I want to install webcams in our classroom. I’ve sat down not once, but twice in recent days with the intention of writing about this abiding desire, but have gotten lost in the flow of the prose and wound up writing about something else entirely. (That’s one of the great joys and difficulties of no longer writing for hire.)
I want webcams installed around our classroom in such a way that every corner of the room can be observed remotely. And since I’m being wishful here, I’d also like microphones installed over each of our stations so that our conversations can be selectively overheard by those same internet observers.
Of course, re-reading the last paragraph, I can already see the problem I’ve had in writing about this. In my efforts to lead up to it gently, to work up to it in a way that won’t raise everyone’s Big-Brother-surveillance-state-no-privacy warning flag, I’ve wound up writing around it to the point of not writing about it at all.
That said, I would love for the parents and grandparents of Woodland Park students to have the ability, while in the midst of the drudgery of their morning at the office or of housework, or while miles away on business, or simply geographically separated for large chunks of the year by the accident of our mobile society (as many grandparents are), to have this ability to peek into and remotely share their treasured preschoolers’ lives.
There isn’t a teacher’s union out there that would agree to this, I’m sure. And I know there are many teachers who would freak out at the prospect of having remote parent eyes and ears upon them as they go about their work, but as a cooperative teacher, that’s already a condition of my employment. My every move is already observed by the kids’ parents because each of them is right there with me at least one day a week, working as assistant teachers.
I’ve written here before about how the cooperative model’s un-hierarchical nature – whereby the parents are my collective boss outside the classroom, while I’m their “boss” inside – leads to the kind of collaborative environment that is wonderfully conducive to educating young children. I’d like to think I’d still teach with as much energy and focus in a traditional setting, but it certainly doesn’t hurt knowing that the parents will know if I don’t give it my all every day.
But this post is about those webcams.
When my daughter Josephine attended Latona 3-5’s Cooperative Preschool, we moved into the North Seattle Community College laboratory preschool facility for her 4-year-old year. This classroom features a full wall of one-way mirror observation windows, microphones over every table, and a closed-circuit camera for observing the playground. Even before I’d started to think about becoming a teacher, I would grab a cup of coffee each morning that I wasn’t working in the classroom, and set up shop in the observation room. At first it was just to follow the adventures of my own child, but it wasn’t long before I began to follow those of the other children as well. When I’m in a roomful of children, I can’t help but drop to my knees to immerse myself in their world. This observation room gave me the chance to learn about preschoolers from a whole new perspective. It was particularly instructive, for instance, to observe how the presence or absence of an adult affected play, something I could never have learned by staying in the room. This experience made me not only a better teacher, but a better parent.
As I envision it, Woodland Park’s webcams would be installed in such a way that each of our major classroom areas could be observed, giving parents and other loved ones the opportunity to follow their child as he moves around the room. (Terry, one of our 3-5 dads, joked that maybe each of the kids should have tiny cameras embedded in their nametags to provide a first-person perspective of their daily experience.) If we could add the microphones, they could even choose to listen in to the wonderful things they say.
Yes, we would have security/privacy matters to think through and I don’t know how many stay-at-home parents would take advantage of the webcams – after all, preschool is a chance for a break – but I can imagine working parents keeping a window open on their computer screens as a way to stay connected, not to mention the opportunity these webcams would present for parents who travel for business. And I know that there are a lot of grandparents across the country who would schedule their lives around watching their grandchildren in preschool.
So now I’ve finally written the webcam post. Thanks for bearing with me.