It’s a Tuesday morning, 7:25 am, and I’m sitting in the usual school traffic at the intersection of three of our school buildings. I gulp my coffee and take a deep breath to calm myself for what the day might bring. My cell phone rings. It’s the principal of our middle school. As I see his name pop up on my phone, I think, “Nothing good can come from this conversation.”
As I answer, he tells me that an entire portion of our middle school’s network is down. I take another deep breath and head straight there. Sweating bullets, my colleagues and I spend the next hour trying to get the network back online, and we do it successfully – with a few bandages, albeit, but enough to get the kids back to learning. As I’m leaving the building, one of the custodians mutters, tongue in cheek, “Oh no, the internet’s down; how will the children learn?” And even though he’s joking, he’s right.
Curriculum, resources, student records and attendance systems have become dependent upon IT. If I’m asked what I’m responsible for, I say, “Anything that plugs into the wall or requires the internet.” When we don’t do our jobs correctly, many things are at risk of collapsing within a K-12 education environment, which places school technology departments squarely in the cross-hairs of so many liabilities and responsibilities.
Working in school technology also comes with many rewards and the realization that we are making a difference in the lives of the communities we serve. This article will attempt to outline the myriad challenges we face in school technology, but also highlight the silver linings in those challenges and how we can elevate the profession to collectively become the best professionals possible.
School IT departments have faced increasing challenges for the past 20 years with the advent of ubiquitous Wi-Fi and end user devices. School IT staff, in many cases, are paid less than market average, and school IT departments are typically understaffed. The pressures over the past two decades have been to do more with less.
This list is not all-inclusive but encapsulates the main duties we are tasked with managing (and that this site is dedicated to addressing): ISP connections, firewalls, servers, content filters, switching, access points, 1:1 desktops, laptops, tablets, visitor management systems, connected HVAC systems, copiers and printers, point-of-sale systems, end user software, security cameras, door access control systems, financial software, student information systems, learning management systems, data integrations, cloud applications, cybersecurity, digital privacy … even the digital sign on the high school lawn.
Any of these items could be a job on its own, but in many cases, schools in North America task a team of less than one to take care of all these responsibilities. And since the COVID-19 pandemic, the pressure has only grown as school IT departments became the bridge allowing teachers and students to continue connecting with one another. The pressures school technology professionals felt from before only grew as we now had to support 1:1 in grades that never had technology, we had to provide support directly to parents and students, and we were expected to deliver services in near flawless fashion.
The response from K-12 technology departments over the past two years has been nothing short of heroic. I spoke to other K-12 directors and technicians in neighboring school districts who were working 60+ hour weeks. And collectively we were helping teachers and parents pull off one of the greatest magic tricks possible in school tech: remote and blended education.
The Joys and the Calling
Due to the nature of the challenges we face, we can be a grouchy lot, but in truth, there are many joys of the profession. We work in a field where many of us get to dabble in just about everything daily. This creates a work environment where no two days are the same. I can learn something new every day and am constantly challenged to stretch my knowledge. But the joy of the profession is not all about personal betterment and enjoyment of tinkering: the relationships and the students are what keep me coming back.
The relationships in school technology are second to none. Not only do we build good working relationships with the teachers and staff we serve, but we also build relationships with directors and technicians at neighboring districts. The cooperation and understanding I’ve experienced among colleagues in and outside of my district is amazing. If you haven’t been connected to other districts, we hope this site is a jumping-off point for getting to know other individuals who can help you make your school and technology initiatives better.
Students challenge us. They’re running denial-of-service campaigns on our networks. They’re constantly finding ways to evade content filters. They’re harvesting passwords off sticky notes on teacher computers. All that aside, the bulk of our work has a positive impact on students and their education. We make resources available anytime, anywhere. We reduce the divide on who has access to technology and internet connectivity. Our day-to-day may not seem glamorous, but we’re preparing students for a future that is unimaginable and ever-changing. There is joy in the profession, which I’d argue could be considered a calling. It takes a special person to do this job.
The Pivotal Role of the School Technician
In an ever-changing world, school techs stand at the crux of an advancing society and the slow-moving institution that is formalized education. School technology personnel serve a pivotal role in the advancement of technology. We have an opportunity to address security issues presented to our students, teachers and staff. We have the ability to teach staff and students how to maintain privacy. We provide usable and accessible technology that enables students to learn in new ways. And we provide students with the resources and tools that will be ever-present in the careers that are being invented.
Looking toward the future, we should remain mission-driven to prepare the next generation, constantly collaborating to improve our craft and help further education, data privacy and security in a digital world.
Welcome to K-12 TechPro
The job of the school tech can be a daunting, lonely and thankless task. That’s why we’ve created K-12 TechPro: to increase the knowledge of K-12 techs, to elevate the profession, and to provide a drive to succeed to those who do the same job alongside us in schools across North America and around the world. We’re in this to elevate education and help provide students with the best education possible.