Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Start of the School Year

I have had a blog post idling on my computer for a week, but I could not post it as it was just too angry. I am passionate about what I do and I do not apologize for getting worked up when my school district sets us back 5-10 years in the technology arena. But I also recognize that just going off on an angry rant about it will get me no where.

I walked into my building to find that a great number of computers have been removed from my school building, not because they were not working, just because they are 5 years old. I would have no problem with this, but there will be no more replacements for two years. I just don't understand taking perfectly good computers out of the hands of students.

Our state has added a new web filter. Right now it blocks an awful lot of sites, but they have a very simple Click here feature that allows you to justify a site. They are very fast about re-rating it, but then it still seems we are blocked at a district level. I can't get to a number of blogs. I can't Twitter. I can't download anything. I can't get to ANY multimedia site: YouTube, TeacherTube, streaming audio, even clipart! Web 2.0? I would be happy with just a few of these open! How am I supposed to teach my multimedia learners like this?

If that wasn't enough, I have received two notes letting me know I am exceeding my server quota by almost 13,000%. Since when do we have a limit? And that limit is 250 MB. Are you kidding? So, frustration getting the best of me, I decided to just take EVERYTHING off the server only to find out that when they re-imaged my teacher computer over the summer, I no longer can burn CDs. So I shot off a message to the help desk. I also made it clear that I don't think it is right that they are recommending teachers purchase their own thumb drives to store data. We work for the district, shouldn't they provide a place for us to store our files? Is 250 MB reasonable? Luckily, I had burned all my files in the spring and I just dropped the new files right onto my computer today. I have dumped everything else. I am no longer a bother to the server.

By this week I was ready to throw in the towel. I switched teaching positions so that I could lead by example and show teachers how to integrate technology into the curriculum. Fat chance! My hands are tied. Yes, I have classblogmeister set up, but now they are getting ready to dictate to me what blog I can use. They are not sure they want me using my wiki. Maybe I should just ask what may I use, please?

Thankfully, yesterday was the first day of students. Many of my 8th graders were surprised to see me as an 8th grade English and Social Studies teacher. I was a computer teacher for 10 years. I was greeted with hugs. Many of those that are in my core were cheering and many who didn't get me expressed disappointment. It doesn't take long to remember WHY we do this job. I need these kids probably more than they could ever need me. By today I was already starting curriculum. And they got right to work. We wrote a short poem today and not one of them complained. I love being a teacher!

So where does that leave me? Do I believe I can teach 21st century learners with 21st century tools? Not really. I have a lot of new curriculum to learn. Do I have the energy to fight this fight? Do I have a choice? Next week my kids are going to be using the computers. They are going to be as frustrated as I am. What am I to tell them?

Fighting this in my district is going to be tough. We have a lot of new administrators this year. They have a learning curve of their own. I understand that. Are they going to be willing to take on a tough fight? Do I dare take it to my school board? Man, can't that get you fired? How about taking it to the media and ultimately to the public. Pretty risky. I remember when I went in my classroom and just taught my kids. Life was simpler then. I can't go back to that now, but need to figure out how to go forward. One thing is certain though, I am not in this alone. Many, many other teachers are feeling the same way I am. When I put my neck out, I am confident there are others behind me. Teachers uniting for a cause should be a force to be reckoned with.

Will it work or will I be looking for a new district to teach in???

UPDATE: I greatly appreciate all the feedback I have received and it has been most helpful.

Doug Johnson made a reference to Mars and Venus and has helped me see that part of the problem is communication. We speak different languages. For example, the fact that I received a notice telling my I was almost 13,000% over my 250 MB limit on the server caused me to panic. Yesterday, I had a reasonable conversation with a young lady in the IT department that said that we were nearly filling our servers and that there was a lot of data that could be put on discs freeing up the space. They are making the quotas bigger for teachers that request and justify why they need more space. It was practical for them to set one limit and send that to all. For most of our staff, it was taken wrong (myself included) and we felt like we were being told that our materials were not to be given a place to be stored. I reacted strongly and pulled ALL of my stuff off the server. I had a genuine reason for most of what was there, but there was also a number of files that could have been archived to discs, freeing some of the space they needed. I think it is in the language in which the requests are presented.

The same, I believe is going to hold true for a number of the sites that are blocked. Many of us are putting together a list of the tools we would like to use, a reason why we would like to use them, and a rationale for what they will add to our curriculum. While I struggle with having to defend my every move, I also recognize that our IT department IS trying to ensure the safety of our students. Hopefully, we can meet in the middle.

