For the last two years, despite having work off and on, I still had plenty of time to do things around the house, and so, during the week, when kids and Mr. Geeky weren’t around, I’d tackle some big project. I’d clean out a closet or, as I did a couple of months ago, re-paint the living room. Sometimes we’d all tackle something as a family on the weekend, but mostly, we reserved the weekends for fun. I realized on Saturday morning that house projects were not going to happen during the week anymore, so I looked around the house and thought, “What needs to get done before school starts?” Two things stood out. One, the garden, which I’d mostly neglected all summer. And two, that living room painting project, which turned into a living room and hallway painting project. And, I’m happy to say, I finished both. Geeky Girl and Mr. Geeky helped me tackle the garden, and I’ve now promised myself to spend a little time there every weekend. And I finished the hallway, which was what was left of the painting project. I still have some touching up to do, which I plan to tackle next weekend. But, boy, does it feel good to not have those things hanging over my head. Every time I walked up to the front door, I’d see the garden and bemoan its sorry state. And then I’d enter the house, look up the stairs and think, “I should finish that.” And now, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment instead.
Today is our 16th anniversary. As usual, we’re just a little too preoccupied to fully enjoy it. Since we’ve functioned on the academic calendar our whole lives, the 27th of August is always right before the beginning of school or right in the middle of it. We often don’t get each other anything as the end of August used to also be a time of scarce funds. In grad school days, we sometimes hadn’t been paid yet and of course, our pay kind of sucked. This year, Mr. Geeky claims he’s gotten me a couple of small things. And I got some just a little too pricey wine. I had hoped to get a bottle of 1994 wine, but that’s not the kind of thing you just go out and get at the last minute–especially not in our state-controlled liquor stores. We will likely go out to dinner. My cold is still with me, though kept in check with Dayquil and Halls. On the one hand, I’m glad I’m not sick for the first day of school. On the other hand, it’s too bad I’m not 100% for the anniversary. After 16 years, though, one thing I know is that Mr. Geeky won’t mind.
Although I have tons of questions and still feel that what my job is going to really be like is somewhat of a mystery, I’m starting to feel pretty confident about what I’m about to do. Over the weekend, I met with a former student of both mine and Mr. Geeky’s who will be teaching at a similar school–well, at the Obama’s kids’ school. She’s in almost the exact same position I’m in in terms of developing a curriculum for HS Computer Science. The biggest difference is that she was hired much earlier and so had the spring to talk to administrators and set a course for the coming year. Also, she doesn’t teach middle school or do technology support, but otherwise, very similar. Her plans for upper school computer science were very similar to mine. It was nice to confirm that I’m not crazy. So my big mystery is knowing what course I can set for next year and what Computer Science will look like at my school. My ideas are starting to solidify, but whether or not I’ll be able to put my ideas into action is yet to be seen. I’m floundering a bit for what role to play in all of it, how much to push my ideas, etc. Because I don’t know the actors or the structure within which I’m going to be working. I feel positive, if a bit befuddled, about the whole thing.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying contemplating my middle school classes. Here is the web site I’ve constructed for all my courses. My hope is to post student work there as well as having it be an information hub. I might have to move my site, probably next year, to the school server, but for now, this is where it’s going to live. As I’ve described what I’m doing to parents and teachers, they’ve all reacted in a really positive way. I’m hoping, too, to let the teachers know what students are learning, so that they can potentially incorporate and expand on what I’m doing with them. I didn’t get the lab decorated very much yesterday, both because my energy level was really low, and because I spent a chunk of time talking to the head librarian, also new, and with whom I share an office. Geeky Girl has promised to go in with me today and help. I definitely need another pair of eyes.
I have a cold. Officially. Mostly it’s in my throat and ears, though I have some sneezing and sniffling. And yesterday, I popped my head into school for more than a few minutes, so it’s official, I’m a teacher. I’m sort of bummed that I’m under the weather at this particular moment. It makes it difficult to really enjoy everything that’s going on. Next week is the real first week, with new faculty orientation, a faculty-staff picnic, meetings and other exciting things, so I assume I’ll be well enough for those things.
I’m in a kind of weird position as half teacher and half computing support. I don’t really have my own classroom, though I’ve been told that I can take ownership of the computer lab. I have an “office” in the library, shared with several other people. It feels kind of transitional, though I hope to make it feel less so in the next week or two. Yesterday, as I meandered the hallways, I encountered a small group of new middle schoolers participating in a prep week, intended to dust off the cobwebs in their heads and to help them transition to a new school. Geeky Girl is not participating, simply because we didn’t know about it. I smiled and said hello to them as I passed, delighted that they were all shorter than me. It’s a first for me, having students that are shorter than me. I tried to think about having them sitting in front of me in the lab, working, listening to me (or not). It’s kind of breathtaking.
