La Divina Comedia
You know those days you don’t believe actually happen to people? When your car gets a flat tire, your cat runs away, your blender catches fires, your pipes rupture, the world ends &c.; those days they make bad National Lampoon movies about? Today was one of those days (though not nearly as disastrous).
Tim presented Kiefer and I with a wealth of tasks—all great opportunities in their own right for us to experience another “day-in-the-life.” Until, of course, something—if not everything—went wrong in every case. I arrived at 8:30, as per the norm, and Kiefer showed up not long after 9. Then Tim provided us with the day’s duties:
1) Prepare an assignment sheet for Grade 12 Econ:
-read and review the provided newspaper article
-prepare a list of varied questions from the article (K,I,C,A adherent)
-scan the provided article and attach the questions in a document
-photocopy 30 copies of the assignment (simple enough)
2) Photocopy materials for another teacher in the department and deliver them
3) Hand back the Written Assignment we had developed from last week
-but first, mark those assignments
-choose exemplars to present to the class
-identify a list of common problems and a lesson writing
-photocopy the exemplars for the class
4) Develop a group activity and worksheet to discuss “The War at Home”
-create an activity that combines reading and research, and discussion (Part 1)
-create and print a worksheet for recording their research (Part 2)
5) Setup group activity and lead the class
Task 2 went by smoothly enough, as did marking. Of course, Kiefer was marking for the first time, and I was grading my first set of high school assignments, so calibrating with one another, and with curriculum expectations, proved time consuming. Still, it was particularly generative to discuss grading tendencies and justifications for those tendencies. We found, after consulting Tim, that we both marking rather strictly, especially for a 2P class.
So, pat on the back—I did something today! Except that was about all we managed to accomplish successfully.
Kiefer developed one of two worksheets related to #4. While trying to print he found his computer had trouble connecting to the printer. I had printed from my computer before (where I was creating the second worksheet) so, I thought, “Hey, send it to me. My computer works. I’ll print it while you photocopy our exemplary assignments from last week!” One minor problem: using a web browser on Kiefer’s computer causes it to crash.
— PANIC —
So, Kiefer continued with photocopying while I set out to re-create his worksheet. It was, admittedly, a fairly simple task we had prepared, so I had a new document ready in only a couple of minutes.
Now what? Send it to the printer, right? Just kidding, my computer can no longer find the printer.
Search for printer; get kicked off the network.
Search for wireless network; computer “self-assigns IP”
Great. I decided to do what all great minds do: try turning it off and on again. Lo and behold, it worked and I emailed the documents to Tim’s computer for printing for a networked printer.
About this time Kiefer came barrelling back into the department office with eyes wider and whiter than jumbo farm eggs.
“I’m currently engaged with the photocopier in a land war…have you printed the new sheets?”
“Just about to, actually.”
To our mutually exacerbated, I-need-to-do-dry-cleaning-because-I’m-sweating-through-my-shirt horror, the following came out of the printer:
Once again, I did what all experts do: turn it off and on again. This time, however, my IT know-how failed me, and I was forced to dip into my stores of knowledge.
Googles “KERNEL ERROR, MISSING ATTRIBUTE”
The trusty internet returned a foolproof plan: install drivers. One problem, as a TC I definitely do not have authorization to install, well, anything, on networked computers. I approached Tim in class, who suggested I spend some time fiddling with the computer if I thought I could fix it.
While Kiefer was putting out fires, I seemed to be starting more. Google also suggested that randomly printing in threes sometimes circumvents this driver problem. I didn’t quite believe it, but printers being demonic beasts, I knew that stranger things might happen. I printed a redwood’s worth of Kernel errors and then hurried back to Tim’s room in a sunken panic.
I disrupted class to find Tim, with profound calm, leading the kids through today’s lesson. Worksheets or not, the kids were learning—and that was okay. In fact, that’s been at the heart of these tasks all along. The profundity of the classroom’s order in this moment, so incongruous with our internal panic, reminded me that these things happen—in fact, they probably happen quite often. After all, hadn’t I delivered some worksheets that same morning to a teacher experiencing some similar troubles?
Kiefer and I finally returned to class for good with about 25 minutes left. Time, as planned, to return assignments, take up exemplars, and field questions. So, while today was generally bereft of pedagogical moments with my students—all consumed by those malicious automatic type-press machines—I managed to teach myself a little bit about the logistical panic of being a high school teacher, and some methods for dealing with it.
1) Never trust technology.
2) Never trust technology, especially printers.
3) Remember that the students’ learning is paramount. While active learning activities and group work are valuable tools towards learning, sometimes we have no choice but to lecture, especially in a pinch. Likewise, there are effective ways of “traditional teaching” that still manages to involve student learning, like reading in turns and fielding discussion questions.