Thanks for all your suggestions and help. I will be searching through the many blogs I read to take guidance in the tools you are using and how they are working in your classes.

24 comments:

Miguel said...

Sherry, great post. Of course, you need to read my most recent post entitled "Teacher Backlash." In spite of that post, it's important to share why things aren't working.

I'm going to respond to your blog entry in more detail at Around the Corner. In the meantime, stay true to your passion and enthusiasm. A leader's strength flows from those she leads...you need to tap into your students and articulate their frustrations in ways that offer your administration the opportunity to consider an alternate perspective.

Wishing you well,

Miguel Guhlin
Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net
http://mguhlin.net

Carolyn Foote said...

Sherry,

Please don't take this post down. Voices and concerns like this need to be heard to help schools change.

I can identify with what you are saying. Our year with technology has also gotten off to a rather bumpy start, and it has put a damper on my own enthusiasm.

Fortunately we have managed to convey our concerns, and I am hopeful that it will improve, as our issues are more around hardware and processes.

I'm sure other teachers on your campus as well as students are as frustrated as you are.

It is for the kids, so I think it is worth the fight. That's what I think, gets forgotten in too many tech IT departments.

And I don't know if this advice is appropriate or not, but here goes:

I think it is very important for administrators on your campus to hear your concern.

Plan out what it is that is most significant to students and start with those things. And start with your great passion for students and tools that help transform their learning.

Make a proposal, a list, ask if the administrators could meet with a group of teachers from different departments, and share your concerns. Share some of the fabulous things your students could do if they had access and storage.

Sometimes new administrators can be a good thing and maybe one of them is willing to advocate because maybe they come from a district where there are more options?? I'm just guessing

I think so many times, so much of this happens because:
a. the network is driving education, not the other way around AND
b. administrators don't really understand the possibilities entirely

It does take leadership at the campus and district level to overcome these problems, and part of that leadership should be listening to staff and students.

It makes me so frustrated and sad daily when I see teachers with so much fire for what they do, being stymied by their own system, which should be the place where they could get the most support and encouragement.

And you are so right that it is about the kids. Hang in there.

Good luck with helping transform your school.

Carolyn Foote said...

Sherry,

In thinking about this, I wanted to mention that I also think that another barrier is that we as teachers sometimes need to be more clear in articulating our own goals, changes in expectations, and so on to our administrators before we meet the barriers, so that we are all "coming from an understanding."

I know there are administrative issues that we as staff may not be aware of entirely. So I think by having these conversations, we can all come to a better understanding, rather than it being an "us" versus "them" situation.

That being said, I still think teachers run into resistance and obstacles that are very frustrating, and leadership is an important key.

I wrote about your post, by the way--here:
http://futura.edublogs.org/2007/09/06/idealism-versus-reality/

Scott McLeod said...

A scathing indictment of the leadership in your district... Here's what I said about your post:

http://tinyurl.com/32ubq6

pete whitfield said...

Oh my, I feel like the luckiest guy on earth when I read what you are going through.
A couple of thing: it looks like you are a Mac user and I could help you out with a dotmac account for the year - 10 gig of storage amongst other things.
Blocked sites - I was listening to a podcast the other day which include using 'proxy servers' to get round blocked sites. I've never done this but if you ask a tech-savvy teenager they will know for sure.
Holla back if you want that dotmac account - it's just a code to enter when you sign up.
http://pwhitfield.edublogs.org

diane said...

Sherry,

Situations like yours are exactly what I was referring to in my response to David Warlick's rant
http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/2007/09/03/teachers-technology-a-rant/
regarding teachers reluctant to embrace technology.

If someone like you, who wants to use 21st century tools, is so frustrated, imagine the feelings of more reluctant teachers who finally spend the time and effort necessary to learn the new technologies only to find that their district has neither the hardware nor the server/bandwidth/resources to support their lesson plans.

We need a national policy on equal access to technology, and we need it now!

Karen Janowski said...

Sherry,
It sounds like it's time to take it public. I am on the board of directors of the local Technology and Education Foundation whose mission is to fund innovative teacher technology grants in our district. This is the kind of information that should be shared if you have an Education Foundation in your town. Our board would want to know if this happened in our town.
Also, talk with parents - there are parents who are as concerned as you about the obstacles which prevent their kids from using the learning tools of their generation.
(Have they taken away the textbooks, pencils, and chalkboards as well?)
As a parent first, and then an educator, this is an outrage!

sjbrooks-young said...

