Tech In Teaching: Robot Teachers Aren't Coming For Your JobsS

Welcome to the final installment of Tech in Teaching, a recurring series inspired by the HP ENVY 6 Sleekbook. Over the past few months I've been interviewing public school teachers about how technological developments have affected the education process over the years.

For our final interview, I spoke with Frank McHugh, a former Wall Street broker turned life-long teacher. Below, Mr. McHugh (as hundreds of students knew him) talks about not being in it for the money, union politics, and how the introduction of computers changed his English classroom.

First of, tell our readers about yourself. Why'd you get into teaching in the first place?

During my senior year of college, I had no idea what I was going to do. So I sat down with my track coach to talk about my plans for the future. "I know your wife is pregnant so you need a good job" were his first words to me.

He knew of a Wall Street brokerage house that wanted me to work for them. It was 1960 and my starting salary was $10,000, when the average college graduate's salary was $4,500. After a year, it finally dawned on me why I received that salary: Two members of the group who I had trained with quit, and my remaining colleague and I were going crazy.

I finally went to the track coach and told him I had to do something where I could control of my life. He knew a Catholic high school that was looking for a track coach and English teacher. At the interview they offered me $5,500 less than I had been making — and I took it.

Tell us about your first teaching assignment? Describe the classroom you worked in and the sort of equipment were you using then.

The only equipment I had were the two books I was given and the switch that turned the lights on. There were 40 desks in each class. The students did not leave the class; the teachers moved from one class to the next. After two years on Wall Street, I found myself very tolerant of the students' weaknesses because they were tolerant of mine. I did not yell at or punish them for mistakes because I had learned that their failures often were my responsibility. I've found that if you treat people with respect and humor they will act in kind.

How did you introduce computers into your classroom? Did they change the way your students wrote?

Computer labs were installed for English teachers in the early 1990s, and we were allowed to bring our classes every other week. There was a computer-literate teacher who taught the students not only how to use the computer but where they could find information quickly. This made them more creative and curious.

Curious students are more informed and therefore better writers. They have more confidence and don't see assignments as the chore that pre-computer students did.

You were very active in the teachers union for many years. Did emerging technology ever have a role in union issues?For instance, were you ever afraid that a gang of teaching robots would steal your jobs?

In 1976, when I became involved in the teachers union, the communication between our five high school buildings was through inter-school mail or by phone. Communication between states and other school unions was rare because mail was not timely and the phone was not efficient. As president of the Sewanhaka Federation of Teachers, I found that computers changed the union (and my life).

Is there a specific piece of equipment or technological advancement that changed the way you taught, or thought about teaching? Is there an item you couldn't imagine teaching without?

[In the 70's, my school] bought copy machines that made life better for my students and me. I was no longer confined to the textbooks. All printed media was at my disposal.

Do you think kids today are different — or learn differently — because of their access to new technology?

I don't believe students are any different from the way they were when I started teaching, but I believe they learn differently because of their access to new technology. Still, there is no replacing the teacher in the classroom!

Well, that's it for Tech in Teaching. Read our previous interviews here. And head here for more information on the ultimate advancement in classroom technology, the HP ENVY 6 Sleekbook — the only large screen laptop with Beats AudioTM.