I have been a social studies teacher at Sehome High School for the last 13 years; it is the only high school that I have ever taught at. Truth be told, it is really the only high school I have really been in. I graduated from Sehome in 1993; I did both of my Western Washington University secondary education internships at Sehome. I was then hired as a full-time teacher at Sehome High School in 2000. So, any insight that I have into the changes to the high school environment over the last 24 years (1989 as a freshman in high school to 2013 as the social studies department chairperson) have all come through the lens of my experiences at one school.
That said, there are two ways in which the classroom experience has changed over the last 24 years at Sehome High School; students are far more worldly in their frame of experience, and technology has allowed for a much more remarkable educational adventure in schools.
I have taught ninth grade world geography almost exclusively at Sehome for the past 13 years, and I am constantly amazed by how many of our students have been on international trips, and/or had really individual and diverse cultural experiences. When I was in high school, an international trip consisted of crossing the Canadian border, and even then in my mind for some reason I didn't really count that as an "international experience."
In Whatcom County, we grow up and live uniquely understanding the relationship between our two countries, especially amongst the trade and tourism industries, so to see a Canadian doesn't really seem that out of the ordinary (regardless of actually being from another country). Quite often now in my classes when we discuss worldwide culture, or systems of government, many of the students I am teaching to have been to the places discussed, are from one of the places discussed, or (and this happens far more frequently than the first two) they have friends via social networking living in the area of the world that is our topic for the day.
I get excited to share with my class that I have been to Africa twice for various adventures, but over the last several years, to my surprise, many of my students have also had adventures in Africa as well. An even more exciting experience for my world geography classes happens when we have a student in class who grew up in another country and can share their life experiences with us. It has led me to really believe that there is no such thing as "local neighborhoods" anymore.
The term "neighborhood" can be applied in a very broad way to include those friends that students see and communicate with every day, and in many cases, they do this on a screen; face to face, but not in the same "face-to-face" way in which their parents talked to their neighbors when growing up. In speaking with a student on the first day of school this year, she mentioned that she had spent much of her summer in Europe, and went on in great detail about all of the amazing things that she did, ate and saw while there. I couldn't help but think that I didn't know even one person from high school who went on a trip to Europe, or really any place more fantastic than Hawaii. I am not sure when, or how that changed? But I suspect that as technology advances, humans are able to look into all corners of the world to see what's there, and in their research there is a transfer of culture or community that they both bring back with them and leave behind, changing both places forever by making them both more accessible to the other.
The amount of amazing technology housed in most modern student's pocket (cell phone) far surpasses the total amount of technology housed in all of the classrooms that I occupied in 1993 as a senior at Sehome. Students need to rely far less on their imaginations today, because so much of the world can be visually downloaded into their phone while sitting a classroom. This is a very real challenge for the modern classroom teacher; meeting the challenges presented by technology, and grasping onto the idea that because I grew up without all of these wonderful devices, I will always be trying to catch up to the adventures that my students have gone off on. The great news is that teachers are game for that challenge, and the real adventure is the learning that happens along the way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one in a series of columns by area teachers exploring education today. Sehome High School teacher Kevin Johnson is the 2013 Bellingham Public Schools Teacher of the Year.