Sherry,

Posts like yours are the reason I do the kind of work I do with administrators! In addition to linking to this and commenting on it in my blog on Web 2.0 Tools and School Administrators, I'd like to use this post as a launching point for workshop discussions with administrators, if that's okay with you.

Susan Brooks-Young
http://sjbrooks-young.com

Scott McLeod said...

Susan, I was thinking of the same thing for the same audience! Great minds think alike!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know which already-planned English and Social Studies lessons will be affected by the problems you discuss.

Do you honestly think that someone arbitrarily decided to remove the old computers? To have them all identified, to send crews to pick them up, to take them someplace to be stored, to have them sold/destroyed, for no real reason? It probably cost money just to properly dispose of the internal parts. How familiar are you with supporting a district network with computers that probably can't run any recent OS?

Do you honestly think that multimedia sites are blocked for no reason? Have you been in a situation where a student was exposed to web materials they shouldn't have been, and had to send notes home to parents? Has it been reported in local media? Has it been a topic of discussion at PTA meetings?

One of my favorite quotes: "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." - John Kenneth Galbraith

This is a great opportunity for you to tell the proper people what complaints you have regarding the changes, and then let it go and focus on doing your job with the tools provided. Yes, it's hard, but until school districts are run as democracies, you will have to be the decision-maker before decisions always go in your favor.

A. Mercer said...

That last comment from anonymous is an example of why anonymity is a bad idea. They did have some points like the computers may have disappeared because of OS incompatibility, but look at the tone that they used. Chiding you as though you were a child, and questioning what technology you "had to" use to teach social studies. If the xerox machine/riso was broken, or the school didn't give you a tape player or overhead projector they wouldn't ask what you were planning to teach that required that. Anyway, I think I'm going to respond in my blog about the problems I see here (even if anonymous is right about the reasons), and some potential solutions.

Janetta said...

So sad. We have "blockage" at our district, but not as extreme. Coincidentally, I was just contacted by the local newspaper about why YouTube is blocked in our district and why and I still embed YouTube videos in my blog. A little anxious about the twist they might put on the story. Will be checking my feeds first thing in the AM. I sincerely hope your situation improves.

SherryC said...

Wow! What a lot of responses. I appreciate the advice. I have been completely torn about leaving the post even in place. I suspect I am still fearful of backlash, but that would just finish me off. I have been awaiting Miguel's next post.

First, I would like to address some of the things my anonymous poster asked. Our district started a five-year plan three years ago. They purchased a number of computers then and told us they would be removing computers as they reached the five-year point, but there would be no new computers until the next five-year cycle. We expressed great concern about that at the time. We told them that in the first two years we would be fine, but by this point removing computers with no replacements would make our numbers dip dangerously low. We were told we would be fine. They took all the computers and put Windows XP on the PCs and OSX on the Macs. This will not change until the next cycle. So the computers that left were working and running on the same OS as all the ones we have left. We asked them to reconsider and suggested that if one of the older computers broke down, we would understand that it would be too costly to repair. Obviously that was a no and they picked them up and they will be auctioned soon. Next year we will have so few computers left in the building that computer classes and two English classrooms would be almost all we have left.

I do not want my students to have access to everything, but we are so tightly walled that I just don't think we are doing an adequate job of teaching students what is proper behavior on the Internet. They also have us so blocked that I can't get to things like TeacherTube, which has wonderful things on it. I am having trouble accessing any clipart to add to my presentations. There are great sites out there that could enrich my social studies curriculum that offer multimedia elements and those won't be accessible. Just getting Google Earth on them for next week has been an all day adventure. I guess I can just hand out textbooks and lecture to my kids. I was really of the thought that there were better ways to teach my students.

I suppose you are right about focusing on my job and that is what I will do, but I have decided that if this is the way things are going to remain in my district, I will be looking for another district to work in next year. There are several smaller communities in the area that are eager to be integrating technology in their curriculum and I can assure you that I am quite qualified. Not only do I have my Master’s degree in Technology in Education and Training, I am hoping to have my National Board Certification by then.

Carolyn, your feedback has been most helpful and I have shared it with others in my district. We are working on pulling together a list of what we would like and why and will put together a presentation from some of our administration. I need to gather some research-based data to prove that this is what is best for our students.

