Are you a teacher in a large, urban district?

If so, how much old, semi-broken, mostly useless technology is laying around?

I ask because my guess answers range from “a whole lot” to “the mice have occupied our stack of Tandy-1000s.  They are demanding free elections and cheese”.

As teachers are not trusted on issues of what technology is bought and brought into their classrooms, the power is left to central administrators.  And so,  it is handled poorly.  Teachers shouldn’t have the final word, much less the only word.  But I can say, with confidence, that teachers would not have signed off on millions for iPads with a plan that did not exceed “they can’t use Facebook ACHIEVEMENT WILL RISE”.

A newprincipal will spend on technology.   Like Los Angeles, there won’t be much of a plan, so the administrator may purchase “educational software” which, at best, is Number Munchers on steroids or, at worst, outright test preparation.  Eventually all these things will begin to corrode.  Since there’s no money for maintenance and no one can quite remember why they were purchased in the first place, teachers will respond with a mix of duct-tape and triage.  The school will begin pining for new technology, which will not be compatible with the old.  Please insert a few million to keep playing. 1

I know this because I became the Teacher Technology Leader in the start of 2013.  After years of stealing passwords, unwarranted calls the help desk, and undercover donations, I had all the keys and all the passwords.  And all the wreckage.
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There’s a longer conversation about who came before me and what happened.  But after spending the fall in fire-wire purgatory, I came out with a small win.  I took my dead computers, a stack of 12 pound gateways running WindowsXP and Word 2004, and brought them back to life.

Behold, Techromancy:

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If you are tech-friendly:  I replaced Windows with a lighter version of Linux (Lubuntu).  It works fairly well on old systems.

For the non-techies:  I replaced the old Windows with a new operating system that is lighter, meaning the computer runs faster (and looks a bit uglier).  What were once bloated, unusable deadweights are now a poor man’s Chromebook.

If you want to a Techromancer, here’s a good way to start2:

Read here for install directions, I’d recommend using a CD burned on the slowest possible speed.  You’ll need to boot from your CD drive.  I’d recommend trying it out before installing it.  When you’re done (it takes about 20 minutes), check out the recommendations here.  I’d also recommend updating your flash player and installing LibreOffice.

Finally:  Find a computer-loving student and have them play with it for a while.  If there are any bugs or problems, they’ll let you know.  I have yet to run into a problem that was not already discussed via Google.  It’s fun.

Look, teachers don’t score many tangible wins.  Being a TTL has been a challenge, but it’s a challenge where you see things get better in a quantifiable way.  Two Freshmen borrowed my Zombies, logged in no trouble, and worked on a Prezi during their lunch.  That felt great.

Be clear:  In no way, shape, or form are there acceptable supplements for modern technology.  They don’t do videos well, they can’t handle big flash sites, and if you close the monitor without shutting down the trackpad dies.
In a way, Techromancy is a win-lose situation.  Where teachers are desperate for technology, any scrap can be turned into something productive.  Efficiency, often lacking in a Public School, is a beautiful thing.  But my Zombies, and this is even looking through the rose-colored glasses of “My Zombies”, also symbolize the pathetic state of our schools.  Kids know when they are being cheated.  I can make every single Do-Now about going to college, but high expectations have to matched by appropriate resources, or I’m just another3 teacher preaching some fairy tale.  It’s tough for children to value their education when their primary tool for reaching the world has been, literally, exhumed from the grave.

  1. If you are pushing for “360 student data systems” or “Common-core aligned apps”, feel free to copy/paste this paragraph.  It will save some time down the road. 

  2. A note of warning:  Moving from Mac/Windows to Linux is somewhat like going from automatic transmission to a horse.  You are responsible for a lot more stuff.   Be prepared 

  3. probably white 


Note:  This was written on Tuesday, but had some publishing delays.

Today was hard.

Early in my teaching career, I full-heatedly embraced the concept of “fake it until you  make it”.  I made elaborate pump-up mixes that I listened to up to the second the students entered. In my head, I became the greatest that has ever taught – none had come before me, and none would come again.  I was Dawkins exiting the tunnel.

I still share this as one of my tops pieces of teacher-wisdom1.  What I don’t always share was my end of the day routine, in which I collapsed in a puddle of self-loathing.  I wasn’t good enough, I knew it, and I burned.

Years later, I try not to get too high or too low.  I still work to be “out of pocket”, and I always scrounge time to reflect.  But then today happened.

I coordinated our first ever Signing Day2.  Seniors who had some sort of commitment to college – course schedule, deposit receipt, housing designation, – would “sign” like a major athlete.  My pledge was student reviewed, I had 3 different grades speak, and my hype man was…hype.  The participating Seniors were glowing with pride.

But the inescapable, unflinching truth was that less than a third of the graduating Seniors participated.  In mid-May, from a strong class.  One. Third.

Yes, it would have been nice to have a guidance counselor the whole year.  It would be cool if financial aid didn’t require a financial aid expert; I’d appreciate colleges that understand that when we write “none” under the line for expected parental contribution, we’re not kidding.   And no, it wasn’t a waste.  The Juniors were interested.  If this motivates some seniors to call about that application deadline, I’m doing alright. I’m not embracing the “teacher as superman” industrial complex.

But two-thirds of my kids are, as of mid-May, not ready for post-High School success.  Two f&*ing third.

I think this is the point of my writing where I comment how it would be swell if the State government wasn’t joined in the most unlikely of conspiracies to profit from my kids’ failures, but I’m beyond that.  I’m exhausted at the sheer mental gymnastics that, even without exact statistics, a bloc of successful, intelligent students, not enough to field a football team but more than enough to hold a minion, are engaged in some kind of society-enabled sabotage.  I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

And next up is 12+ hours of state-mandated exams.

I had two graduates come back from Penn State’s Main campus, both top students from their class (including grades and proficiency on state tests).  Both of them are transferring to the local branch – despite good academic standing.  Maybe this is what they feel like, staring at a sheer cliff made out of obstacles beyond their control.  You’ve climbed this far.  What now?

I’m glad I don’t have these days quite as often as I used to, but I’m glad I have them.  I think a of of other people have them, too.  Maybe it should be some sort of requirement.  If we aren’t humbled by the task ahead, and the tasks we haven’t discovered yet, and the tasks that will arise from the mistakes we will make, then it’s really over.  Today was hard.  But it’s days like this that keep us going in the right direction.  I hope.

  1. #1 is from Ms. Raderbaugh: “Find the teachers on gchat during PD. They’re they good ones” 

  2. got the idea from these guys, good on them