Emily Farrell

teaches at Strath Haven High School in Delaware County

In 1970, I woke up at 5 a.m. every day to drive to my first teaching job in Hartland, Mich., a town with one street. The school was on triple shifts, and I taught from dawn until noon, six classes with a 15-minute break. Though they paid me well, $8,000 annually, my classroom had no books - and I was an English teacher.

Hartland and I were not a good match.

Within a year, I was settled in the veritable paradise of Nether Providence High School, which would later merge with Swarthmore High to become Strath Haven High. Nether Providence had books galore and parents who were thrilled to see their children reading.

The '60s were over, but the activities of college hippies had filtered down to high schools, and by that, I don't mean a love of Hermann Hesse novels. I mean marijuana.

In 1970, my school had an open campus, so students could "dine out" at lunchtime. That's when they got into trouble. Back then a teacher could question a student about his glassy eyes and giggly manner. Not now. Ask a student if he's high today and you can be sued.

Then again, why did they bother to leave campus? We had a cigarette-smoking lounge. The idea was, they all did it and the administrators wanted them out of the bathrooms and in a confined area.

Today, thankfully, few students smoke, most bathrooms are clean-air zones, and buildings are locked tight. Visitors must be buzzed in, greeted and tagged before they enter. And anybody smoking on the grounds, teenager or staff, will end up in the local magistrate's court and likely receive a hefty fine.

Drug use today? We have counselors, psychologists, and social workers who help/harass the delinquents. It's harder to be an in-school stoner.

When I began teaching, fathers generally worked and educated moms stayed at home. This was good and bad. A woman whose career is motherhood can be a teacher's greatest advocate or a tiger who will tear your throat out - after complaining to the principal, the superintendent, and God, if He has the time to respond. They could erupt at the first sign of a C.

Now, everyone has to work, and parents are often too exhausted to whine - at least in person.

Welcome to e-mail. Like their children who post drunken pictures on Facebook without regard for consequences, parents can bang out e-mail messages that are sometimes impulsive, unfiltered, and full of misspellings. Teachers must respond carefully. Parents may have less time to complain, but they do sue.

Another change today is the world of special education. Years ago, our school had two special-ed teachers. Now, our district has as many special-ed teachers as it has math instructors. Twenty percent of our students are classified as special ed.

What was called an "itch" a generation ago is now a "focusing problem." A child who daydreams is "unable to process." Students once seen as rude or destructive - and in need of punishment - now need "emotional support." Some scoff at this new world of classifications, but our understanding of subtle learning problems has resulted in a variety of ways to help all students learn more easily.

When I started my job, TV and telephones were the big distractions - at home. Confiscating a love note in class was as complicated as it got. Now we have cell phones - an excellent way to ignore schoolwork. And heaven forbid a teacher reads what is on the text message when she confiscates a cell. That's illegal. But I stopped looking after seeing a screen saver of a sweet-faced blonde touching tongues with her boyfriend. That cured me.

Or consider cell phones and cheating: During a spelling test (yes, they still exist), I found a boy with his phone open. Was he receiving a text from his dad, as he said, or cheating with his Internet dictionary? You guess.

Yes, the world has changed for this 62-year-old teacher, who has thoughts of retiring but can't go while she's still having fun. My students make me laugh every day and seem to appreciate what I teach them - eventually.

In 2010, I wake up at 6 a.m. to be on time for my 7:30 creative-writing class. I teach three courses a semester for 80 minutes each because of block scheduling. The students immediately open their laptops to work on a poem for a writing contest. By 3:30 I am home waiting to receive the poems that were edited in class so that I can send them to California. While I wait, I e-mail an admissions director at a university about an applicant. That night I receive an appreciative e-mail from a parent and help another student write scholarship essays online.

Teaching sure has changed.

E-mail Emily Farrell at farrellec@yahoo.com.