Technology Woes

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This kitty seems amused and maybe slightly deranged.

Technology is supposed to make our lives and work easier and more enjoyable. However, when it doesn’t perform like we think it should, it becomes maddening and “annoyingly funny” (h/t Bradley F.).

My students are working on a multimedia project connected to Lord of the Flies that asks them to explore different views of humanity. It requires them to incorporate every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and they may work with a partner if they choose, so there’s collaboration involved. Basically, it’s the perfect project (educationally-speaking).

As they started searching for materials, we discovered that Google Images is blocked on the district-issued Chromebooks that I checked out from the library. We had encountered this problem before, and I thought it was just a one-time thing. I followed protocol and emailed the help desk to get assistance. I received a reply 3 hours later requesting a screenshot of the issue. Since it was my conference period, I borrowed a student from another class to log in to the laptop so I could recreate the issue and send the screenshot. After I sent them the evidence, the help desk asked me to have that same student log in to a different computer (not a Chromebook) to see if the problem existed on that platform. So I tracked down a MacBook Air from a cart that another teacher had checked out, but I couldn’t find the same student to log in to check, so it had to wait until my next class began. (This is, quite literally, the definition of “runaround.” [I can feel my blood pressure rising right now as I’m retelling this story.]) So 4th period started, and I had a student log in to both a Chromebook and the borrowed MacBook. Sure enough, Google Images is still blocked on the Chromebook, but it isn’t blocked on the MacBook. I snagged screenshots of both situations and sent them on to the help desk. And then the day was over.

This morning, students resumed their work and found that Google Images is still blocked on the Chromebooks. I emailed the help desk again and included a request for an alternate video source since YouTube is also blocked (and not just on Chromebooks), and they said they were still looking into the issue and had no solution for the lack of video access. I’m writing this 24 hours later, and there’s still no resolution.

This incident makes abundantly clear the fact that the tech side of education is unaware of how the classroom side works. To ask a teacher to go find a different computer to test an issue is absurd and wildly inconvenient. To ask students to be engaged, innovative, critical thinkers and not give them enough access to be successful is frustrating, inhibiting, and demoralizing. The tools are useless if they have no teeth–they’re glorified paperweights and fancy word processors. When technology actually creates more work for us, it ceases to be the first option.

Choices

I read somewhere once that a classroom teacher makes more decisions daily than an air traffic controller does. (Funny–I was just looking back through old blog entries, and I started another post with the same factoid!) While the decisions in a classroom won’t necessarily cause or prevent an immediate, fatal catastrophe, they do have an impact on human lives. Every decision a teacher makes–from assignments to discipline to simple words–has a consequence, so it’s important to be deliberate in those choices. I’ve found two that exact the most influence in my classroom: choose your battles and choose kindness.

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The almighty restroom pass. To a teacher, it represents avoidance and mayhem. To a student, escape and peace. Once the power of the pass is removed, however, its appeal is quickly diminished. In the time before BYOT (bring your own technology), using cell phones in class was strongly discouraged, and students would use the restroom pass as a way to circumvent the rule so they could catch up on missed messages in the privacy of the restroom, out of the way of penalty. Teachers got wise to this trick and began limiting the number of passes that a student could use each semester, adding yet another tedious task to their already tipping pile. Since BYOT has become something of the norm, most students can check Twitter from the comfort of their desks. (I am aware that many teachers still prohibit students from using their technology during lecture, but I’m also a realist who knows that kids ARE on their phones when we think they aren’t. I digress, of course.) For me, this one minor allowance ended one of the most common classroom conflicts. Now students are free to take the pass to use the restroom almost anytime during my class (if I’m covering something important or it’s the first or last 15 minutes of class, I’ll usually ask the kid to wait). I think it’s actually cut down on the amount of time students spend outside of my room, and it’s one less battle to fight. That’s a choice I don’t regret!

Attitude choice also makes a big difference. Ever realize how much energy it takes to be angry about something? When I get mad, I clam up at first, but eventually I’ll go off to whomever will listen about whatever it is that ticked me off. Before I know it, my blood pressure is rising, I really don’t feel any better about the situation, and I’ve infected someone else with my negativity. On the other hand, being kind takes a lot less effort. As a matter of fact, we should be kinder than necessary, according to J.M. Barrie.

Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

I try to remind myself of this quote when I encounter difficult people. I know I have bad days sometimes, so why isn’t it okay for others to? And it could be that my one gesture of kindness–however small it may be–is the thing that a person needed to help make it through the day, so why not smile at that kid in the hallway? I can’t know everything that others are facing, so I try to give them a break. A little kindness and compassion can go a long way.

The next time a student asks to use the restroom, consider handing them a pass with a smile.

This Is the Story of a Dog

I was looking through some old photos a while back, and I came across Boomer’s puppy pictures.

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Boomer in 2008

And when I looked at him today, I realized how old he’s getting. Gone is the solid brown spot in the middle of his head and the distinct brown mask around his eyes. Seems like he gets whiter and whiter every time I look at him, and it makes me so sad because his fading colors mean that time is getting shorter.

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Boomer in 2016

Boomer is the first dog I’ve had as an adult. We always had dogs when I was a kid; however, after I graduated from college, I knew that a dog wouldn’t fit my busy lifestyle, so I got a cat–the first and only cat I’ve ever owned (and “owned” isn’t the right word because anyone who’s had a cat knows that the cat owns you and allows you to be in its life, but I digress).  Kali hated everything, and she barely tolerated me. When I bought my home and life settled down, I thought it was time to get a dog, but I knew Kali wouldn’t be happy about it. So I started volunteering at DFW Humane Society in Irving to get my dog fix. The experience allowed me to play with all of the dogs I wanted while keeping peace at home with the cat. It also connected me to other rescue groups, and that’s how Boomer came along.

