The world of work changed while I was toiling away in the classroom. I wonder how many other teachers know this. Are the educational institutions preparing people for the new world or are we still using the same methods and techniques that worked a quarter century ago?
For the past few weeks I have been taking the BART train downtown, walking a couple of blocks, to a building that for over 100 years has been home to the venerable San Francisco Chronicle. As newspapers lost readership to the Internet, the Chronicle was not spared, and with losses growing, it cut staff, and in cutting staff, it didn’t need all that space in the big building at Mission and 5th. Creative genius to rejigger the street level into a new use–The Hub SoMa.
This is where I am working for a couple of days a week for a microfinance startup. They have an office in the Hub, and as I walk through the open space each day to the office, I marvel at all the young (and some not-so-young) people working at their computers, talking amongst themselves, gathered into meetings. I have begun to realize that this looks much like my classroom for the seniors and the yearbook class. No one is lecturing, no one is wandering around asking, “what are you doing?” No one is policing the work that is being (or not being) done. The Hub occupants are responsible for themselves. Just as I wanted my students to be. In school, just as here, there must be an assessment: how well have you done your job and what have you produced? No one is handing out scantrons for multiple choice answers.
Paper-pencil tasks no longer exist in this work environment. Everyone has a laptop and when they want to show someone something, they just pick up their computer and go show them. They carry the laptops to meetings, not pads and pens. I am the only one in the office who is using a notepad and a pen. My old style of thinking on paper is a hard habit to break. Give me time, though, I may shake it. I believe you can teach an old dog new tricks, it just takes a little longer.
It’s only been a few weeks since I have been out of the classroom and taking on this new challenge of going back into the workforce, but I can already see things I would do differently if I was in the classroom. There would be many more collaborative projects. I would break students into groups immediately and start giving them tasks for which they must find a solution. There would be a lot more online research; even though I had integrated that into my lessons, I see now that it was not enough. Students need to think in a different, less linear way than I see us using in education.
It’s a different world out there. How are we training our students to work in it?