A recent article in the New York Times, No Child Left Untableted, examines the flood of tablet devices that promise to transform American education.
One of the things that struck me in this article was its story of a professional development session in a school district in N.C. where more than 15,000 middle schoolers and their teachers were to be working with tablets this school year. The professional development presenter was attempting not only to teach new skills to an audience with varying ability levels but also to convert some reluctant leaners and non-believers among the teachers present at the training.
Of great importance was that the teachers were receiving professional development specific to the devices and applications they'd be using in their classrooms, ensuring the relevance of the content. Relevance of content is essential -- so the thinking goes -- to engaging learners.
Just as important as the content of the professional development, however, was the person delivering it.
He was described as "youthful, dynamic, [and] earnest" and "[he] radiated sympathy and confidence in how and what students learn…."
Hey! Aren't these the qualities we want in our classroom teachers? Okay, not necessarily "youthful" but at least those qualities we associate with youthfulness, including being enthusiastic, active, and passionate. Would the presenter's work with his students (who happened to be teachers) have been as compelling if he were not enthusiastic, active, passionate, empathetic, and knowledgeable?
My point here is twofold. First, like just about any other education "reform" effort, tablets will be "transformative" only for and by those who make them so. They won't by themselves transform irrelevant content or unwilling learners any more than they will transform ineffective teachers into classroom dynamos.
Second, the reporter from the NYT didn't administer a standardized, norm-referenced test after the presentation to decide whether or not this presenter was doing a good job. She merely watched him teach.
Just a little reminder that teachers -- and the ways they interact with their students -- still matter. (And this from someone who loves her iPad!)