacher, and father.

So I decided I would follow the footsteps of my buddy Bill who sold everything digital he owned and bought a record player and dozens of books and notebooks. I would be a Luddite, a great thinker, a great man.

High School Students
Clever teenager

I had been down this road before.

  • I sold my iPhone for the dumbest phone I could find.
  • I deactivated Facebook before non-college students could even activate.
  • I sold my PS3.
  • I sold my Wii.
  • I wrote a science fiction novel where the protagonist is basically the only man in the world not controlled by technology, and therefore, the only real man.

I guess you could say through my whole life I’ve been running from technology, but that would only be true if I noted that I always ran right back into its warm, semiconducting arms. This is to say the above opening paragraph overstated my conviction. Perhaps it wasn’t conviction at all, but sanctimony–which I’m also prone to.

Here are the facts:

Fact-I did run over the old Macbook with my truck, but the truth is it was a midsize truck, not a large one.
Fact-I wasn’t completely determined to become a Luddite.
Fact-I still had an iPad from work; I still had a computer from work; I had a brand new Mac Mini at home.

So why did I run over the Macbook?

  1. It was old. And selling it on Craigslist seemed like too much work.
  2. I thought I could be less distracted with a desktop computer.
  3. It was the type of gesture that could eventually lead to a post like this.

After all I had more important things to do than read every article on Jay Cutler’s newest injury. I wanted to read more books, drink more tea, and write fantastic fiction that would glean my teeming brain.

Just under a year later, I am teaching in a pilot 1:1 program where every student in my classes has an iPad. I chose to be in this program. In fact, I begged to be in this program. In high school I refused to have a cell phone, and now I am the one passing iPads to every student in my class.

Why? Aren’t they going to be distracted all the time? Aren’t their souls going to be ripped from their bodies as they enter a solely synthetic reality? Aren’t they going to cyberbully?

Why would someone like me–who loves all things ancient, corduroy, and tweed; who teaches Thoreau in a way that might make my students leave for Walden and never look back; who would certainly live in a cabin in a National Park if it wasn’t for his wife and daughters–subjugate my students to the incredible device of distraction and consumption that is the Apple iPad?

I have several answers, but the main reason, the thing that finally convinced me to jump overboard is simple: distraction.

Students are distracted by these devices. They were before I gave them one. They will be for decades after they leave my class, that is, they will be if they never truly consider the purpose and implications of these machines. A classroom that explores these topics through research and argument seems like the best place for these discussions, the best chance that the next generation will be better than their parents at having self-control with technology. It also seems like the only way my students will be creating authentic pieces of writing.  After all, where do students read and write? Online. Who is else going to teach them to do this? No one.

Last year I forgot to copy a handout for my 8th period class. Rather than scrap the lesson, I said, “Who has a smartphone or iPad with you?” Every student in the class had one. Every student. This was in the first year of our pilot program when only about three kids in the class had school-issued iPads (given for another class). Yet they all had smart phones already. One of my biggest classroom management issues from the first day of student teaching in 2007 was electronic devices in the classroom. In fact, I have been at four schools and I have heard teachers complain about few things more than electronic devices in the classroom.

Students are distracted. I am distracted. I fear distraction. But I am cocky enough to think that I can overcome it without firing up a V8 in cold December and neutral dropping over all of my students’ iPads and phones with American trucks.

Though that might be fun too.

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