June 28, 2010
Years ago, the technical guru in our school was a guy who sat in an office running the school computer. No one knew what the school computer did, but all seemed well, and the guy pretty much never bothered anyone. Several times a year, he gave professional development sessions, and whatever he was demonstrating never worked. Things popped, fizzled, went up in flames. Pieces of important-looking machines fell off. People tripped over electrical cords and were rushed away in ambulances. Our presenter would leave the room for thirty minutes in search of a solution. You’d sit and talk, and wait, and by the time the session ended, you weren’t really sure what it would have been about if it had occurred.
After his retirement, technology became more commonplace, and professional development sessions began to focus on the Next New Thing. For some reason, I missed the first round of Smartboard training. Everyone was amazed, I was told. The following session entailed usage of tablets, which were very cool, and would quite possibly replace Smartboards (except they didn’t). You could write on them and your miserable handwriting would magically turn into computer fonts, just the thing for the teacher with awful handwriting (me). Unfortunately, by the time the session ended we hadn’t managed to turn on our tablets.
The next round of training was learning how to set up the Smartboard, which you apparently had to do every single time you wanted to use it. This took 10 minutes, during which time you had to trust the kids would engage in whatever meaningful activity you’d provided. I say “trust” because you’d be too busy fiddling with the Smartboard to check.
Last semester’s round of training utilized more advanced Smartboards, which were mounted to the wall and no longer required the ten minutes setup time. You could put all sorts of stuff up there, you could play games, you could illustrate whatever you were discussing, you could write, play music, maybe have it do a little dance — the possibilities were endless.
Smartboard training this week incorporated suggestions on how to use it to teach English. A young English teacher got up and showed us a PowerPoint presentation. Up until now, every PowerPoint presentation I’d ever seen was read aloud. I’d assumed, therefore, that PowerPoint’s prime function was to prolong life by cultivating boredom. However, this teacher used it to present questions that might serve to stimulate discussion. It seemed like a great idea.
But as good as the presentation was, I still felt like I’d wasted my time.
Here’s why. Like many city teachers, trailer or no trailer, I don’t have a Smartboard, I’ve never had a Smartboard, and (except for the very first day of a word-processing class I taught for five months) I’ve never had a functional computer installed in my classroom. In fact, the only reason there’s technology in my trailer at all is because I pack my little Macbook Pro into my schoolbag every morning. A few months ago we read a dialogue in which a character referred to eating lobster.
“What’s lobster, Mr. Goldstein?”
I struggled mightily to draw one, to the great amusement of my class. Kids seem to revel in watching me display total and utter incompetence, endlessly amused by my futile efforts. It makes up for all the times I’ve screamed at them to come on time, to do the homework, to answer the question, to pass the test, and all the other countless atrocities I’ve perpetrated.
I had an idea. I opened my Macbook, went into Google images, and found a photo of a lobster. I walked around the room displaying my 13-inch screen to the kids like a first-grade teacher introducing the Cat in the Hat. Eureka!
If I’d had a Smartboard I could have projected it on the screen. Smartboards are slow to come to the trailers, though. The last piece of technology placed out there, a 19-inch Sharp TV and VCR, was immediately stolen, along with our last box of paper towels. With people out there pilfering crap nobody wants, no one’s banging down our doors to install expensive equipment.
However, I’m thrilled to report that, after having requested it for eight years, our current tech guys have glued white plastic over my chalkboard and I can now use dry-erase markers out there. No more chalk for me. Let the people in the main building boast about their Smartboards, their computers, their heat and air-conditioning, and their solid floors and walls. I’ve got a whiteboard, and my years of complaining have finally paid off.
I’ll take my victories where I can get them.
On this, the last day of the school year, I’d like to wish a joy-filled summer to all Gotham readers-teachers, students, parents, citizens, wonks, and even principals. With a city full of vacant trailers, perhaps Tweed will send us some joy by blowing them all up for the Fourth of July.
I’ve got a lawn chair, a laptop, and a longing to cover that story.