By TIM HORAN
There may have been a time when teachers taught the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic.
Not any more! Education today goes lightyears beyond the basics.
Debbie Mercer, Dean of Education at Kansas State University, was in Abilene Thursday learning about Strip Design, My Big Campus and Edmodo. Those are just a few of the apps the Abilene school district uses to teach students using the iPad. Since USD 435 went to using the tablet as a teaching tool, it often hosts school districts interested in learning its teaching techniques.
Mercer also said the teachers of the future are not only interested in technology but also security.
“We’ve addressed that,” she said in an interview with the Reflector-Chronicle about security. “We’ve had professional development sessions for students in our program. We fully realize that many safety plans have some specific elements related to a particular building layout or a particular district philosophy. There are also issues much more overarching that we are incorporating into our program so they have an opportunity to hear from experts and they have opportunities to talk about those issues.
“One thing that came out after Sandy Hook was that it became very personal because of Facebook postings,” she added, “realizing who those six teachers were and some of the heroic things that happened that day. At 20-years-old, our candidates are asking themselves ‘what would I do?’ They are starting to really think about that at a personal level. It’s good to know security systems and how to get into the building. It’s good to know about evacuation plans when that might become necessary. It is important to allow them time to reflect and get to that disposition of ‘who am I as a teacher and what can I do?’ I don’t think they are paralyzed by fear but I think they are interested and very aware of the issues.”
Mercer, who some Dickinson County students may remember as a teacher and librarian at Hope, was visiting with Abilene teachers and administrators talking about integrating technology.
“Our purpose is keeping that close connection with what’s going on in the classroom helps us make sure our program is preparing the next generation of teachers coming out with the knowledge and skills they need to do a quality job for not only Abilene but schools across the state,” she said.
“Some innovative things are happening here,” she said of the Abilene school district. “We knew it was a model in integrating the iPad into the teaching and learning process. That’s what we have heard over and over today. What we heard today is that they are using it like we used to use paper and pencil.”
She said her 8-year-old granddaughter has an iPad.
“So when we’re talking about an animal,” Mercer said. “That’s a really tall giraffe. So, ‘How tall is the tallest giraffe in the world?’ And here we are looking at video of giraffes walking around and how tall they are. It’s that instantaneous access to so much information.
“Suddenly I am thinking about who I am preparing at Kansas State University to step out and address a whole classroom of these second graders,” she said. “This is their world and I want to make sure we are doing the best job that we can. One way that we do that is by learning from our partners that are in the classrooms doing the work on a daily basis.”
Mercer said that despite recent cuts in the education budgets, the number of students entering the education field is stable.
“There was talk four or five years ago that there was a teaching crisis and that there were going to be a number of teachers that would be retiring. What we found is that, partly because of economic concerns, those teachers didn’t all leave at the same time. That has kept a steady need for teachers and our teachers are getting jobs. As long as people graduating are getting jobs, our enrollment stays pretty consistent.”