A landscape made of obstacles

by Mr. Sheehy

The students cannot come soon enough to save me from the mess that is working with adults. There are reasons why I came into education, including that I was half decent at it. But high on the list were 1) I like kids, and 2) I like English. Three days into contract time, I have not had any real contact with either, and I am about to tip over the top. At one point, I had to walk the length of the school and back to cool off – which makes a solid quarter mile stroll.

It’s the obstacles that drive me nuts. I spent hours – waaaaayyy too many hours, I might add – putting together a multimedia wiki to be used in my classroom this year. I did it for graduate school, but I went over the top, turning what was a three credit hour course into maybe five. But when I mentioned this, I and others responded with the encouraging remark: “Well, at least it’s something you’ll use.” That’s what we thought, of course. And if I had done it last summer, it would have been something I’d use; this year, however, most of the content I put on the wiki is blocked by our district’s new filter. Oh, to have those hours of sleep back, and to give to my daughters the sharp attention I might have had, had I not stayed up making something cool “because at least I’d use it.”

I know I am dramatic, but I am also tired, and as I face this new school year, I am aware that I need to make some new choices. I sat across from my wife on our anniversary in July, and as we looked back on the year, I felt like we were two boxers who had just made it through a long, difficult round (not against each other, but like a kind of tag-team match). We sat in an five star restaurant with glasses in our hands, but we might have held heavy duty mouth-guards while the trainers squirted water in our mouths, because that’s about how we looked as we thought back on the year. Yes, I successfully completed 22 graduate credit hours and moved over two lanes. Yes, I accomplished some large strides in the use of technology in the classroom, transforming how I “do business” – for the better. And yes, I shared with colleagues whatever I could of my knowledge. And now, I’m so tired I am barely excited about the pay raise. And the new house we’ve got under contract.

At the moment, I do not have the energy to leap over obstacles – or at least to leap over them without knocking a limb and getting frustrated. So when I tried to dump my opening day presentation onto the server and was told there was not enough disk space, and then received an email letting me know I’d exceeded the 746MB 250 MB server allotment, I was . . . not happy. This is the one that initiated the walk. I don’t teach in the same room as I prepare – information stored on a hard drive is information I cannot access, which means it is simply useless to me without the server. And if I have to move it on and off like seasonal clothes into and out of a small bedroom closet, I’m working harder to manage my knowledge than I should be. I’d be misusing my energy.

Meanwhile, Omnidrive offers me 1GB of storage for free, and the iPod I carry in my pocket holds 2GB. Where am I? Why am I creating multimedia content to communicate through various learning styles when I cannot store it? Why am I reading bloggers who talk about methods that utilize tools I cannot use with my students?

Why would I expend this energy when I have a new house I’m going to need to paint in the coming month (and I want to paint it)? Why not walk into my classroom Tuesday with a pencil, a stack of poems, and an armful of spiral notebooks? That’s about where I am today.

But when I begin class on Tuesday, I will start with Dana Gioia’s poem, “Rough Country” and I’ll pull out of context (slightly) the opening line:

Give me a landscape made of obstacles

And what is my response to my own challenge, since it’s the obstacles that bother me most? I don’t know. I know, I suppose, that I will not return to the spiral notebooks and pencils, as much as I’d like to. I also know I’ll work civilly with the folks who set my storage limit at 744 MB and attempt to connive more from them.

But that does not mean I should run idiotically into the obstacle like a blind animal. I do not want to sit across from my wife on our next anniversary and see the same boxer another round later, another round more tired. When you hit an obstacle, you figure out how to get around it, somehow.

And so I’ll cut back severely on the blogs I read and on the experimenting with new tools. This is not a time or place for cutting edge anymore. If they want me to be cutting edge, they’ll move the proverbial metal detector by the door. And maybe I’ll let my grad school grades drop for the sake of some sleep.

That way, I can enjoy my life and remember the things that are truly important, that are truly life.