By Joe Rector

The other day Joe Dooley and I substituted at Hardin Valley Academy. We sat on benches in the foyer, and before long, Rick Collett ambled up. The three of us spent many years together on the faculty at Karns High School. We looked like the old guys that sit in the shade of a small town courthouse. All that was missing were whittling sticks and knives. We’re relics that don’t fit with the modern technology of today’s schools.

For most of my teaching career, I instructed classes by writing on a blackboard. The trays for the boards were filled with dust, erasers, and half a dozen pieces of chalk. At the end of the day, the blackboards were cloudy from the erasing of material and needed to be cleaned with water and a soft rag.

Toward the end of my teaching years, white boards were installed. They weren’t of the highest quality since the low bids on everything were accepted in the school system. I bought my own markers since the one we received soon ran dry. That stuff never came off the whiteboard easily. I cleaned with alcohol, water, and even lemon furniture polish, all things that other teachers recommended. By the end of the year, the white board looked more like a gray board.

We teachers had to check out overhead projectors. They were bulky things that ran hot quickly and needed to be moved to the back of the room to fit the screen that we pulled down over the boards. Material also had to be oriented a certain way or it projected upside down. Without fail, the bulb for the contraption burned out in the middle of a class, something that blew up a lesson plan.

If we showed a video, our first move was to reserve a television and VCR or DVD player from the library. With help from another teacher or student, I sometimes managed to get the red, yellow, and white connectors plugged in the right holes. At the end of the day, I had to rush the cart and equipment back to the library and hope that it would be available for the following day so classes could finish viewing the movie.

Technology crawled into the classroom. Teachers received desktop computers. They were heavy, bulky machines with tiny screens. Faculty members were excited to have technology that would help us become better teachers. The kicker was that no or limited Internet services were available. The computers crashed too often, a fact that led to our having to redo much of the work on which we had already spent large chunks of time.

Today, schools are high tech places. Smart boards have replaced blackboards and white boards. They are attached to projection systems that allow teachers to show movies, worksheets, and other materials. Connected to DVD players, they function like televisions. In some classrooms, large flat-screen televisions, in addition to the boards, are available. Overhead projectors called “Elmos,” are now the size of a cell phone. Telescoping parts set up and a small light on a worksheet sends the material onto the smartboard. In addition, a calculator can somehow be displayed and all functions can be performed.

Every student seems to have a smartphone. They use them to recover classroom assignments or to research assigned topics. Who’d have ever thought that a phone could be used as a teaching tool? Not me. When I retired, teachers took up any phones that were out during the day. Now, they are vital parts of the classroom equipment. When students aren’t completing school requirements, they pull out their phones to text friends, play games, or enjoy music.

One of the reasons I left teaching was that I no longer had much in common with the students of today. Neither of us understood the other’s world or frame of reference. It was time for younger teachers to take over. Since that day of retirement, more than just the kids have changed. Technology has advanced so much that it’s left me in the dust. When I have to call on students to set up things so that I can show a video or simply write an assignment on the board, I feel old and completely left out. I’m just happy that I no longer am responsible for teaching material to teens. It would be a difficult assignment for me without my chalkboard and eraser.