Things Have Changed: Schools Then Vs. Now

January 17, 2023

        “Back in my day…” Is a common phrase heard over and over again by students. In fact, kids are constantly told about how things have transformed completely in the education system. To find out the truth, we asked Westfield staff about some of the biggest changes they have observed throughout their lives and teaching careers.

        Perhaps one of the most commonly noted differences between schools throughout the recent decades has been the use of technology. Tech is practically the whole basis for learning at Westfield, but according to teachers, computer labs were only just starting to be introduced when they were in school.

         Christy Jenkins, math teacher, remarked, “We didn’t have computers. We had our first computer programming class my senior year. We also didn’t have graphing calculators. It was a big deal when we had a solar calculator that did not need batteries.”

        Joshua Aranda, history teacher, agreed: “Technology was rarely used in school, other than in a computer class.”

         The technology schools in Fairfax County have was not something people once relied on, and yet today it is the thing most responsible for transforming learning environments. 

          Teaching styles have been largely impacted by the technology available. 

         Aranda mentioned, “ Teaching styles have had to adapt to the world of the internet and decreased attention spans. Teaching has to be more “entertaining” in order to keep students attentive.”

           This includes using powerpoint presentations, mini games, videos, etc. 

          The way teachers relay material may have changed, but Jennifer Santiago, history teacher, believes content itself has not evolved too much.

          She commented, “I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird and the Great Gatsby in high school, and students still read that today. I feel like the students are doing the same color symbolism projects I did when I was in school.”

          Although certain books and projects will always be useful in some aspects, continuing to do certain things over and over again instead of incorporating new material can be an issue, as it makes it harder for students to adapt to a quickly changing world.  

          Despite some content being outdated, students have been able to show their undering of material in new ways, especially when it comes to group work.

          Jenkins remarked, “We did more work individually and had to make our own groups outside of class.”

          Group projects are not usually regarded as a favorite among students, but the shift to more teamwork in schools has been a positive change, as it allows kids to learn how to work well with others before entering the workforce, a place where collaboration is vital. 

         In relation to daily interactions among students, Chuck Ponsart, Criminal Justice teacher, commented, “Nobody socializes anymore. Sure it’s easier to keep in touch with everyone but it’s not quality socializing. When people get access to their phones in class everyone goes online and completely ignores the person sitting next to them.” 

           Aranda added his view: “I feel that schools today are well-connected with social media which is helpful in getting the word out about club events and activities. Still, in my opinion, students are less social than they were in my days and this is because of social media and texting culture.”

          Jenkins further remarked, “You would never find us sitting quietly on our phones, we were engaged and we knew everyone in the class.”

           Unfortunately, for a generation engrossed in socializing online, scientists at Pew Research Center indicated in 2018 that people who are greatly invested in online communication may have a more difficult time conversing with others face to face, an important skill that is needed throughout a person’s life. 

           The level of unity in school communities has been a large social change as well. There used to be much more excitement surrounding certain school traditions than there is now, leading to a less tightly knit student body. 

          Santiago observed, “We had a lot more school spirit when I was in high school, people were proud to attend my school, and games and pep rallies were so much fun.” 

           Changes like this that display a lack of community, along with the other many social changes, have people worried about whether or not today’s high schoolers will be able to properly communicate and bond with others in the future.

          Aside from social changes in schools, misconduct and disciplinary action are also quite different than they used to be. Many argue that schools have become more lenient in the face of bad behavior.

          “20 years ago in FCPS if you skipped too many classes you would automatically get an F.” Santiago stated.

           Students now know that nobody can receive below a fifty for any school assignment, whether it has to do with bad behavior or not. Punishments are now smaller than they used to be or do not have the same effect they once did on kids. Ponsart’s view reflected this when he mentioned his experience:

           “A trip to the principal’s office was a huge deal. If you got suspended you had to leave the school, no ISS (In School Suspension). The mere threat of a suspension kept people behaving, and it would never occur to me to talk back to a teacher. Now there is no real consequence for bad behavior.”

          With greater leniency in schools the student body has continued to develop a sort of stupid bravery, leading to a larger scale of harmful disrespect. An example of this was the “devious licks” trend that took place back in 2021, with toilets and sinks being pulled from walls and materials being stolen from teachers’ classrooms.

          Jenkins remarked, “There will always be disciplinary issues in schools. The problem is the stuff they (students) do keeps getting bigger and bigger. The line between appropriate and disrespect is crossed so much faster in today’s world in and out of schools.”

          Aranda summed up the overall disciplinary changes when he said, “Plain and simple—students get more chances today than they did when I attended school.”

          Our teachers provide a unique perspective when it comes to the development of schools since they have been able to not only see but also experience the changes. Their comments make it clear that schools have evolved quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time, especially in recent years. Technology has been one of the most impactful tools and has paved the way for other transitions schools have made in regards to teaching, learning, and interaction in the classroom. Although some changes have had negative impacts, many advancements have made it easier for students to engage in effective learning and there is much to be grateful for.

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