Friday, December 21, 2007
posted by Q6 at 3:19 PM
Every year, our school holds a "Holiday Rally." Every year, I cringe at the thought of it. Every year, there are a million things that can come off as totally inappropriate. And every year, my fears are laid to rest quietly.

Until this year. This year, our ASB managed to pull off the worst rally I've seen in my 6.5 years at this school.

Lots of things conspired to make this year a disaster: (a) a new ASB director, who has a good head on his shoulders and knows what to do, but may not always be aware of how willing the students are to ignore his decrees regardless of the consequences; (b) two full years of student backlash against the administration, which has calmed a bit but which seems to resurface whenever these kids get caught up in the spotlight; (c) a "tradition" of gag gifts for selected seniors and faculty members, many of which involve inside jokes and potentially bawdy overtones, and (d) the pure, intense narcissism that seems to come with students in the spotlights.

The Winter sports teams were introduced, and each team captain made a little speech (one of which included enough sexual allusions that the microphone had to be removed by a staff member). Santa and Mrs. Claus showed up (staff members, and not the two I would have selected) and delivered gag gifts to selected seniors--a part of the program we were told would not be highlighted this year and which excludes and alienates the other three grade levels present--and several of them made covert (and, in two cases, overt) references to sex, drinking, and drug use. Two staff members were inconvenienced by gag gifts, and another two were blatantly insulted (three of the four in question, thankfully, were not present to be humiliated).

By the end of the day, the ASB Director and some of the student leaders had heard the feedback--none of it good--and understood a bit better why there had been talk last year of moving the rallies to the lunch hour and away from their current, get-out-of-class-free schedule. I'm left to wonder what we're rallying about, exactly, if every time we hand the microphone to a student it turns into "Look what I can do!*" instead of "Yay, team!" The purpose of a school rally is to foster school spirit, and--very, very sadly--I no longer believe that our own ASB is where we should be trying to find it.

* Several years ago we killed a program altogether because of this problem. It was something of a talent contest for the male students, and even though it was held at a local synagogue it was replete with shirtless dances, inappropriate language, and elementary-school-quality behavior, all with the fathers laughing and egging them on. It looked like a cross between a bachelor party and a frat initiation. This program was killed in the name of good taste . . . wouldn't it be a shame if the school rallies suffered the same fate?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
posted by Q6 at 10:23 PM
I am always happy to attend the music concerts put on by our school. Of the most recent two seasonal events, I was only able to attend one: the vocal concert. (I hope those in the instrumental program will forgive me, but sometimes life--personal and professional--gets in the way.) I'm still the only site administrator who regularly attends these functions (and I don't say that to brag, but I do say it with a bit of pride--I could never go to another football game again and be perfectly content; but without the music or theater programs, I'd feel the loss), and in doing so I can fight for the survival of our music programs.

The vocal concert, held at a local church with standing-room-only seating and not half bad acoustics, was phenomenal. The Concert Choir several wonderful numbers, and the soloists--who did some holiday music and some non-seasonal fare--were wonderful. Some of the soloists are seniors, and I'm always left with a sense of, "Uh-oh, what happens when they leave?" (I'm sure the music director--a very dear friend, fine musician, and hard-working-and-it-shows kind of guy--feels the same thing on a larger scale.) The Madrigals were, as always, excellent, and I particularly enjoyed a Caribbean tune they did: "Mary's Little Boy Child" by Jester Hairston. (There were rumors that the students were fighting the inclusion of this song, going so far as to rebel during class and rehearsals; I don't know what the big deal was . . . with the possible exception of the finale, it was the best song they did.)

Once again, Bravo, Maestro. I look forward to the Spring Concerts.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
posted by Q6 at 9:30 PM
Ignorance is a funny thing. In small children, it can be cute; in adults, it can be downright laughable. In teenagers, however, mistakes are apparently never made out of ignorance. To hear some people tell it, every bad thing a teenager does is done out of calculated malice.

I'm here to tell you, friends, it just ain't so.

Our newest computer lab is made up of thirty or so of the newest Macs on the market. I won't bore you with the details of how our school pulled this off; suffice to say that people have been watching over them with a degree of care and paranoia that would make any mother bird blush with shame.