I discovered that Ruby, a good friend of mine, worked with a Doberman rescue group and helped others rehome pets they could no longer keep. One day, she went to meet a pug that a family didn’t have time for, and she saw that they also had a basset hound puppy. The skinny little guy was locked in a very small crate, and Ruby knew that she couldn’t leave him behind. She took him to her rescue group for a check up and then brought him home to fatten him up and help him get healthy.

What follows is Boomer’s original “gotcha day” story.

At risk of becoming a foster failure, Ruby convinced me that I needed this puppy in my life. When she brought him to the park to meet me on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October, he was still so skinny you could see his floating rib poking out on his left side. He tripped over his ears as he walked toward me and flopped in my lap. I fell in love in an instant, but there was no way I was calling him “Preston.”

“He looks like a Boomer,” I said.

“Boomer Sooner?”

“Nope, just Boomer.” We do live in Texas after all.

I arranged to pick up Boomer the next Wednesday after work. After we went to dinner, we went back to her house and gathered up all of Boomer’s toys—a knotted rope, a stuffed sheep, and a blanket. I snapped on his new collar and leash, and he followed me out the door, carrying the sheep in his mouth. I helped him into the back seat, but he didn’t stay there long. He climbed over the console and made himself comfortable in the passenger seat, but that didn’t last long either. Soon he was pushing my arm out of the way so he could flop into my lap again. And that’s how we drove the rest of the way home.

Boomer and Kali never got along. I put up a gate to divide the house so Kali would have her own place safe from him. Eventually, Baxter joined the family (that’s a whole other post), and Kali couldn’t take any more and crossed over the Rainbow Bridge (that’s a pet lover’s way of saying “she died”).

Making that decision for Kali was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I dread the day I have to do it again. Until then, I’ll enjoy every chance I get to sit with Boo in my lap.

On Books, Authors, and a Festival

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“Every sunset is an opportunity to reset.” – Richie Norton

I’ve read 11 books since January. That’s almost a book a week! Four books were by male authors and served as a reminder that I should read more books by male authors (who are underrepresented in YA literature, in my opinion). Three books were nonfiction, which is impressive because that’s a genre I don’t often gravitate to. And two books helped me discover a new favorite author: Robin Talley. I was able to find at least 30 minutes a day to read, and I hope to increase that number (maybe 45 minutes a day) for the next nine weeks.

I’m currently reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (from the AP list). Their Eyes Were Watching God was really challenging at first because the characters speak with a very strong Southern dialect. While I’m used to reading about a page a minute, this book slowed me down so much that I became frustrated. I just got to page 50, and I’ve finally caught on to the rhythm, so I’ll keep reading. When I finish, I plan to read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as my second AP read.

I’m also reading Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea which is written from the perspectives of four different characters as they journey through World War II. I chose this book because the author is on a panel (along with Sarah Dessen and E. Lockhart) that will be presenting at an educators’ luncheon as part of the North Texas Teen Book Festival later this month. I’ve already read books by the other two authors, so I wanted to familiarize myself with Sepetys in case I run into her in the bathroom line or something. Here’s how I imagine that conversation would go:

Ruta: Hello!

Me: …

Ruta: [walks past me to an open stall]

As awkward as that moment would be for me, I’m still really excited about the event!

 

To Be the Best

If you think teaching is a competition of you versus your coworkers, you’re doing it wrong.

One thing I’ve learned in my 18 years of experience is that meaningful collaboration with colleagues is an important aspect of my success. When I started out, I was basically my own department: I taught introduction to journalism and photography and served as the adviser for the yearbook and newspaper staffs. The lack of a teaching partner or two was so isolating. I had a few mentor teachers I could talk to about work in general, but I needed people who could relate to the amount of stress I felt. I was so overwhelmed (I also coached tennis and oversaw the Key Club). After just 2 years, I was burned out, and I was really second-guessing my career choice.

When I moved to Dallas, I thought I wanted to do anything but teach. The problem was that I didn’t know where to start. Teaching was the thing I went to school for. It’s what I thought I would do for the rest of my work life. Why did I pay all of that money for a degree I didn’t want to use anymore? And so I found another teaching job. This one came with a multi-person department, and that previous feeling of isolation fell away. Fellow teachers happily marched through the classroom door, carrying stacks of curriculum guides and lessons and ideas (this parade of paper still happens today, only virtually in the form of shared digital files). The culture of sharing instantly put me at ease, and I knew the days of teaching in solitude were far behind me. I still had my struggles, but I had a support system this time that propped me up and kept me going.

Teaching is about that collegiality, that relationship built on respect of the hard work that we all do. The challenges we face may look a little different from room to room, but that doesn’t make one problem more or less difficult than another. I’m pretty independent and have my own ideas about how to run a classroom, but that doesn’t mean my way is better than anyone else’s. I still value the collaborative aspect of teaching because it’s what helps me grow (and I hope my coworkers find it helpful, too). It’s one thing to want to be a great teacher. It’s a whole other thing to compare your greatness to that of others.

If students leave my classroom at the end of the day as better versions of themselves, then I know I’ve won, and that’s the only contest that matters to me.

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Winner, winner, chicken dinner!