Mr. Byron Hastings
World Language Dept. Chair
Poston Butte High School – Florence Unified School District
Byron Hastings is a world traveler. When it finally came time to put down some roots and make a home for himself, the former flight attendant’s first choice was Florence. No, not Florence, Italy. Florence, Arizona. He liked the small, close-knit community where life would move at a much slower pace.
He decided to make a career change and went back to school at Arizona State University, majoring in history.
“I wanted to major in German, but figured that wasn’t an employable degree,” he laughs.
Little did he know when he landed a position in the Florence Unified School District (FUSD) as a French and German language teacher, not only was his foreign language background employable, but this sleepy little community was actually one of the most innovative, sophisticated and technology-driven school districts in Arizona.
“I definitely wasn’t raised with the technology as it is now; it’s an integral part of our curriculum,” Hastings says. “The leadership in our school district encourages innovation. They want us to grow as teachers and experiment with new ideas to benefit our students.”
FUSD high schools have Google One-to-One Classrooms, meaning that students aren’t issued textbooks, but rather, individual laptop computers on which they complete the majority of their academic work. Hastings and his fellow instructors locate pertinent information and build their course instruction completely online.
“In my own classroom, Google Classroom allows me to post and collect work digitally instead of using up large amounts of paper and toner. However, merely converting traditional book and paperwork to a digital platform is not really using technology to its fullest potential,” Hastings says. “I try to help my students become creators of digital content rather than just consumers of it.”
What Hastings also likes about having technology at his fingertips is the flexibility it affords him in his instruction. He can update and change content instantly rather than rely on outdated textbooks. He encourages his students to use their smartphones to make videos of themselves using French and German in various settings. Students use Google Drawing to create their own online stories to enhance their foreign language learning, while Google Voice allows them to record speaking assignments. He uses QR codes to make discovering and interacting with vocabulary more interactive. Other online platforms, such as Socrative and Kahoot! allow students to respond to questions Hastings asks in real time. This provides Hastings with instant feedback that he can use to adjust his teaching in the moment.
Even with all of the technology and resources FUSD provides, Hastings says being a teacher does have its challenges and says the biggest one is a four-letter word: Time.
“It takes a lot of work outside the classroom to be a good teacher. Good teachers can’t just show up and be great teachers; we have to meticulously plan out each activity so that it incorporates all of the elements needed to make an effective lesson,” he says.
He spends his preparation period during the school day—the first he’s had in three years—to do some of his work, but a majority of his preparation is done at home in the evening, approximately two hours each night, and then the entire day on either Saturday or Sunday getting ready for the upcoming school week.
“I don’t have children, so this is possible for me, but I often wonder how teachers with families cope with such a workload,” Hastings says. “Add on top of this all of the meetings, student activities, and trainings and coursework needed to maintain our certifications. Teaching is not a job that we can just ‘leave at the office.’ It goes with us everywhere we go.”
Despite the bells and whistles that technology provides, Hastings is quick to point out that it’s still personal interaction and genuine rapport and feedback students crave from their teachers. He remembers an instance where that feedback made all the difference in one of his students’ lives.
As a mid-year replacement teacher in his first year of teaching in 2005, Hastings tried hard to build a relationship with students he didn’t know. One student who had been struggling academically turned in an outstanding essay, scoring a high grade on it. However, after turning the paper in, the student disappeared from Hastings’ roster. Hastings mailed the student’s mom a note about how proud he was of him and how he missed having the student in his class.
“I didn’t hear anything back until graduation,” Hastings recalls. “After the ceremony, the student and his mom stopped me and thanked me for sending the assignment and note. Apparently, the student was facing expulsion and my note gave him the confidence to come back and finish school in the district’s alternative program.”
“I was a brand new teacher, and that was the first time I realized how much I could affect a student’s life.”