'Bout Time I Actually Write Something

Get a drink and settle in ... I haven't written for awhile, so it's a long 'un.

My job is odd.

I don't mean that in the "my boss is nuts" sort of way (That was back at Kröme Communications in Pittsburgh. Bob was the young, hyper, anal, blame the worker for faults, but take all the credit for victories, having an affair with the blonde sales rep temper-tantrum guy. And Alan was the Colonel Sanders goatee dyed black, drives a Porsche, picky but obtuse about expressing what he wants, kooky old guy.). And, I don't mean that in the "my actual job description is interesting and unusual" sort of way.

No, this is more a "somewhat undefined with tenuous objectives and limited funds working with a bizarre existing setup I can't really do anything about" sort of way.

Let me explain ...

I work two jobs at the same school. I'm a half-day reading teacher and I'm a one-day (7-hr) technology teacher.

The school is small ... about 120 students K-8, one classroom of each grade. The classes vary in size from 10 to 20 students.

For the reading job, I pull out two groups of third graders and one group of second graders. We go through the school's reading curriculum together. They're my students, as far as reading goes. But, I don't have a classroom, I don't plan lessons (I just do whatever's next in the book). I meet with each group about 30-40 minutes per day. It's relatively brainless as the text is very scripted, but by having different groups I actually get a moment here and there to take a breath or a pee-break.

Then, on the technology side, I work with each class of students (weekly with grades 3-8, as needed for K-2) to teach them keyboarding, computer terminology, MS Office type stuff. Basically working to meet the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards for Technology Literacy. This is the first time there's been any formal technology instruction at this school. So I spent my first week designing and writing a curriculum guide for myself to use.

This week I actually started teaching the students, but not in our computer lab, such as it is (more on that in a minute). Just vocab and terminology stuff in their classrooms. Got mostly questions on whether we'll have Internet access (answer: yes, the school has a T1 line, just set-up this past summer...the whole surrounding area is dial-up for miles), and whether we'll be playing games (answer: no) or using Myspace (answer: definitely not).

Now, for the computer lab situation. The school has 6 reasonably up-to-date (three years old) in the library/resource room/Basic Skills Instruction room, along with a flatbed scanner and inkjet printer. I've purchased USB extension cables so the few tech-oriented teachers in the building can plug in their flash drives without physically climbing over the monitors (and knocking several important cables loose) in the process. These run XP. The classrooms each have a few dinosaur computers running 98 (eek!) or ME (EEK!). Most rooms also have an inkjet printer. These machines are all working on a wireless network and are broadband capable (though we have it turned off everywhere but the main office and the library, as there's not content filtering yet). Finally, the 5th grade classroom has 12 dummy boxes running off a Linux server in the cafeteria's pantry. Yeah, I know. So the largest lab in the building is in a classroom, whose students have to swap rooms with whichever class I'm bringing in to work on the computers. That poor teacher. I feel like such an interloper.

The Linux network doesn't talk to the Windows network. At all. The Internet runs separately to each network at the moment. The filtering problem is taking a long time to be solved due to the two separate networks running.

So, why don't we just get everything going nicely? Well ... the Three Bs are my problem. Ben is a parent and is also related to a couple of the teachers. He hosts the school's website and e-mail, but neither are live yet. Bud set up and handles the Windows network (not sure if we pay him for that, or if he's another volunteer). And Barry. Barry convinced the principal a few years back that a Linux network was the best thing for schools being 1) cheap-as-free, and 2) relatively unaffected by viruses, trojans, etc. (and he's probably right) He provided as essentially no cost the boxes, monitors and server we're currently running, so that he could have the chance to monkey around with a Linux network whenever he wanted to. We're committed to a certain number of years in exchange for his "generosity" (read: you get what you pay for)

They're all good at what they do and not bad to work with. When they're available. They all have other jobs and handle stuff for the school "when they can."

And finally, the School Board. We could have the whole school running seamlessly on Linux for very little cost, using smaller dummy boxes than we currently have (mid-sized towers), flat screen monitors. Little space, little cost, little security worries. Albeit with the slight weirdness that is Linux. But. They don't really "get it." They're not computer-saavy to say the least. And the concept of "free" and "open source" is considerably too out-there-touchy-feely-New-Agey to them. They want their kids to know Windows and Office and to learn the familiar world of Microsoft. Which is fine with me. I'm good either way. But ... if the Board prefers Windows, and that's where they're going to agree to spend time and money. Well, then ... we need to do it.

I'm working with the principal toward a mobile laptop lab. There is absolutely no space in the building for a dedicated computer lab. I want 20 laptops for students, plus one for me, an LCD projector, a sweet laptop storage cart with built-in power strips, a wirelessly networked printer on the cart, and either eBeam or Mimio interactive whiteboard units. She's going to talk to Dell and see what kind of NJ Dept of Ed deals they have going at the moment (there's always something). She has about $30,000 since she's saved a bundle somehow on busing, and also on my salary (I had been a grant position last year, and this year they fit me into the budget, so they have the whole grant to spend.).

So. My job is odd. It has the potential to be cool, and it's neat to be in on the ground-level of a program. But, sometimes I wish I had a few more years working with these people and this system before I'd be in a position to make suggestions of this magnitude. I guess I'm still a bit shell-shocked by my horrendous principal at my first teaching job. Not used to having my opinion requested and my input seriously considered. It's a bit heady and I'm constantly aware of trying not to step on anyone's toes or overstep my bounds.

Thanks for listening.



Adrienne said...

This has nothing to do with teaching or technology but Millville made the New York Times. Or, rather, Nascar did, with Millville as a side issue.

Chris said...

Trade in the electronic white board (our company bought a couple and never uses them... they're too afraid someone will use real markers on it and ruin it) and get a Tablet-PC for the teacher with a connection to your video projector. You'll probably save money, and you can use a real windows machine on the Tablet. (Better yet get one of those snazzy laptops that converts into a tablet. Probably not cheap, but they've gotta be cheaper than an electronic whiteboard).

Heidi said...

Well, we're not looking at an Actual interactive whiteboard (like SmartBoard), rather at the gizmos that beam across a standard whiteboard and recognize where the pen is writing. So, no worries about the marker.

Joe has a Tablet PC from school now. Way nifty.