My Apollo Experience – Part IV: My Second Shadow

Tuesday – 6 days before school starts

I took the hour and a half bus ride to school the next day to find a second desk in the room. Woohoo, progress has been achieved. But there was nothing on the desk. There was no computer or phone. Isabelle came in just after I got in and said, “Taa-daa. I know there isn’t a computer there or a phone yet. But I’m working with IT to get those. So, just be patient.”

I decided that the task that day was going to be trying to get my account activated. So, I had the number and I decided to call the phone number. After I dialed it on my cell phone, I got the message, “We’re sorry, but we’re out of the office until tomorrow.”

Someone came in while I was listening to that message and when I turned to greet them, I saw that it was the principal. She was glaring at me. “Cell phone time, I see.”

I looked over at Margaret, who was perusing Twitter on her computer, fully visible to Allison. I’m no longer going to call her Allison, I’m going to call her Rath because that’s what she became.

“My account wasn’t activated last week, so I can’t log into any computer to find out who I will be teaching. I need to…”

“I don’t want to hear excuses.”

“Right.”

Someone else came into the room, “This is Shannon Wiola, she will be your mentor for this year.”

Confused, I asked, “I thought Briana Koothrow was.”

“She wasn’t appropriate for your needs. You need someone who can be here more often.”

“Alright, hello Shannon.”

“That’s Ms. Wiola to you.” She said, sharply. Wow, this is starting off so fucking well, I sarcastically thought to myself.

“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” Rath replied with a smirk and left the room.

Shannon looked around, and I’m going to call her Shannon because fuck it. “My name is Shannon Wiola and I am the lead EBD teacher for the district. My job is the watch over you and make sure you do your job right.” She sat down at my desk. “Where’s your computer and phone?”

I replied, “I don’t have one yet. I just got a desk today.”

“You need a computer and phone.”

“Yes, I do, and the assistant principal is working on acquiring those things.”

“You need it now.”

“Yes, I do. But I don’t right now.”

“Then, what do you plan on doing? Twiddling your thumbs for today?”

“Well, I had decided to get my account activated.”

“What do you mean?”

“While HR was activating everyone’s accounts last week, they didn’t activate mine because they didn’t know where I was going to be teaching.”

“That’s unacceptable. Why didn’t you get it activated?”

“Because HR decided they wanted to wait to activate it until they knew where I was going to teach.”

“Well, did you call the tech people?” She asked me as if I was a kindergarten child who hadn’t thought to remember to put on their pants.

“Yes, I called them this morning and the message said they are out of the office until tomorrow.”

“Well, that just won’t do.” She said, staring at me coldly. She broke the silence after a few minutes, “So, who are you teaching?”

“I don’t know who I’m teaching. I don’t have access to a computer because I can’t login and can’t login to my things.”

“So, you really are just going to sit here and twiddle your thumbs.” I looked over at Margaret, she was now playing a game on her iPhone. “Don’t look at her. She’s tenured. I asked you a question.”

“I guess I can start trying to put this classroom together.”

“Don’t touch anything, I have it just the way I like it,” Margaret replied, not looking up from her iPhone.

I looked around and it was bare. That was actually a good thing. But there were a lot of hazards as well. “So, what do you plan on doing with the two separate smaller rooms?” I asked.

“One of them is going to be for teaching, the other will be for when students have a bad behavior. We weren’t in this room last year, last year we were where the Reading Corps people are now. It had a good bullpen.”

“Bullpen?”

“Yeah, bullpen, for the physically aggressive students. We used a gym mat to keep them contained last year.”

I looked into the one she had thought to put the physically aggressive students into and saw that there were desks all over. “These desks probably shouldn’t be in here. If a student climbs on one and falls off or jumps and gets hurt, we’ll get in trouble.”

“Didn’t you hear what she said, nothing is to be moved. You need to respect the people you share a room with.” Shannon said, annoyed.

So, I couldn’t get my account activated because they were out of the office, I couldn’t organize the room because the person who I shared the room with didn’t want anything moved. What was I supposed to do, I could see Shannon watching and judging every single thing I did.

The whole day was that. I would think of something and either someone else or Shannon would shut me down.

I went home completely exasperated.

Wednesday – 5 days until school starts

I came to school the next day and I had a desk and a computer, but no phone. Awesome! I don’t need a phone right now. I would get my account activated today and I would hit the ground running. I would find out who I was going to be teaching, learn the goals and objectives on the IEPs, and plan for my weekly schedule.

I called the tech department and got my account activated. I could now log onto the computers! Yes! Success. I turned on the computer and put in my logon information, but it didn’t work. I was still on the phone with them and asked what was going on. They assured me that had activated my account, so it was a problem on my end.

I looked my computer over for a while and realized the problem. I hung up because there was nothing the tech department could do for me. My computer was not plugged into the internet. Isabelle came in and told me what was going on, “They delivered the computer, but they couldn’t set it up because there is only one internet outlet in this room and it is plugged into Margaret’s computer.”

“What am I supposed to use?”

“The library computers maybe? I know that’s not an ideal situation. I am working now to try and get you the phone you need and now the internet you need.”