Diane, I have already had a number of teachers come to my room frustrated. First, all their bookmarks were wiped out when the district re-imaged their machines this summer, so I taught them Delicious. I got a couple of them to set up classroom wikis, but now there is more discussion in the district that they don’t want us using Wikispaces. So I can understand why they don’t want to use and keep up their wikis while they are waiting for the decision. A couple of them told me to let them know if I made any headway, but they would just deal with textbooks for now. Bummer!

Karen, I am already worried about backlash from this blog – which I doubt many people from my district read. If I got parents all riled up, the consequences could be major! I am a parent myself, but my son is a senior and I have been a very good mom at home. He is fine. I guess I will have to think about this some more.

Susan and Scott – I would like to know more about the workshops you are going to use this with. I can’t even promise this post will stay up forever – I have held my breath since it went up. I don’t think I would mind if you are going to help administrators understand how much we teachers really do want to teach our learners with the tools they are going to need to know how to use in the rest of their lives. Email me any time – sherrycrofut@gmail.com.

Ms. Mercer, I shall look forward to your blog.

Thank you all for your input. This is what I was looking for. It gives me some perspective. I am truly blessed that students are back. Even with all the frustration, they are what keeps me doing what I do. They come to me filled with such hope and bring me such joy.

Joy Baldree said...

Hi Sherry,

I always enjoy reading your blog. I have been on both sides of the system. As a Regional Technology Specialist and as a teacher frustrated with the inequities. Try to get involved in your local technology leadership. Share your issues professionally. I understand the huge unknown that surrounds the world of technology and you do, too. The district is overwhelmed by the pace of technological change and with inadequate funding to keep up and of course, the entire manpower issue is probably prevalent in your district as well. How many tech support people does it take to support one outstanding teacher like yourself? The answer should be none because you have the professionalism and skill to support yourself, but the district can't look at it that way because the district is not filled with awesome teachers and it only takes one irresponsible or unknowing teacher to bring forth the big "L" -- Lawsuit, Liability...

So what can you do?

1. Keep pushing forward, being you, making suggestions, being a Master Teacher.

2. Get involved in the technology leadership of your district

3. Suggest that your district purchase SharePoint Portal Server and volunteer to trial it for them. SharePoint will allow you to be the amazingly tech-creative teacher that you are and allow you to give access to your students to what you create within the privacy of your own districts intranet.

4. Research things like using a WhiteList instead of or in addition to the district blocking software.

5. Write grants and purchase a classroom set of iPod Video players. You can download so many podcasts that the students will not even know there are restrictions.

6. Never lose you zest and love of teaching!

Take Care,
Joy

SherryC said...

Joy ~ I was shocked that you have always enjoyed reading my blog. I am still such a newbie. :-)

I love the iPod idea! I just got a note about some grants we can work on. I will jump on it this weekend.

I am a building technology leader and we have a monthly district meeting. I am pretty involved - also on the Information and Communication Technology Curriculum Revision Committee (formerly Computer Curriculum).

I will look into the other ideas as well. Thanks!

mrplough said...

Dangerously Irrelevant directed me your way and Im glad he did. I love your Voki and it gave me some brand new ideas. I feel your pain with the seeming disregard for real world academic progress that your district is pushing by aggressively removing your computers without replacement. Good luck, I will wish for your happiness and well leadership.

Joy Baldree said...

:) You caught me. I have been living vicariously through you. I am a principal now and discovered your blog and if memory serves me, I found your blog a few months ago when you said something about banging your head against the wall trying to get more teachers to integrate technolgy and your questioned your ablity to teach writing to 8th graders. I was hooked. You are a great reflective writer and I read you every time you post. I miss the classroom. It is fun there. When I read this post it was so reminiscent of my last 6 months in the classroom...hang in there. I don't want you to leave your district. I want you to stay and evoke change there and I believe you will. But if I had an opening, I would hire someone with your ability and vision of the spot!

Suzanne said...

