A few days ago I lost my breath and almost broke down in tears when I realized I couldn’t remember how to access one of the web-based programs my school uses. In the past month I have attended a total of 19 hours of training for various computer applications and programs. Okay? So using these programs is a big deal. I promised my supervisor that I would get the students right into them just as soon as we came back from Thanksgiving because they were up to their necks in projects. Big Brother is watching online and sends reports to the administration, so I needed to get with it.
So, first thing Monday, I found my way to a tutoring program called Skills Tutor that many of our students are actually being pulled out to use in preparation for the Testing Season. Any teacher can assign work from it, though, and I thought capitalization review could well be done on the program. So, I take out my little notebook full of tips on how to operate these all these programs, and I find my user name and password. I go to the site, which is actually called MYskillstutor.com—can’t forget that “my” or you’ll be lost. I type in my user name and password—and then I notice I have to enter something in a space called “Site Name.” Frantically I flip through my notes. What the hell is my site name? I get a sinking feeling in my stomach—that feeling of failure before you’ve even started. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I sat there wide-eyed, trying not to cry over something so lame, my mind racing with whom I can ask to find out what the last piece of the puzzle is to enter the site.
I remembered one of the Title I teachers who spends much of her time pulling students out of classes to tutor has the same prep that I do, so I rush across the campus. I’m humiliated as I enter her room that I have to ask such a dumb question that I should know the answer to. She easily answers my question—has it written on her board for the student to see. It’s the first name of our school (most middle schools in this area are named after people) and a number. Hearing it and seeing it did not trigger a memory at all. I’m convinced it’s been added since I was trained on the program. Sounds like a good excuse, aye?
I feel much better about my stupidity when I see that she was searching a crib sheet she has made of all the places she must remember for the user name and password to enter into the Renaissance (Accelerated Reader) online program we have just started using. She is as frantic and frustrated as I had just been. As teachers, we have only been recently able to access the program because the ECS kept us out while she was working out the bugs with the company, so when we trained on the program we didn’t even use our own site to practice. The ECS had sent us the password, but with the piles of e-mails we get each day, the Title One teacher could not find it. Tables turned, I found myself trying to calm her hysteria and promised that if she’d just let me get back to my room, I would find the Renaissance password for her—not hers exactly, but I promised once I figured out the secret pattern, I’d send a student over right away. As I dashed back across campus, I ran into a reading teacher and asked her if she knew the user name and password. This is a wonderful reading teacher who always has good answers to my questions, but she could not help either.
When I found the special codes, I couldn’t help but say some healthy expletives under breath. The user name was typical: first initial, last name. The password? Our classroom number. You’ve got to be $*&%! kidding me! That is not the password to any other thing I work with. What happens next year if I’m in a different classroom? I’m torn between being happy that I could help another password-panicked colleague, but irritated as hell about the stupid password I’ve been given to forget.
I’m convinced that I’m not the only one struggling with password issues as the very next day the science teacher on my team sent a quick message out to us, perplexed as to why he cannot enter yet another online program we use for writing called My Access. He wrote: “I was trying to get on to My Access, but my username didn't work it is supposed to be [last name initial, last name] and then the password is “teacher” right? I tried to do the password reminder and it said my username didn't exist. I wrote it down but is this the wrong one?” I was sure he was correct and was as perplexed as he was. I almost zipped off an e-mail to him to tell him he was right on, but decided to check my notes first. Just to confuse us even further we actually have to add the initials of our school to the end our username. Upon seeing this, I said another, “You’ve got to be $*&%! kidding me!”—only I said it aloud this time. Without those school initials at the end, it would have been the same user name as the My Skills Tutor program. So close! No prize.
After this week, I find I am feeling a lot less panic about all of this password paranoia I have. It’s not just me. As I ask around, the teachers at my school laugh with me about our woes—but they’re not laughs of joy. More like lunatics laughing. It sound jovial, but underneath if you listen closely, there are notes of despair. Hearing these notes feeds my anger of all the things I hate about teaching. These little bits of this and that stink of Chinese water torture. The little bits about which, on a bad day we say, “It’s just another damn thing.”