Five of them got fouled up recently. Going back through the server files, the tech people discovered that a student tried to hack into the administrative functions and create a user account with privileges (evidence on the latter part was sketchy, but it was clear that he did try to make his own account). At the same time, the server domain settings--whatever the hell those are*--were changed, basically cutting those units off from the main network. After a bit of research on my part, I discovered the following: the student, in an attempt to "make things easier" for himself password-wise by going into the settings window and creating his own account (I also discovered that this was something that each student has access to; naturally, no one in IT could explain that to me). He used his own first and last name, and even used the built-in camera to add his photo. The next day (at a different computer in the lab) he couldn't find the new account--and, like any teenager who doesn't know what he's doing (redundant?), he tried again. This went on for a few days, which explained why five computers had this problem. I couldn't find any access to the domain settings.

As a matter of prudence, I suspended this kid's access to the computers until further notice. When I explained to our site-level tech people that this kid wasn't hacking, he was just ignorant, they were convinced that there was something much more sinister behind it and that this kid should be taken out behind the gym and shot. When I mentioned his name to certain teachers, they refused to believe that this kid had the smarts to hack anything. I told the tech people that I was marking this as an accident, restoring the kid's privileges, and sending my notes to the district IT department for their opinion. (And, of course, I showed the kid which mistakes were the boneheaded ones and how to avoid them in the future.)

District IT came back a day later and confirmed each of my findings, including the one where I suggested the server domain changes were a separate, unrelated matter. Yay, me.

After over a decade in this business, I have yet to figure out why adults--particularly those in education--are so quick to label kids as troublemakers. Sometimes their misdeeds are out of ignorance, not malice. Sometimes the student doesn't need to be punished, he just needs to be taught and made to understand not just the how but the WHY of the way things work.

Sometimes, I think, many of us forget what it was like to be young and stupid.

*I've never been a big fan of computers. Yes, I know how to use them, and even fix them from time to time. I've even dabbled a bit in HTML. But I've never been a fan of a system that couldn't work during a power failure. Moreover, computers at school are a great way to create more work for yourself (especially in the area of security, regardless of the fact that the kids know more about this stuff than we do). I'll go with the flow, but I won't give the computers the control.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
posted by Q6 at 9:06 PM
Today, for about twenty minutes, I got a fix the likes of which no junkie will ever know the bliss of: I got to teach a class. My lesson, my rules. Twenty of the finest professional minutes I've enjoyed in quite some time.

One of our teachers was in an IEP meeting that was running over time (IEP meetings with laywers in them can be that way); as a result, his first period class waited outside the room with no teacher. Being the only administrator that can ever be found in such a situation, I was sent in. This was different than the usual "the sub didn't show" situation; this teacher left no lesson plans, for he had no idea he would be out. I let the kids in, and took center stage.

There's a lesson I've always had on standby in the back of my head. In a flash, I can pull it out and spread it over the class like a fine tablecloth. It's about the sinking of the Titanic*, and it was originally conceived as a critical thinking exercise with a little history thrown in. I didn't get to set things up and draw them out; the teacher could walk in in five minutes or fifty, and I had no idea how long I had. This would have to be the microwave version, at best.

[Tangent: I can actually apply this lesson to anything, and you actually have to sit through it to see why. I've found connections--strong ones--to history (American, European, and military), psychology, physiology, physics, sociology, mechanics, law, politics, economics, media, and math. I've got a killer footnote to the whole lesson--which is my link to literature, and which I always present at the very end--that leaves them all in a complete state of rake-handle-between-the-eyes awe.]

I was only a few steps into the basic setup when the teacher walked in. I already had the students silent and completely drawn in--they were eating it up, since they'd never seen the big, bad, Assistant Principal do anything but yell before--and if I stopped now, the magic would be lost. "Do you mind if I continue?" I asked. The teacher had absolutely no problem with it. "Are you sure? I don't want to mess with your plans." In the end, I have to respect the teachers on my campus and not abuse my position, but he insisted that I continue.

And so I did. I asked them questions, and they offered answers; some right, some wrong, and all handled with my dusty-but-still-effective positive feedback approach. They asked questions, and I answered with my "here's the answer, and here's how to understand it" style. At the end, I hit them with my killer footnote, and they applauded me as I left (odd, but I'll take it, these days, where I can get it).

Thanks, Mr. History Teacher. I needed that.

UPDATE: For the last two days, the students from this class have not only been saying "hi" to me in the hallways, they've been thanking me. Two have asked if I have any more cool stories, and one has asked when I'll be coming back. If this keeps up, I'm gonna be Jonesing again real soon.

*Every so often, I'll find a topic and exhaust it. I spent two and a half years studying the JFK assassination, just for fun (and yes, I have my own theory). Not long after, it was 18 months of Titanic research. I've studied other things here and there, but I'm still waiting to find another really BIG topic to play with.