Okay, I could work today in the library. There weren’t any students in the school, so I would do everything on a library computer. I logged on to the computer and had no problems. Wahoo, a step in the right direction. Then, I tried to log into DPRS, the system the district uses to collect all special education students’ paperwork. But it wouldn’t let me login.

Come on, can’t something come easy for once? Seriously! I had to log off and go call the tech department on my cell phone again. They remembered me from earlier, “Oh, hey, you’re the dude that had a computer, but no internet. What can I do for you this time?”

“I can’t login to DPRS, what’s going on with that?”

“I have no idea what DPRS is. What does it stand for?”

I had no idea because it hadn’t even been covered in the new teacher orientation week. “It’s for collecting and writing paperwork for students in special education.”

“Yeah, that’s not ringing a bell. Let me talk to some other people here to see if they know what that is. What’s a good number to reach you?” I gave him my cell phone number because that was the only number that could work.

Shannon came in at that point and exclaimed, “You finally got a computer.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t work.”

She gave me a cold eyebrow, “Really? I can see that it’s on.”

“It’s not connected to internet, so I can’t log in. It’s a computer that can’t be used.”

“Well, did you at least activate your account?”

“Yeah, I did activate my account. But now I’m trying to figure out how to log in to DPRS, but no one at the tech department knows what DPRS is.”

“That’s because it isn’t housed in the tech department.” She said as if I should obviously have known that. “It’s housed in the student services department. If you want to log in, you have to contact them. Sheesh, didn’t you listen at orientation?”

“I definitely listened. But they were orienting all mainstream teachers and only 5 special education teachers. They didn’t cover DPRS at all.”

“Well, you should call the student services department, then.”

So, I took out my cell phone and called them. I think I should take a minute here to explain that I was on a prepaid plan and I was using my own minutes (of which I did not have a lot) for all of these calls. “Hello, this is the office of student services.”

“Hi, could I…um…uh,” What I had been planning on saying completely slipped my mind. So, I just started grabbing words that popped into my head, “Can’t login to…um, uh…the student portal thing…DPRS, there we go. How do I?”

Shannon looked at me, disgusted. She took the phone and said, “Sam Harvey needs you to tell him how to log in to DPRS,” and handed the phone back to me.

“Oh, okay. Have you signed in yet?” The person asked.

“No, I haven’t. I tried logging in with my account that I just got activated this morning.”

“Well, if your a new teacher, they should have activated your account last week.” So I have been told by every single gods-damn person! I thought to myself.

“Yeah, they didn’t because they didn’t know where I was going to be teaching.”

“Oh, your that Sam Harvey.” Does the whole damn school district know who I am? I was seriously starting to expect it. “Yeah, so if you just had your account activated, it takes a few days for us to update our systems so you can log in.”

“What am I supposed to do in the meantime? I still don’t even know who I am going to be teaching or any information about that.”

“I’m sorry, it generally takes two to three days for the system to update and add your account. When it does happen, you’ll get an e-mail that your account has been added along with your login and password.”

“School starts in 5 days and your telling me its going to take two or three for me to log in?”

“Hang up, your wasting their time.” Shannon hissed at me. So, I hung up.

Thursday – 4 days until school starts

“I want to treat the students with respect. Meet them where they are at and explain the rules to them if they ask why something is a rule.” I was explaining my philosophy to Shannon, who was looking like she was sucking on a lemon.

“That’s not how you actually do it. You might start that way, but that’s going to burn you out. You demand their respect and you punish them if they don’t. If you question why something is a rule, you don’t explain anything to them. You use the broken record technique.” She paused to see if I was comprehending, “You do know what the broken record technique is, right?”

“Of course I do, you keep repeating the rule until they follow it no matter what they say.”

“Good, maybe your not completely lost, then.”

“I don’t think it’s very effective, though. I have had that done to me before and it has seriously pissed me off. It’s like if you don’t understand why a geometric equation is the way it is and the teacher just keeps on saying the equation over and over without explaining why. It’s not a good idea.”

“The broken record technique is a good idea.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. It is a good way to escalate a situation.”

“The broken record technique is a good idea.”

“I have actually experienced it first-hand and it certainly escalated my behavior.”

“The broken record technique is a good idea.”

I realized what she was doing, “Really?”

“The broken record technique is a good idea.”

I realized that it was pointless talking anymore because she was just going to keep saying it, so from now on, I would accept the advice and then proceed to not follow it.

She looked smugly, “See, the broken record technique does work.”

So you think, but all it does is just stop a logical discussion from actually occurring. A student is much more likely to follow the rule if they understand it. And if a student is already escalated, that technique is just going to piss them off even more.

I had no access to DPRS that day. But I could already see that working with Shannon was going to be a nightmare. So, I decided that I was going to give her a nickname. She was no longer Shannon to me. She was My Shadow. She followed me everywhere, criticizing everything.

I would interact with a teacher who I passed by in the hall and she would say, “You shouldn’t talked like that.” I would walk down the hall and she would say, “You should walk like that. Your students’ won’t respect you if you walk like that.” I had to deal with this every minute of the day. Except for when I would go to the bathroom.

