Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hire Geeks

Common thinking about what kinds of folks make good 21st century teachers generally runs as follows:
“They’re constantly in the process of being trained and being a lifelong learner,” he says.

The 'he' saying this is Jeff Murphy, a director of instruction for the Florida Virtual School and he's being quoted in a recent article from Education Week.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of hearing this sort of talk.

The last thing I want is to be 'trained' more. And, I'm sorry, but 'lifelong learner' has just worn out its welcome as a catch phrase.

I want teachers who are curious, experimental, sophisticated, and engaged. 'Lifelong learner' sounds like someone taking a woodshop class at the retirement home.

What we really need is to be recruiting more geeks.

I'm talking about folks who don't have to be 'trained' in using technology. I'm talking about people who live and breathe social media and don't understand how you live without it.

That's who we need to be recruiting.

Because that's where our kids are.

And -- even more importantly -- that's where the world our kids are entering into is.


It is painfully obvious to our kids that certain teachers have no clue when it comes to the integration of technology into their classrooms.

And more 'training' ain't gonna help.

Because before you integrate technology into your classroom, you've got to integrate it into your life.

And you should only integrate it into your life in ways that you need and/or want to. The worst thing we can do as a society is to force people into the use of technology -- particularly social technologies -- via training and tech mandates.

That's like forcing a democracy upon another country.

Not a good idea.

Rather, we should model the best practices in the use of technology and give folks the room they need to experiment with the tools so that they can develop personal relationships with them.

In other words: no two people are going to use Twitter the same way.

So don't bother 'training' teachers to use it. Rather, present it; model it; and then give the teachers the time and space to experiment on their own.


The same article cites Kayleen Marble, the lead teacher and writing specialist for the Arizona Virtual Academy, run by K12 Inc.:
“You’re competing with kids who are used to computer games,” she says. To pique students’ interest, Marble adds visuals to her online lessons, such as graphics and video clips, and creates interactive lessons that require students to click and move objects on the computer screen with a mouse.

Are we living in 1983?

We're actually talking about a 'virtual academy' whose idea of what makes a lesson more interactive is that students are 'required' to 'click and move objects on the computer screen with a mouse'?


No wonder there are so many books written about the illusion of the worth of technology in the classroom.

My twin eight-year-olds have their own blogs. We sit down together and play MMOGs. They compose their own musical scores with GarageBand. Do you really think 'pointing and clicking' is the key to engaging them? Do you honestly think they need to be taught how to use a mouse?


We need geeks.

We need them to tell us that we look silly when we talk about technology.

We need them to be our school leaders and not just our technology mentors.

We need geeks running the show.

And let me define 'geeks'.

Geeks are not techies who know nothing but computers. Geeks are 21st century folks for whom digital technology is naturally, casually, and obviously integrated into all aspects of social living.

Geeks -- depending on age -- grew up with a Commodore 64, and then a Nintendo, and then a Sega or an X-Box. Geeks learned to hack software in elementary school. Geeks have had MySpace and Facebook pages so long that they tend to forget how to log in to them if they are not on a computer with their password saved.

And there is no one type of geek.

There are Liberal Arts geeks. And Science geeks. And math geeks. And music geeks. And history geeks. And art geeks. And sports geeks.

Yes. Sports geeks. And lots of 'em.

Looks to me like the folks who are so terrified about 21st century style education just don't understand geeks.

We're not here to computerize and dehumanize you. In fact, we'd rather stop the bickering and let you do your thing while we get on giving our kids an authentic 21st century education. If you need a hand, let us know. But if you think we're going to tell you what to do, forget it. That's really not how most of us think.

We're not here to 'train' you.


  1. How absolutely refreshing to hear your perspective with such a persuasive call to action. Recruit and hire people who already know what they're doing! What a concept!

    The current crop of students don't have time for us to get successful with OTJ. If people are really life-long learners, they're already knee deep into social media.

    This is supposed to be a disruptive moment, so let's move it along. Become a geek and be proud.

  2. Just an aside: that quote might be an indictment of Kayleen Marble, but IMHO as that was not a direct quote, it is more likely an indictment of the understanding of the reporter.

  3. I love being a geek.

    We're individualistic, intelligent, funky, delicious, wonderful people.

    I also think that geeks, as a cultural phenomenon, are deeply threatening to the ingrained culture of schools as they presently exist. Nearly all the geeks at my school have left (for better paying jobs) or have been driven out, or have simply left because it's not much fun being a geek in a rural area.

    I don't disagree with you. I think that our kids would be better educated by geeks than others. But being a geek is a state of mind that is learned early. I'm not sure that you can learn to be a geek, though.

  4. Brilliant post... your last sentence is one that came directly out of my mouth in front of my entire faculty this past Monday when we kicked off the remainder of our staff to follow last year's first cohort in an edtech integration pilot. We were successful enough to earn the second phase of this project as well as to multiply our model for a middle school in the district as well.

