October 23, 2005

Password Panic

In the department meeting on Monday we discussed how the new program to raise our students’ skills is being implemented. We landed on the watch list this year, which is no surprise considering the number of ELL students in our school’s population. Our supervisor reminded us about interim testing and how we would be able to access our students’ results on IDMS rather quickly after the assessment is given so we can use the information to remediate.

Now, I have been meaning to get on IDMS to access my students’ test scores from last year to see if I need to refer anybody to tutoring. There just seems to be a million other pressing things to do. Plus, well, uhm, I can’t remember how to get to IDMS, and I know once I get there, I am not sure I know what my password is. I think I know, but if I don’t, how can I admit to anyone that I can’t remember how to get onto a program I am suppose to be using? I’m too young to plead age and memory loss.

The truth is that I’m losing my sanity in trying to remember all of my passwords to life. It’s mostly at work where I have to know so many passwords, but my personal life is getting a little overrun with passwords and codes, too. How do people keep this straight? Do I need a little address book just to direct me to the important places I need to visit electronically? But if I have these things written down somewhere, does that pose some sort of security risk? Or is my real risk my inability to remember all these little numbers and letters that keep my private business all locked up?

All these codes and passwords started off slowly. I have two personal e-mail accounts that I can easily keep straight. No problem there. Once I memorized my bank account number, it was only a matter of remembering which of my favorite passwords was attached to it so that I could manage my account online. This was a necessity, as my bank doesn’t send out notices in the mail, so without online access, I cannot balance my checkbook. After that it took me a month to stop confusing my ATM pin number with the gate code at my apartment complex, which is also a four-digit number, but I finally have that all straightened out in my head.

The real trouble started when I went to work for the school district. Right away I had more passwords and codes than I could keep straight. My Interact account, the district e-mail system, was not so easy to memorize at first, but luckily it uses a combination of parts of my name and my social security number. The trick was to remember what parts and in what order. I couldn’t even tell you what my user name is to log onto the system each morning because it’s automatically on the screen. Luckily the password is one that I chose, but unfortunately, I have to change it several times a year. Our ESC, which is our school’s computer guru, suggested that we just keep adding numbers onto the back of it. So if my password were “bananas”, the first time I had to change it, I would have made it “bananas1” and then the next time “bananas2” and so on and so forth. This rings true for logging in to take attendance, too. So, of course I chose the same password for both. It works pretty well, but their cycles of password changing do not match up, so I have to remember which password has which number at the end. Our ECS also suggested that we simply use our Interact user name and password for the Edline program that we use to post students’ grades online. She is a genius! Of course she knows how hard it is for the newbies to keep names and passwords straight!

So, once I learned the system of my daily computer use, it wasn’t so bad. But then the day came when I needed to call in sick! Oh holy nightmare! So I went digging through my orientation papers to try to find this magic code. There is no way I could memorize where to go, who to call, and what my password is. Is that a deliberate deterrent to keep us from calling in sick too often? I have it written down in a few places, but my biggest fear is that I’ll be half dead from some virus the students passed to me, and I won’t be able to call in because it’s a process that requires a bunch of random numbers that were assigned to me. A group of numbers that have no relationship to me—they don’t even have a pattern that I can chant in my head to learn. I guess the absolute worst that could happen is that I could get amnesia. On the other hand, there would be much more relief in not knowing I can’t remember what I am suppose to remember—much better than knowing I should remember something, but don’t.

I was coasting along for several months when this password craziness really exploded. Our school uses several online programs, and simply remembering the URL’s can be a challenge to me. Hence the IDMS dilemma where I can’t remember how to get there. Thank goodness for bookmarks, I suppose, which I should remember to use more often. If I did, I wouldn’t be having the IDMS dilemma. But then again I might, since I use three different computers on a regular basis. Besides, I can always use a search engine to find the site, but again, once I get there, I need to know a user name and password. I can’t use bookmarks or search engines to figure that out. Besides checking test scores on IDMS, we have a tutoring program, a writing program, and reading program for our students to use online. In addition to that, my yearbook program is entirely online, there are several educational and research sites we subscribe to as a school, and I recently received the complicated user name and password for the IBO program’s website. I chose to subscribe to none of these things, yet these are the tools we use in education—tools locked up in a cabinet I’m required to unlock with my memory.

Isn't the theory that the more we use our memory, the less we'll lose in old age? It sure doesn't feel like it. I might keep my memory but lose my mind. I’m patiently waiting for technology that doesn’t require me to remember dozens of passwords to protect the safety of my information—or my students’ information. Something like a opti-scan, voice recognition—or hey, in my worst moments I’d be willing to give up blood for a DNA sample if it meant I didn’t have to admit I can’t remember my password.

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