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When I Started Teaching

This is the first week of my 21st year of teaching. My career is now old enough to drink.  The freshmen I taught during my first year are now in their mid-thirties.

When I started teaching, the Internet and the World Wide Web were two separate entities.  Netscape was the king of browsers.  Amazon had just gone live, and it only sold books.  There were no cell phones.  Our building had two copy machines.  I was an techno-geek because I actually had an email address.  The district had no email server of its own.

Attendance and grades were kept in spiral-bound books.  In my third year, we got computerized attendance and a site license for Grade Quick, a computer grade book.  I was one of six teachers who elected to use it.  Most teachers in the building couldn't figure out how it worked.  I had no computer in my classroom--I had to input grades in the teacher workroom, which had four computers in it for the entire teaching staff.  When the marking period ended, I had to copy the grades from the computer onto a bubble sheet so the office scanner could print the report cards.

None of the computers in the building had hard drives.  Some machines accepted 5.25" disks, but most needed 3.5" disks.  We had one laser printer.  The rest were dot-matrix.

My classroom was a converted storage room with a malfunctioning radiator in it that wouldn't shut off, so the room was over 90 degrees even in coldest winter.  The district coped by giving me a 9' tall rotating fan to put in the corner, but it roared so loud, I could only run it when we were doing seat work.  (Sure cut down on the cheating, though--no one could hear a whisper with that thing going!)

I usually picked up four or five notes a day from the floor.  "Dear Janie, I'm sitting in class and I'm soooooo bored!  I can't wait for cheerleading practice.  We have to do a writing assignment for English, and I HATE writing . . . "  Texting has made such missives extinct these days.

My classroom used a chalkboard, and at the end of the day, my hands and nails and sinuses were coated with chalk dust.  Eventually we graduated to white boards with dry markers.  Now I have a computerized Smart Board.

When I started, we have six TV/VCR combos on carts that you trundled down to your room. You signed them out up to a week in advance, and the week before winter break, there was always a scramble to get one.  Now I stream videos from my computer to my Smart Board and the TV in the upper corner of my room gathers dust.  Although I learned how to use a movie projector during my technology training in college, I have never used one in my classroom.

When I started teaching, my building had a full-time librarian with two full-time assistants.  Now we have one part-time paraprofessional in the library and no librarian at all.

When I started teaching, the students read ROMEO AND JULIET aloud in class.  Eventually, I tracked down a copy on cassette tape.  Then I got it on CD.  Now I stream it from my computer as a series of MP3 files.

When I started teaching, all my students lived in homes where someone subscribed to a newspaper.  Now perhaps 1 in 10 does.

The inside of my desk looks much the same, though.  Pens, pencils, scissors, paper clips, staples, 3x5 cards, markers, rulers, glue.  The chairs and tables are the same.  Teenagers behave the same.  They still gossip, compare clothes, wonder what the hell they're going to do after high school, wonder how they're going to make it through biology, stress over what people are saying about them even as they spread rumors of their own, do their best to live up to their parents' expectations while they form their own, volunteer for charity drives with a passion that adults have forgotten, jerk tears from you with heart-rending stories of tragedy they've experienced, and surprise you with flashes of worldly insight.
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