It was on this day that a pattern started that would last until the end of my time at Talahi (Oh, spoiler alert, I end up leaving Talahi to work at Apollo, but some of you may already know that because of the title). I sat down at noon to eat the lunch I had brought with me. Shannon, who had been sitting up to that point, decided that I needed to be doing something. So, she dragged me to go to the library to talk to the librarian. After that day, she refused to let me sit down and eat lunch.

Friday – 3 days until school starts

My DPRS account was finally created on Friday. I also walked in and there was a phone. But the phone wasn’t connected to anything because it needed to connect into the same thing as the internet. So, I had a computer that didn’t have internet so I couldn’t use it and I had a phone that didn’t work so I couldn’t use it.

I went to the library to log in to DPRS to finally find out who my students were. I logged in without any problem, and what did I see? There were no students. I apparently had no students on my caseload. What! I asked myself, exasperated at this point. So, I had to call the student services office again to find out what was going on.

“Hi, this is…”

“Sam Harvey, yeah, I know. What can I do for you today?”

“I logged in just fine, but I don’t see any students on my caseload.”

She sighed, “Alright, let me go check. Oh, yeah, well, we haven’t put them in yet.”

“Do you know when I might be able to have access to them?”

“Probably tomorrow.”

Tomorrow, the Saturday before school started was when I was finally going to find out who my students were. I would find out what my schedule would look like based on the services they needed. So, today, just like every other day, was completely pointless.

“School starts…”

“I know when school starts,” she snapped at me. “If you need to know so bad, I’ll give you their names and you can search them on DPRS. I’ll send them in an e-mail”

“Yeah, let’s do that.” A few minutes later, I got the list of 19 students who were on my caseload. I looked up the first student and found their website file. But when I went to open them, the computer said, “Error: You don’t have permission to download files on this computer.”

I went to the librarian and asked what was going on. “Oh, yeah, you can’t download anything from the internet in the library.”

That morning, on a whim, I had decided that I was going to bring my laptop computer along because I was tired of being at the mercy of this district’s failed machines. So, I went to my room and grabbed it so I could log on to the internet on my laptop. But, as usual for that whole week, it didn’t work. So, I went to the librarian again. “Yeah, I have the password for the wifi, but nobody else does.”

“Okay, could you please log on to the wifi on this laptop.”

She looked at it and replied, “Sorry, that’s not a district computer. I can’t log in to the wifi on anything that isn’t a district computer.”

I explained what was all going on, “I have a computer that I can’t connect to because it has no internet and a phone that I can’t use because it isn’t plugged in because there’s only one single plugin on the opposite side of the room where my room colleague is. I need access to the internet so I can find out what I am even going to be doing on Monday. I don’t know who my students are because I have not been able to log in to anything this entire week. I have not been able to prepare at all for next week or this entire year because I don’t have any internet access. So please, for the love of god, log in to the wifi on this laptop so I can just know what the hell is going on.”

Finally, she relented and put in the password.

“That was rude.” My Shadow told me after I got the password. “You could have been nicer.”

Now, I have never really wanted to punch someone before, but I really wanted to haul off and punch her right then and there. But I held myself off. That day, at noon, when I sat down to eat, she made me go do something again. When I tried to sit down to eat at 1pm, she made me go do something else.

So, finally, I had the list of students’ names and I would be able to find their paperwork and find out what I was supposed to be doing for next week. Everyone else had no problems this week. They just went along on their merry way preparing for next week and probably the entire school year. Me! I was stuck doing nothing because I couldn’t get access to my account, then I couldn’t get access to my DPRS account, then I couldn’t get access to my students’ accounts.

But, my mantra through the whole week had been: Students! Students! Students! I tried to remember my goal of being that one person who never gives up on my students. I didn’t know who they were, but I want to respect them and not give up on them even when they test me and make my life hell so they can test me.

Saturday – 2 days until school starts

I finally had a caseload in my DPRS, so I spent all of Saturday planning my weekly schedule. One of my students was a level 3 student, so I needed him in my room with me a lot of the days. I spent about 12 hours putting the schedule together.

I received an e-mail from My Shadow demanding to see what I was planning on doing for a schedule. So, I gladly sent it along. 20 minutes later, she said it was useless and she would teach me how to do a correct schedule on Monday.

12 hours wasted on Saturday, and 24 wasted the past two weeks since getting hired. First, it was “We don’t know where you are going to be,” then it was “we need time to get your account set up,” and now it was that my “schedule wasn’t perfect.”

I looked at the service hours that were in their IEPs and compared that with what I had. It lined up perfectly. Most of my days would be spent with the student who was supposed to be in level 3. But that was fine, because I made sure to meet the needs of the level 1 and 2 students as well. They were mostly just focusing on social skills, so that was two times a week giving them social skills instruction.

What did I do wrong? Why was I such a failure before the school year had even started? Nothing had worked easily this week: NOTHING! Was the school year going to be like this too? (Spoiler: it did.)

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