The lab happens to be across from the faculty lounge, so I met a few more colleagues, all of whom were excited that I was there, hoping to take some of the burden off of them for teaching “the technical stuff.” I have some thinking about that I need to do. But so far, everyone I’ve met seems enthusiastic and eager to do more with technology.
Today, I’m planning on decorating the lab. It’s actually a nice space, with a bank of windows looking out into the hallway. The other three walls are a gray bulletin board-like material and it is these walls that I’m going to spruce up. Right now, there are a couple of old posters and a note, I think, about logging off. All very dull. I’ve been given free reign. I’ve printed out some things. I went to a teacher store and bought a couple of things, though I’m sorely disappointed at the lack of fun stuff they have about technology. Internet safety and keyboarding, bleh. Right now, I’m planning a corner with computer-generated art, an area for robots, an area with gaming and Scratch, and cute things everywhere. I want it to be fun in there. I promise pictures.
Close readers of this blog have probably noticed more than one post about how I think technology in education is overhyped and that we could all benefit from stepping back a bit and thinking a little harder about how we use technology in education. In higher ed, more so than in K-12, there’s a tendency to use technology to automate, to gain efficiencies, choose your business-speak term here. CMS’s no longer are about changing the game of teaching, but are about 24/7 access to materials, managing grades and assessment, making it “easy” for faculty to post things online. Video isn’t for thinking about material in a different, more visual way, nor is it something that students create, but again, it’s a way to distribute lectures to ever larger classes. Technology, at the institutional level, isn’t about teaching and learning. It’s about a bottom line–somewhere. That’s not to say that there aren’t individual faculty and students out there using technology to transform the way they teach and learn. Most of those people, for the record, are not using a CMS for those purposes.
At all levels of education, there is sometimes a tendency to throw technology into the classroom because it’s there, because it’s good to say that every classroom has a Smartboard or set of laptops or iPod touches. And then, administrators, parents, etc. want those expensive things to be used. The problem is many people put the cart before the horse. Technology should be used to solve a problem. A problem shouldn’t be created in order to use technology. Let me give a personal example. In teaching writing, I had a problem of getting students to understand what it means to write for an audience. Writing teachers everywhere start to recognize when a paper is written “for the teacher.” The 5-paragraph theme comes to mind. I turned to blogging, a technology, to solve this problem. As it turned out, it solved a whole host of other problems as well, and turned out to be a fabulous tool for teaching, imo, almost anything. The idea of writing to learn has been around for a long time. Blogging to learn takes that to another level.
The question, then, that often gets asked is, “What can I use x (technology) for?” The real question should be, “I have x problem with my pedagogy, how can I solve it?” And, if technology integration is important, then one might start with some ideas around technology, but non-technical solutions should always also be considered.
So, I still believe in the power of technology to transform education, but I see the implementation of technology in many educational settings as wrong-headed. There are lots of reasons for that–from resistance to change to being in crisis mode (21st century skills, OMG!) to slick sales presentations. And I see educational technologists as sometimes part of the problem. A while back, I wrote:
I would say the same thing to the technology people out there whining about how people won’t use technology, how they don’t understand the changes it’s bringing, etc. First, I’d say think a little more critically about the technology you’re espousing. Too many technologists out there really sound more like evangelists, trying to convince people to use the snake oil. I understand. I was there. I felt the frustration, the worry. But I think technologists need to acknowledge the fear and the skepticism, not dismiss it as ridiculous. Yes, it’s a barrier, but not one that you knock down with a bulldozer. It needs to be dismantled bit by bit and it needs to be done with the help of the people that put it up in the first place. And we need to acknowledge that sometimes technology isn’t the answer and that some technology is being used in ways that are counterproductive to teaching and learning. Not everyone needs to blog and twitter and create multimedia presentations. Too often faculty see us as pushers of tools rather than as partners in education. And sometimes that’s because we project that attitude as often as that attitude is projected onto us.
In our zeal to get people as excited as we were about technology, we sometimes scare people away or cause them to dig their heels in.
