By Joe Rector

I’m sometimes awed by the differences that exist in this world compared to the one that existed just ten years ago. That’s how long ago it has been since I retired from teaching. I swore when I left that I would never return, another instance where I’ve had to eat my words. So much has changed in the world in which we live, and sometimes I feel as if I don’t belong.

Cell phones are like cockroaches. They are everywhere, but unlike the bugs, kids can’t keep their hands off them. Even when I give instructions to put them away, students sneak them out. The new earbuds can be hidden behind long hair so that students can listen to music. Their thumbs glide across the screen as they send text messages to fellow students, parents, or sweethearts.

The last year I taught, few students had phones. They weren’t allowed to be out during school, and if they were, teachers confiscated them and turned them into the office. On the second offense, parents had to come to school to pick up the phones from the office. Continued violations could lead to the phones being taken for the rest of the term. Students have tablets now. They are streamlined and lightweight; kids can easily carry them in backpacks. Unlimited space is available for storing documents, videos, and games, and simple thumb drives offer more space than older computers ever had. Smart boards are used in classrooms and can project notes from a teacher, videos, and sound.

When I left teaching, computers were bulky. The towers sat on the floors or on desk tops. The machine took up most of the desk. Only the most fortunate people owned laptops. As for teaching, classrooms were just being equipped with whiteboards to replace chalkboards. Perhaps one or two special teachers had primitive smart boards. Projecting things required an overhead projector, and the bulb blinded teachers and burned out quickly. Grades were stored in gradebooks and then transferred to computer programs that demanded too much work.

Doors are locked everywhere in schools. Security is tight with good reason. Too many attacks on children occur each year, and those who would do harm many times come from the outside. Schools practice lockdowns, and students know exactly what to do during those dry runs.

We had a couple of fire drills and a tornado drill each year. The window shades were opened, and the classroom doors were unlocked. School wasn’t the first choice to visit daily for kids, but at least is was a safer environment. Sure, fist fights occurred, and every so often, classrooms were under lockdown as the police brought in dogs to search locker bays and cars for drugs. However, the daily fear of an attack didn’t exist.

What does console me is the fact that high school students haven’t changed all that much. They still enjoy the time they have with friends. Many of them arrive at school half asleep and grunt at each other or parents who drop them off at the front door. The snarls on their faces remain as they enter classrooms. Teens still roll their eyes at adults when they tell corny jokes or come up with clever puns. During class breaks and lunches, those sleepy-eyed, ill-tempered beings transform into happy, energetic folks who seem to thrive off contact with their peers.

I still don’t miss the routine of teaching. Burn out came after 30 years, and I’m just not interested in going back to the daily grind. Still, I can enjoy reacting with kids in small amounts. Their excitement, energy, and love of life always make me feel a little younger and livelier. I only wish I understood the new things that they consider parts of daily life.