When the chalkboard disintegrates

But the chalkboard never did disintegrate, did it?

Today my projector wouldn’t turn on. It was actually the projector in a colleague’s room where I teach one class. I’d known this projector to be temperamental (which, I must admit, I was not able to spell without help). My colleague suggested using the gnome instead of the remote to turn it on. She keeps a ceramic gnome on a desk under the projector and uses its long pointed cap to hit the button that is about a foot above the highest point I can reach.

My students watched patiently as I reached toward the projector with the gnome’s cap, pressing the button that is supposed to simply go from orange to green, but either emitted a wailing beep instead, remained orange, turned green for a moment before resorting back to orange, or, finally, turned an angry red I had not seen before. This was when I finally realized it was time to proceed with a backup plan.

I was merely planning to share a document with my newspaper staff – a critique from the state high school press association that I had just received in my email without enough time to make copies. And then I was going to show them a powerpoint and collectively work on turning interview notes into a story. But I needed the projector for all of this.

When I worked in a school with a 1:1 program, I quickly became aware of the need for backup plans to account for a particularly slow server during that class period. So this idea of contingency when using technology is nothing new. But I have become so reliant on the projector that I was truly thrown for  a loop without it.

And that’s why I started thinking about a malfunctioning chalkboard. I guess teachers used to run out of chalk? I remember scrambling to find some in my first year of teaching. That’s easier, though, since, if we are able to get our hands on some chalk, we know how to solve that problem. A faulty projector? We’re done. No teacher knows how fix that aside from calling your IT department and getting a loaner. Which, I suppose, is the same as borrowing some chalk from a neighbor, though much more bulky.

So I was simply reminded again of the value of having another plan in my pocket. I suppose it’s the same for any lesson – we could realize it’s going poorly and change course. But today I was not so nimble. I stood there, poking that button with the tip of that gnome’s cap for maybe ten minutes, waiting for the machine to warm up, then trying not to cuss as it faltered. It was one of the moments when, as a teacher, I realized how much I was wasting everyone’s time.

Not a proud teaching moment, but a real moment nonetheless. My student journalists saw me struggle, get frustrated, and make light of the situation. Then I told them to get to work on their own stories, and off they went, without my direct instruction for that day.

Who needs a projector anyway? Who needs a teacher? Who needs a gnome?

Maybe no one did today, but by next class I’m going to need at least one of those three things to work better.

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  1. #1 by Anonymous on September 7, 2011 - 10:49 pm

    Hopefully it’s the gnome.

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