Friday, December 30, 2011

If We Had Webcams

I apologize to all the Woodland Park grandparents who didn't receive a cute, handmade craft from the grandkid over the holidays. We don't make a lot of that kind of thing around here and I always feel a little guilty each year as we head into the break without having created much of anything to box up for the grands. 

As compensation, you're invited to visit us any time at all, even without advance warning. We'd love to have you. We'd love to show you what we're doing instead of making cute things for you. 

Of course, I know that isn't much of an offer for those of you who live far away and only see the grandchildren a few times a year. What I'd really like to offer you are webcams.

This isn't the first time I've expressed a wish to have webcams installed around our classroom in such a way that every corner of both the indoor and outdoor classroom 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.

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 an accident of our mobile society, to have this ability to peek into and remotely share their treasured preschoolers’ lives.

I know at first blush this sounds a little Big Brother-ish and there isn’t a teacher’s union out there that would agree, 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 teacher in a cooperative, that’s already a condition of my employment. It's already a condition of the kids' enrollment. Our every move is already observed by the children's parents because each of them is right there with us at least one day a week, working as assistant teachers.

So for us webcams just seem like a natural extension of what we're already doing.

If we had webcams, grandparents, you would see why we don't often get around to making cute things for you. You would see instead how we, for instance, played with styrofoam packaging, pipe cleaners and liquid water color on the table we call "the art table." You would have seen that it was messy without being particularly popular. You would have witnessed how many of the kids struggled to insert the wire ends into the foam. You would have noticed that the most engaged kids were really most fascinated by spilling paint on the table top, then using paper towels to soak it up, taking control of their own learning.

You would have seen that the whole mess went outside where it enjoyed a surge of interest for a few minutes, but then got set aside on a table where it remained for nearly two weeks until the children re-discovered it just before our holiday break and went about, on their own initiative this time, mastering the skill of inserting those pipe cleaners into the styrofoam.

If we had webcams you would have something cute from preschool not just for the holidays, but all year long. If we all wanted webcams, I bet we could find a way to get them . . .

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Unknown said...

Haha I love the idea but just the other day I was thinking. . . I hope they don't have a web cam in here as I am putting on my makeup in the corner before my class arrived because I was running late, one day I actually had to floss my teeth after lunch, or stealing the occasional cookie from my desk between classes (we are a no junk food school) or a sip of coke to keep me going (I'm a new mom and always tired). Yes there will be a few times Teacher Tom when you will say, what was I thinking if you have crazy days with little time in between groups of kids!

Unknown said...

The closest I can come to a webcam is taking lots of pictures and sending a slideshow home at the end of each week. I'm told I have had grandparents from far away who treasure these slideshows so they can see what we are doing. However, it's not near the same as a webcam, where you can actually see the children in action! Great post, Tom!

Deborah said...

Well Tom - I hate to be the odd ball on this topic but I am just not convinced that the early childhood classroom is the right place for webcams.

Although a grandparent or parent may wish to view their own child, the webcam is not selective so folks would be viewing not only their own child but all the children in the room.

And having folks log in and watch when it is convenient for them seems invasive of a child's right to play and learn in privacy.

Young children need to make mistakes and get mad and slobber and make friends or cry or laugh or be a trouble maker or be kind and do all the things kids do without having folks outside of the safe environment you provide sit and watch it all - and ultimately make judgments as well.

Perspectives can be skewed when a person is not fully and physically present in the room and not possibly not watching for the full period of time.

Sometimes a little mystery is a good thing. Grandparents may love to view their grandchild via webcam but I think they would also be quite pleased to hear their grandchild share their own story with them and 'perhaps' even look forward to celebrating one of those little gifts that their grandchild made special for them:)

Shellee said...

Wow, I was going to agree with you Tom and say that I had thought about this kind of thing when my son went to daycare and I wanted to see how he interacted with the other kids and "teachers". But after hearing/reading Deborah's words, I really agree with her. She brough to surface some very good reasons why not to have them. Grandparent's and parents alike won't look at things with an open mind and you may end up hating the calls about why little Joey wasn't dealt with in a certain way when such and such happened. I think your blog does the job you want it to do and allows the family to "see" and be involved in their child's day.

Teacher Tom said...

@Deborah & Shellee . . . Valid concerns, I think, but our school is a cooperative. There are always dozens of parents in the classroom at any given time, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends of the family are in the room almost daily. We're not just a community of children, but a community of families. Nothing any of us does at school is ever "off the radar" as it is. We are a very transparent institution: it's a condition of enrollment. It's the main reason I'm able to be so open and forthright on this blog. I can certainly see that there would be problems in a traditional school, but I think we're in a unique position here, one in which webcams would just enhance our experience as a community.

And Shelle, it's interesting but even though nothing happens in our school without dozens of parent eyes on it, I'm very rarely called on to "defend" how we deal with kids. I think it's exactly our openness that causes this to not happen. When I am approached, it's almost always in a constructive manner. Personally, I think all those extra eyes makes me a much better teacher.

No, webcams aren't for every school, but I think ours is one that would love them.