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From the tech department

I feel like I’ve been beating up on techs a bit lately. Time for another POV.

Dear Teacher,

The Technology Department has been hearing a good deal of grumbling lately from the teaching staff regarding what it sees as overly restrictive policies regarding technology use in the district. Yes, we have limited teachers’ administrative rights to school computers. Yes, we do require one to log on to school networks. Yes, we do have an Internet filter in place. And yes, we do have a limited set of software titles that we support.

But if I might offer just a few observations:

  1. We, teachers and techs, are interdependent. There is no reason for our department if technology is not recognized as a vital tool and used by a majority of the teaching staff. Without good tech support, you will be unable to do your job as effectively as you could.  It is in both our best interests that we work together.
  2. Your individual actions can effect many people. Downloading a virus, using a high-bandwidth resource, or leaving a network open to a security breach may put everyone in the district at risk of losing data or time. Unless you unplug from the network and stay unplugged, your actions always have potential consequences for everyone – staff and students alike.
  3. Making technology reliable, adequate, and secure is my goal. The technology resources of the district, like all its resources, are finite. It is my job to see that technology resources get the most bang for the buck. Without technology that is reliable, you won’t use it – and shouldn’t be expected to. Without technology that is adequate, you won’t use it – and shouldn’t be expected to. Without technology that is secure, you won’t use it – and shouldn’t be expected to. Every policy that comes from our department is written to help insure a positive experience with technology. Believe it or not, we do prefer happy people to angry ones.
  4. There are truly bad people out there. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware and malware can easily infect your computer. Hackers exist both outside and inside school networks. Spammers, phishers, and hucksters abound. Nothing personal, but the bulk of educators are pretty darned naïve when it comes to the very real dangers – to equipment, data and persons – of poor computer security use.
  5. Security will always mean some degree of inconvenience. Yes, it a problem and time-consuming to need a password to get into your computer, on to the network and into applications. But it’s a bother to carry a house key and remember your ATM card’s PIN number too. Seat belts, bike helmets and smoke detectors are all pains in the butt. But the consequence of not using them is worse. So too with technology security protocols.
  6. Technology is imperfect (as are technicians).  Filters overblock and underblock. Spell checkers don’t catch everything. A single misplaced digit can keep a program from running or a person from getting access to a resource. Computer problems (like car problems) can be difficult to diagnose and repair the first time.  And yes, technology is at its most unreliable when the need for it is the most urgent. There is an old tech saying,  “Computers sense fear.”
  7. You need to at least try. Give it a chance. Next time you are experiencing a computer problem, try restarting your computer before calling us.  Thank you.
  8. We standardize for a reason. OK, you like program X. I respect that. But the district has the resources to purchase, support and teach others how to use a single word processing program, just one e-mail client, and only one photo-editing program. And they may be program Z, not program X. You teach using English although there are kids in your class that would rather use Spanish, Urdu or Mandarin.
  9. Creativity doesn’t require access to everything. You can still be a creative person even if you can’t install software on your computer or change your computer background. Really. Try Photoshop, Flash, PowerPoint, or write poems with your text editor. You want to try a new program, let us know and we can make sure you aren’t getting spyware and a virus along with your new tool.
  10. It’s not your computer. I know it’s harsh, but the computer was purchased to help you fulfill the mission of the school – not for self-actualization. If you use it to shop, to play solitaire, or write Christmas letters, I will gladly turn a blind eye, but we need to maintain the machine for its intended use – to help you educate children. Sorry about that. You can buy a computer for home that shouldn't put much of a dent even in a teacher’s salary and do with it anything you wish.
Two pieces of advice:
  1. Make sure a committee made up of a wide-range of stakeholders develops technology plans, budgets and policies. If you want usable technology, give everyone, including technicians, a say in how it is used, deployed and controlled.
  2. Remember that I, too, consider myself first a child-advocate, second as an educator, and only third a tech. You might consider thinking of yourself in those terms as well.

(Teacher’s Technology Manifesto on which this is a riff.)



BS Bingo - Education edition

After a long weekend of (important, but cliche-ridden) organizational planning, I've developed an educational version of the widely e-mailed "Bullshit Bingo" game.

First person at a meeting to hear these terms and complete a row, gets to yell "BULLSHIT."


I would welcome additional terms for the next version.

Oh, don't forget my guide to Bullshit Literacy.  


How many jobs have you had?

The Department of Labor projects that people will hold on average 10.2 jobs between the ages of 18 and 38... Fletcher, An  Eye on the Future, T.H.E. Journal, July 2007.

Fletcher is only the latest in a long line of futurists, change advocates, school reformers, journalists, and other individuals of shady character to quote the statistic above. 

Personally, I don't find it shocking or all that meaningful. While flying here to Portland, I reflected on how many jobs I had the first 20 years of my non-farm working life. I think my first job was gathering eggs at about age four - a terrifying experience which made me work-shy to this day but which gives me a sense of revenge each time I eat a chicken nugget. They are made out of chicken, aren't they? Anyway, here's my list:

  1. Seed corn plant laborer (Mostly stacking 60 lb bags of chemically treated field corn seed.)
  2. Dishwasher at the university food services (All you could eat, too!) 
  3. Silage truck driver (Only four days before I crashed a truck and was fired.)
  4. Hod carrier (The guy who mixes mortar and humps bricks and block for masons. Lost 20 pounds first two weeks on the job and made college immediately more important.)_40398707_hod_bbc_203.jpg
  5. Furniture deliverer (Almost fired for starting a fire in the packing blankets in the back of a moving truck with an errant cigarette.)
  6. Laundry worker (More familiar with dirty diapers from nursing homes than anyone ought to be.)
  7. Surveyor's assistant (Light, outdoor work. Great summer job.)
  8. High school English teacher. (World's worst. I still owe those kids an apology.)
  9. Gas station attendant. (Supplemented my big $7,600 a year first year teaching salary.)
  10. Hospital worker (Central sterilizing from 3-11PM working through grad school. Autoclaves and endless 3-gown surgical packs.)
  11. Junior high librarian and English teacher. (First job I really, really enjoyed.)
  12. Motel clerk. (11PM to 7AM - teaching income still needed a boost. Pretty interesting people who inhabit the wee hours of the morning. Learned to sleep sitting up.)
  13. Library media specialist, K-9. (Working for the Aramco Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. Sweet income!)
  14. High school media specialist. (Good job.)
  15. Writer. (I started getting paid for my work when I was in my late 30s so I'll count this one.)

Summer jobs, part-time jobs while in school. Really only two professional jobs in four different schools.

Were transferable skills important? I suppose. But they were "soft" skills - reliability, cooperation, communication, strong back, high tolerance for boredom, etc. - not really job-specific.

How many jobs did you have from 18-38? Is this a statistic that has any meaning? How should it be used when we talk about school reform?