My second shift in thinking about technology is similar to the first, but kind of different. Among the tech savvy educators I hang out with virtually, in person, and otherwise, I’m seeing a trend for not going beyond the applications. Now that I’ve spent my summer thinking about computing as opposed to technology, I’m starting to have a different kind of skepticism toward some kinds of technology. My goal now is to get computing into as many classes as possible. What does that mean? It means data visualization not creating charts in Excel. It means creating art with a computer program (like Processing), not Illustrator. It means coding up HTML, CSS, & PHP not using Blogger. It means creating maps with GIS or Google Earth, not using Google Maps. Don’t get me wrong. I love the way that many applications have lowered the barrier of entry for doing things like blogging or editing images, but I see it as my job now to get under the hood, to learn something about the code underneath so that we have students who can create the next Facebook or Angry Birds. So I’m starting to think, when someone wants to incorporate blogs or Google Docs or video, that’s great, but how can we take that to the next level. And it doesn’t have to be that particular teacher who takes it there. I’m not expecting your average history teacher to know HTML or Python or some other programming tool, but what I’m hoping is that the students will know and that they might be given the opportunity to create a historical map using some of the computing skills they have. And this is where my thinking is going.
Well, all of us but Geeky Girl. I joined a swim club this summer, a different one than the one we’ve joined in previous years. The previous club was connected to Mr. Geeky’s current and my former place of employment. It was nice, familiar, pleasant, but I got tired of seeing former colleagues. I wanted a change. Well, we finally went to our new club this afternoon for the first time, mostly because I was feeling guilty about not going. I dragged Geeky Girl and Geeky Boy. Geeky Girl was perfectly content. There were a couple of her friends there and she went down the slide and off the diving board. Geeky Boy: miserable. I apologized. We sat on the edge of the pool noting that there was no one there between the ages of say, 13/14 and 25. 1 year olds, check. 80 year olds, check. 30 and 40-something moms (and lots of dads!), check. Lots of 10-12 year old girls. But no teenagers. I promised not to make him go again. And I’m thinking maybe next summer, I will cancel my membership.
As someone who didn’t win the brass ring, I very glad I’m not a part of a system that seems to me to be in such a mess. Dean Dad, again, has some clear-eyed analysis of some of the problems in higher ed. Earlier this week, I read an article about someone who turns away grad students because she thinks they have no shot at a job and it’s not fair to lead them astray. I sympathize with adjuncts. I do. I was one. But I’m on the side of a lot of people who say, just walk away. If you don’t get the financial terms you need to make it worthwhile, walk away. The more adjuncts that walk away, the more likely it is that colleges might actually have to figure out an alternative, whether that be to make the tenured and t-t faculty teach more classes or to come up with a way to employ more permanent teachers who have a decent salary and benefits. There are other things to do with your degree.
I have no actual hopes that that will happen, but I think you have a better shot of staging a kind of protest by walking away than by demanding a pay increase. If you’re not willing to leave–collectively–you have nothing to bargain with.
I got zero done today (in terms of work stuff). When I signed up for this mom gig, I knew about the feeding, clothing, burping, changing diapers, even the carting to and from school and other activities, but some days, there’s way more to it than that. Today was filled with an accomplishment, a crisis, having the you know what scared out of me, chauffeuring, negotiating, meal planning, grocery shopping, counseling, dog walking, and laundry. First, I handed over my volunteer web site duties. Over coffee and a scone at Starbucks, we transferred accounts, and I showed the new person the ropes. We’re also both teachers, and know people in common (she considered applying for my job), so we chatted about getting ready for school and fun things like that. As I drove home I felt good to have relinquished a task.
But I came home to a minor teenager crisis that involved an hour of discussion in the car. Teenagers are challenging. Teenagers who fall outside the norm (which doesn’t take much) are even more challenging. After we had that squared away, I entered into negotiations with the almost teenager about plans for lunch and a movie. She and several of her friends packed their lunches and headed to a nearby park for lunch and then I was going to take them to a movie. This required discussions with parents on timing–one girl had clearly underestimated the amount of time it would take her to walk to the park–and pick up and drop off times.
After all that was worked out, Geeky Girl made her lunch while Geeky Boy and I ate ours. Then she left for the park, which is a mere block and a half from our house. About 15 minutes later, one of her friends called to say that they couldn’t find Geeky Girl. I immediately imagine the worst and assume she’s been abducted and start planning how I will react in front of the other girls so I won’t worry them. As I round the bend of the road leading into the park, I can clearly see Geeky Girl sitting at a picnic table. As I approach, she gets up and walks toward me. There are no signs of her friends. Now, I think they’ve been abducted. Just as I’m trying to figure out how to tell their parents, they come marching across the playground waving. Tragedy averted.
By now, there’s only 1/2 hour left until we need to leave for the movie. 40 minutes later, no girls. So, Geeky Boy and I, who are making a trip to the store, hop in the car and drive over to the park. For the third time today, I think they’ve been abducted, although honestly, by now I just assume they’ve deliberately gone somewhere just to scare the crap out of me. As we pull into the road I had walked down just a while earlier, there they are, like the 3 Musketeers. They all climb in the back, giggling and talking, their voices just a little too high pitched and a little too loud. I remind myself that this will be my life for the foreseeable future. Geeky Boy is dead silent.
