As I leave the public school system, having spent 45 years in and out of school, I’ve seen many changes, some for the better. Today’s classroom does not resemble the schoolroom I entered in 1967, where we spent the mornings playing “Button, Button, Who Has the Button?”

According to the 1872 Tazewell County, Illinois Rules for One-room Schoolhouse Teachers, early educators were required to fill the lamps, clean the chimney, whittle pencil nibs for each student, and carry buckets of water and coal. Teachers worked ten hours daily and spent the remaining hours reading the Bible or other good books. Male teachers could give one evening a week to courting and two if they attended church. Women were dismissed for socializing with men, including marrying them.

I’m glad some things have changed, but not all changes have been for the better. If you’ve been absent from school for a few years, you might be surprised by what you see in today’s classroom.

Learning Expectations

Today's classroomIn her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder says everyone in her class memorized the Declaration of Independence, and she recited a large portion of the history of the United States from memory. Some students need help remembering the names of their country and state. One question my students repeatedly ask is, “Do we have to learn this?”

I think my students retired from schoolwork sometime around Easter break. My writer friend Charlotte, a former teacher, added this insight:

“I always thought the only time there was teaching in school was January/February. September is an adjustment. October starts the holiday season, which lasts through December. After February break, it’s spring, so there’s outside action and sports. After April break, students are out for the summer.”

And we haven’t even begun to memorize the Declaration of Independence.

Student Tools

today's classroomWhen I was a senior in high school, there was one desk-sized computer with one function. It contained a list of colleges. During my last year of college, my professor assigned us the task of sending an email. I was terrified that I might do it wrong. After a few years of teaching, a desktop computer appeared in my classroom, becoming the only way to post student grades.

The iPad or personal laptop became a necessity during the COVID years. Every student has one.

These devices have tremendous benefits. The anvil-weighted shelf dictionaries are obsolete. Research has moved from the library to the student desk. (I have a fantastic 1971 set of World Book encyclopedias if anyone wants them!)

Students can access lessons and assignments at any time, anywhere. They no longer carry stacks of heavy textbooks from class to class.

These devices also have tremendous pitfalls. Many students in today’s classroom play online games instead of doing schoolwork. Staring at a device is a popular activity, and I fear that many students fail to see the world beyond the screen or the faces behind the text messages.

When I was in high school, we used a different kind of tablet. I decorated the cover with art, doodles, and names of rock n’ roll bands. 

My stylus in those days was called a pencil. I got a new one each marking period and never lost it. 

Teacher Tools

I’m curious if my elementary and high school teachers struggled to keep up with new technology as much as I did over the past 26 years.

As a 1998 education major, my professor said, my professor required us to compose an email. I was terrified. When would I ever need to use email? How does this stuff work? What if it doesn’t go through? I mastered the art of email (some of you think I learned it a little too well…) and worked to keep up with all the educational changes.

As a new teacher, I recorded grades on paper and prepared report cards on cardstock. A few years into my career, my classroom had a desk-sized computer that stored grades on a floppy disk.

Over the years, I have switched between various devices, platforms, and programs. What’s a program? It’s the old name for an app.

All Eyes On the Screen

In today’s classroom, the large television screen replaces the display screen, which replaced the whiteboards that covered the old blackboards and the green flip chalkboards on wobbly stands. And then there was that beautiful old dinosaur, the overhead project.

If you miss the overhead projector, watch this video: The Nostalgia of Overhead Projectors. Modern students may never get to see their teacher trip over the projector cord, and what fun is that?

At least current technology allows me to access unlimited video clips and find visual examples of complex terms. “Want to see what an outrigger looks like? Here it is…” With today’s expanding options for presentation, the classroom overflows with student and teacher-created learning activities with all the bells and whistles of a professional sales pitch. My students sometimes forget to include meaningful content and just include the bells and whistles.

However, I do miss the click, click, click of the reel-to-reel and filmstrips and the question, “Who was snoring during the driver’s ed movie?” I also miss the days when I was permitted to wake students from their class time naps.

A New Threat

The AI tool is the most recent technology that has today’s teachers in a quandary. While these tools help generate ideas or create instant quizzes, they can compromise academic honesty. In the past, my students would attempt to copy and paste book summaries or research information, stealing someone else’s words without giving credit and claiming the glamorous college-level sentences were their own. This was an easy problem to solve. I could search for the wording online and find the source. Gotcha!

However, AI tools are not searchable because they do not consistently reproduce an essay in the same way. There is no way to prove plagiarism. Parents swear upon heaven and earth that their children wrote those classic lines themselves. Still, I can always ask my students to explain what they meant in writing: “This duality embodies the primal urges of societal norms.” That should keep them busy for a while.


One of the most significant changes in education is the surge of security measures. Schools are equipped with non-transparent glass, a call button at the front door, an on-site security officer, and a need to keep today’s classroom doors closed and locked at all times.

Students in today’s classroom fire drills, severe weather drills, and intruder alert drills. They also learn the escape principles of Run, Hide, and Fight should a threat make it past the security systems. Some have suggested keeping a supply of rocks for security purposes. iPads and textbooks could serve the same purpose. 

Some things never change.

One thing that has never changed in education is the staff. School nurses care for everything from objects stuck in children’s ears to life-threatening ailments. Janitors, custodians, or facility management teams clean up unspeakable messes and fix broken chairs. Librarians fight to keep new books in the budget line. Cafeteria workers cook, bake, serve, and clean for hundreds and get little thanks. Bus drivers keep the vehicles on the road despite sixty screaming kids behind them. School secretaries still keep everything running through rain, sleet, and snow. And teachers and students in today’s classroom – we’ll keep adjusting to all the school changes. What else can we do?

More school stories:

Maybe I’m a Slow Learner

200 Years of Change in Public Education

Not Much of a Schoolboy

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