    We cannot continue to sink millions into student-side technology that site due to lack of teacher knowledge or preparation.

    However, like you articulated very well here, "training" is just plain silly. Check out slides 5 through 12 of the slide set I used on Monday. - - I think it might just add a visual component to your excellent arguement here.



  5. Great post! I'm amazed at some of the week technology skills I've seen from fellow teachers, and how poorly equiped schools can be in bringing teachers into the digital age. (I'm not talking Twitter and YouTube here. I'm talking about teachers who couldn't read a spreadsheet because they were unaware you could scroll side-to-side, not just up and down.) Non-geek teachers will relate to today's students about as well as teachers from the 70s-80s-90s who had never watched TV.

    Your post reminded me of comments made on This Week in Tech ( by Don Tapscott ( He said the broadcast model of teaching (one-way communication, teacher -> student) might have been okay for an audience of students who watched TV 24 hours a week. That pedogogy isn't going to be as effective with today's students, who expect greater connectivity and two-way communication. To do this in a 21st-century way, you're going to need geeks in classrooms.

  6. @msufan

    Point taken, though the original article in Ed Week was published way back on June 16th and there were no comments at all indicating that anyone had an issue with the attributions or characterizations.

    I've been sitting on this post since then just to see if anyone would comment there, Ed Week having such a large and varied audience.


  7. I agree with your point that using tech effectively in the classroom is something that can be modeled, but not trained. I teach in an independent school with a one-to-one laptop program that has struggled with this concept for years. At the end of this year we set up a NING for the faculty to share what we are doing, individually. To give some experience in social media and help our teachers connect with others like them.
    I disagree, however, that just because someone has grown up using social mediat that he/she is automatically better equipped to teach our students. Using social media and using it effectively to help students learn can be two very different things. I work with the new teachers at my school and have found for the past three years that the youngest and most involved in social media in their personal lives are not necessarily interested or adapt at using Internet technologies in their various courses. "Geeks" are not necessarily great teachers. There is an art and skill to that too.

  8. Amen to that last comment. Just because someone is a geek, doesn't make him/her a great teacher. Both geeks and non-geeks can be engaging, creative teachers.

  9. Lately my teacher friends and I have been discussing how sad it is that our curriculum is becoming canned. Creativity and passion are important... hire geeks...but they must also be creative. Teaching is a science AND an art.

  10. YES! YES! & YES! I couldn't agree more! I have been watching and experiencing this all of my college life and it is driving me nuts! I am excited to see things start to change. I'm thinking that it's going to take a lot of geeks geekin' out about what they love and sharing that with their pupils. Thank you for the post.

  11. I love the use of the "geek" terminology, since I have been one my whole life and it hasn't always had a positive connotation ;-) But I disagree with the derogatory slam on "life-long learner". The phrase *is* overused, but I think anyone who is a teacher had better be someone who enjoys learning and does it all the time. A "life-long learner" is not someone who signs up for "training" sessions, it's someone who is playing five steps ahead and dragging the rest of her friends with her (probably disrupting the paid instructor) A lll does not say "I don't know how to do that," he says, "where do I download that? let me play for awhile!" A lll lets students show her new stuff, reads Scientific American and the Bad Astronomy blog and stops former students in the hall to say "Isn't it cool that there's another three countries in the EU this year?"

    Being a lll doesn't *make* you a good teacher, but I've never met a great teacher who isn't a lll.

  12. Good thoughts....but the idea that people "live and breathe social media" and "can't live without it" is scary. I am worried that we are spending too much time teaching students how to interact digitally with texts, tweets, twitters, blogs, glogs, youtube, facebook, wikis etc... But gone is the lost art of conversation. Interacting with the people in front of you. I sometimes worry when I am in a room full of people who are so "plugged in" digitally that they forget the real live human beings around them.

  13. I agree with just about everything in your post and the comments that follow. I love reading your blog.

    However, life long learner is a phrase I'm not going to give up. My students know that I work with them. However, they also know that I am always learning something. I share my new knowledge with them. I preach that everything they do is a learning experience and they should seek those out.

    The learning does not and should not exist only in technology. I learn more about writing. This summer I'm learning how to ride a motorcycle and how to turn photography from a hobby to a business. All of this is learning.

    Lastly, I'll say this...Geeks don't necessarily make good teachers. Best friend is a geek but he couldn't teach anyone anything. He'd sit down and do it. Teachers need to be well rounded people that can write, think, interact and impart knowledge both electronically and in person. One method does not work in education.

  14. Thought-provoking and smile-inducing post. Thank you.

    I have been thinking about how we screen for the geek factor, and also about how to help geeks on their path.

    Need to be able to point them towards environments where they will really be able to let their geek flag fly.

  15. A recent study done by Dr. MeiYen Lu from SJSU found that new teachers (digital natives) don't necessarily know how to integrate technology more into the curriculum than the "digital immigrants". There is an art to it, altough growing up with technology helps. There is room for some "training", even for the digital natives.


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