Sherry, I feel your pain completely. I was almost relieved to read your post (sorry!) because you sound like you work in a place just like me. Now at least I feel there's someone out there who "gets it" as I fight to bring the 21st Century and some Web 2.0 tools into my classroom/school/district. I teach tech classes all day (a job I believe shouldn't exist) and am equally as restricted as someone who hasn't turned their classroom computer on for 5 years. I'm the only one who stores much of anything on the server so I guess I'm lucky -- no one's complained about that particular issue yet. I had to ask for 6 months to get Audacity for free. I had to ask for a year to get updates to Java, Flash, Quicktime and Adobe. I asked for 6 months to get WMPlayer v10--can't have v11. I am still asking for someone to unlock something on the network so I can use the wifi router and tabletPC I bought with my own money for my lab. You get the picture and you understand it. Hang in there. I'm incubating a post about how I might work around some of these severe limits within the bounds of ethics and propriety so that I serve students with engaging, standards-based, research-supported new media activities. On a positive note, several teachers in my building are getting SmartBoards this year. Our district Literacy Guru is using a wiki. Since teachers are not allowed to go to wikis, podcasts, blogs, social networking, photosharing, mp3's, audio or video streaming, I use Oracle's Think.com to approximate some activities. It helps. I also do a lot of saving and converting EDUCATIONALLY SOUND MATERIAL at home and carrying it to school on my flash drive. Extra steps, to be sure, but it is a work-around. Stay in touch and don't lose heart! We need folks like you!

SherryC said...

Suzanne,

I have a question for you. This year I have moved into a classroom that has a Promethean Board. I am still learning, but it is fun to use. While I see value in it, I wonder if it is worth the money they spent for it. I could do many of the same things (okay, not as cool as this) with the computer and projector. When thinking about teaching my kids to use 21st century tools, would the money spent on my cool board be better spent on more computers in the school? Maybe it would be better spent on video iPods that I could load with podcasts of value to my students? Maybe because it is a cool tool and does seem to get the kids to engage it is worth the money spent, but I am not sure.

I am sorry about the struggles you are having. Hang in there. Many of us are fighting the same battles and we have to stick together! Keep in touch and feel free to email me anytime!

Miguel said...

Hi Sherry! I finally got around to responding on my blog with this post: http://www.mguhlin.net/archives/2007/09/entry_3614.htm

In the meantime, what great responses you received! You're not alone, no matter what happens--or doesn't--in THIS job.

That may be the most important lesson.

Best wishes,
Miguel

tom said...

Sherry,
I'm glad you posted on this problem and I'm with the other commenters who hope you'll keep it up. I agree with the recommendations to find key people such as parents, board members, business people in the community who will hire your students someday. Share with them the Did you know video. In fact, mention it in a letter to the editor: don't write about your policy dispute at school, but rather something more general about how quickly the world is changing and how, as a (former?) tech instructor that you see how tech education needs to change too. Just an idea, but from where I am, getting key parents on board can make a difference. All the best!

LS said...

Hi Sherry, I read your question about Promethean boards. I don't know if the money would be better spent in other ways; it all depends on the needs of the course, the willingness of the teacher to find ways to adapt the situation to the tool (when it should be the other way around). I think this happens a lot. In my school we rarely get to talk about what's going to be purchased; new textbooks and other equipment (rarely tech) just appears. Sometimes it feels like whatever whim my boss had that day or whichever vendor caught his attention that week is what gets funded. I don't know why, for instance, suddenly some got SmartBoards this year. (Strange, but once in a while I benefit from this ADHD-- my NECC trip got paid for last year and I'm going to an Oracle Institute in November on school $$$. I'm grateful) I don't know why suddenly last winter I was asked to plan a lab remodel, order software upgrades, etc. but 8 months later nothing's happening. Why did our Building Leadership Team disband the Technology Goal Team? I think we get discouraged and overwhelmed trying to make changes happen by ourselves. Thank goodness for the edublogosphere and folks like you who help me feel I'm in good company! I learned some things from both your frustration post and the responses to it, so thanks for sharing.

Sorry, that's not much of an answer to your question. When I read my prior message to you now I sound so angry--it was a bad week that day, just like you were experiencing. I feel better now and I hope you do too! "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference..." Best to you!

Anonymous said...

Sherry,

Actually, I don't think most administrators are such bad people! Have you ever thought about this from an administrative point of view (I mean REALLY looked at it through those eyes)?

If you were the person another individual was frustrated with, how would you want that person to approach it? One option is to go public, get parents riled up, etc. as you are discussing. I believe there are other, more professional and respectful ways to approach issues. How would you like to have issues addressed with you?

I care!
A.C.A.

SherryC said...

I would not take this to parents, although I do think our parents should weigh in on how they feel we should be educating their children.

Reading Doug Johnson's blog has really helped me try to look at it through my tech director's eyes. I still disagree with him, but I do think our biggest issue is in the communication. I am taking more pains in thoroughly explaining why my students need what I am asking for. I am not getting much further, but I am trying.