The School That Time Forgot

A strange artefact from the future arrived at my classroom door this week. Since technology is rarely seen in my district, I had to ask what it was. Answer: an LCD projector, a sort of super overhead projector that hooks up to the computer they put in last year. Potentially, I should say. First we have to find a cord long enough to stretch across the room to the computer.

That object has been plugged into the ‘drop’ on my east wall (a ‘drop’ is a sort of magic watering hole for computer thingies) since early 2010. So far it has proved good for little. It takes 15-20 minutes to get it up and running in the morning. (Sort of like my students.) Last year I took attendance on it, believing that somehow parents would figure out how to sign in and see that their child was tardy 57 times. The goal was for  us to post grades there as well.

This year, it doesn’t do attendance, grades, or much of anything. Useful websites like Google docs and Quia are blocked, but students always seem to be able to play games when we go to the lab. I mostly ignore it, since I am a MacSnob.

In addition to the unexpected technology, we received new textbooks this year. The English books are so huge that I cannot reasonably expect students to cart them around. In the real world, people carry Kindles, not books. I keep a class set of these weighty tomes, thinking that when it’s winter and my room is 55 degrees, we can build a sort of igloo out of them and stay warm.

Meanwhile, we can all try to electrocute ourselves with the exposed outlets in my room. I spoke to the custodian, who told me that he had ordered more outlet covers, but there was some sort of problem so he didn’t know when they would be in. Maybe our outlets are all so old that they have to go to hunting through the antique mall for covers.

My outlet cover has been broken for four years. I taped it over after boys started sticking paper clips into it just to feel the current running through their bodies. I didn’t notice what they were up to until they all started holding hands, trying to see how far the current would reach. I am not a scientist, but I know that paperclips don’t belong in sockets and that boys shouldn’t hold hands.

Last week we had an inservice on medical emergencies. We were given the useful instruction to call 9-1-1 if there was an emergency in any of our classrooms. I raised my hand and pointed out that we don’t have phones in our rooms, and that district policy forbids cell phones. Someone else pointed out that surely a student would have a phone. Isn’t it fortunate that students violate the no-phone policy? Without their willingness to risk censure, how would we ever call 9-1-1?

Though I love my new LCD projector (or will when I figure out how to use it), I would gladly trade it for a landline. And an air-conditioner. And a copy machine that doesn’t break down every two days.

But I can no longer complain about all the clocks that don’t tell the real time. Walking down to the cafeteria used to be sort of like going through different time zones. The west hall was four hours behind, the music hall was forty-three minutes ahead, and the back hall was frozen in time, always 8:11.

That has all changed — time has begun to move forward. After ten years, they finally located the maintenance guy who knows how to get them all to run. I think they had to get him out of retirement; good thing they found him before he moved to Arizona.

Now, if only the students knew how to read analog clocks! During the No-Clock Era, the knowledge of what the hands mean was lost. But no matter; we all have cellphones now. Just don’t tell anyone.

My room has neither clock nor phone. It like parts of New Guinea, so isolated from the rest of the world that we had not seen new textbooks since Y2K. We still use VCRs and overhead projectors. Smart Boards? We have dumb boards that require only chalk.

So that’s the way it is in my building. I am sad to say that all of this is true, and that I haven’t even exaggerated much. If there is an actual Y2K event, though, we won’t even notice. We’ll just keep teaching.

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