On the way to the movie, the girls negotiate to come to our house afterwards, turning lunch and a movie, which has already been filled with adrenaline pumping moments, into a full on playdate. I agree, of course and phone call to parents are made.
Then, Geeky Boy and I head to the store, which should have been the easiest thing in the world, except that the road to the store is closed. We take a detour that involves sitting in traffic way longer than necessary. Luckily, I know an alternate way home.
We get home and put away groceries and I have a whole five minutes before I have to leave to pick up the girls from the theater.
I get home, walk the dog and go to the produce store for a few items not available at the other store.
Currently, the girls are downstairs playing video games. There is lots of cheering, laughing, yelling, and OMG’s!
When people wonder what parents do all day, this is it. I’ve had probably an hour to myself today, in 15 minute chunks.
I have a post brewing about some techno philosophy, but before I get to that, I thought I’d throw up some of the things I’ve put into place to keep the house organized as I return to work. One of my biggest concerns in returning to work is having the home front be in utter chaos and not getting any support from the rest of the family, especially *cough* Mr. Geeky *cough*. I’ve mentioned this issue a few times before. The reason I care about this is that I don’t like stress. Stress, as long time readers probably know, has a physical effect on me that is not pretty. And I get stressed when I come home from work and find clutter everywhere and don’t know what I’m making for dinner and/or don’t have ingredients for dinner. So, FlyLady really has helped me get this place in order, 15 minutes at a time. Here are some things I’ve done:
First, the routine.
- Get up, throw on some clothes, walk the dog. (20-30 minutes). Bring coffee with me (totally helps!)
- Shower, get fully dressed, including makeup even if all I’m doing is staying home.
- Clean the toilet (what FlyLady calls Swish and Swipe).
- Throw in a load of laundry, bring up laundry from the dryer.
- Unload dishwasher if needed.
- Take Geeky Boy to soccer practice. In the future, Geeky Boy will be walking to school about the time I get out of the shower.
- Read some blogs, maybe write a post. Drink coffee. Have breakfast
- Make the bed (I do this after the shower if no one’s in the bed, but lately, it’s been occupied).
- Class prep.
- Do FlyLady Mission (usually this takes about 15 minutes).
- More class prep or fun things with the kids or house stuff.
- Make dinner.
- Before bed, fold laundry and lay out clothes for tomorrow.
Some of this will change, of course, once school begins. I plan to do the mission and 15 more minutes of decluttering after I get home and before dinner. The classes I teach have no homework so I should be bringing too much work home, though there will always be a little bit of prep to do (which I’ll try to do at school, of course).
Here’s some other things I’ve done:
- Decluttered areas that were driving me nuts–the station by the front door where Mr. Geeky dropped receipts and change; the shelf on the entertainment system that had a giant collection of wires, most of which were no longer useful; the cabinet under the sink in the kitchen. None of these took more than 15-20 minutes.
- Cleaned up my desk.
- Devised a plan to cull some of our clothes. I have the hangers in the closet turned in the opposite direction. Anything that doesn’t get worn will still have its hanger the “wrong” way, so it will be easy to tell what doesn’t get worn. I also do this in my drawers. I have all my shirts stacked like books with their “binders” out. I put clean shirts at one end. Clothes that languish at the opposite end will get given away at the end of the year.
- Continuing to get rid of books.
- Posted the grocery list and meal list on the fridge.
- Put all the important school dates on my Google calendar.
- As I’m waiting for stuff–like a meal to cook or for a kid to get ready to go somewhere, I look around and pick stuff up.
I’m sure many of you already do this kind of stuff, but I just didn’t. I thought I didn’t have time. Or I’d do one more thing on the computer instead of picking up socks from the living room. I’m planning a family meeting to dole out some duties. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m hoping to delegate some of the cooking and shopping. Right now, I make two trips to get food during the week. Usually I go on Monday and then to the farmer’s market on Wednesday. I’ll have to shift that to the weekend and for a while, will still be able to hit the farmer’s market, but I don’t want to be the only one who has to cut into the weekend for housework. I’m also hoping to institute an hour to do sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, etc., some of which gets done during the week now, but not enough.
It might seem silly, but I’m telling you, it makes a huge difference. And Mr. Geeky follows suit. I’ve noticed he makes the bed about 75% of the time if he gets up after me. He also picks stuff up spontaneously (something he’s always done, but it’s increased). There’s still too much *stuff* in this house, but we’re making progress. And I feel like things won’t be insane as school ramps up.