ast year, accreditation inspectors noted that not every teacher in our school was “Informatically Fluent.” My colleagues looked at me. They know I’m “Informatically Challenged.”
My deficiency applies somewhat to all machinery: The Coke machine, for instance, sputters and spits at me, sometimes before I even touch it. The photocopy machine routinely shuts down in my presence. The laminating machine, a hot sticky contraption, clogs with goo. The napkin machine shoots them into my hands shredded or balled.
My real enemy, though, is the computer. Recently, at Newark airport, an assistant assured me that online check-in was easy. I confessed I didn’t want to learn it. I warned her, “If you teach us how to do it, you’ll be out of work.” A slow grin spread across her face. She shook her long skinny braids. “Never. People like you can’t manage without us.”
It’s true. Every September, at school, there is some software innovation for plans, reports, research or presentation. The other teachers jump at the chance to acquire skills that will liberate and empower. For me, it’s one more hurdle I must haul myself over before I can finally retire.
Soon after the accreditation visit, I tried to learn PowerPoint, so that I could make display posters for my music classroom. The young teachers make professional looking posters with colorful backgrounds and borders, attractive drawings and digital photographs. They do it on the computer. In comparison, my displays, made with colored paper, paste and felt tipped pens, look like something out of the “Leave It To Beaver” TV series of the American 1950s.
Before tackling PowerPoint, I should have recalled a traumatic encounter with an Excel spread sheet: Data springing out of nowhere, pouncing into the wrong boxes; whole columns growing and shrinking “Alice in Wonderland”-style, whizzing across the page and crouching in the bottom corner.
Unfortunately, I forgot about Excel and heedlessly logged on to a computer in the school library. I clicked on PowerPoint and immediately felt tired. This was because nothing happened. It’s a familiar predicament. I tried again and again. I tried the Coke machine technique of approaching from another angle — through Word, through Office. No good.
I was ready to quit when Al, a fellow teacher, noticed my frustration and suggested I ask our computer expert, due to arrive in an hour. Al didn’t know that I’d recently asked the expert to fix my computer’s sound system and it turned out that I’d inadvertently pressed the Mute button. Another time, when I asked the expert’s help with a computer that “wouldn’t work,” he discovered it wasn’t plugged in. He threw up his arms and emitted wrathful groans. He said, “Porca miseria, Signora” even though, as colleagues, we should have been on a friendly, first name basis. He said, “Il mio lavoro non è questo,” “This is not my job.” I noted his pudgy cheeks and the freshly ironed creases in his T-shirt sleeves and guessed I was dealing with one of those 40-year-old boys, still living with his mother.
He, of course, was dealing with an old lady who could barely click her mouse. I said to Al, “The expert, good idea,” but resolved to be logged off and far away before the expert entered the building. I continued my ineffectual clicking. PowerPoint eluded me. Before long, I was trembling with frustration and nearly in tears, knowing that “Informatically Challenged” is a degenerative, age-related disease.
Nathan, a promising student, came over to help. Nathan is in third grade. He’s the boy who, when told I’d lived 30 years in Italy, said to grandmotherly me, “Wow 30 years! You sure don’t look 30.” Now he tenderly patted my shoulder. He said not to worry because he knew how to do everything. Rather than have him discover my ineptness, I said it wasn’t necessary. I resigned myself to scissors, paper and tape.
All this happened last year. This year things are looking up. The computer expert has moved on to another job. Before leaving, he brought me a long-stemmed, red rose and wished me good informatic luck. He said I reminded him of his mother and that I should take courage in the fact that I wasn’t the only one who was “negata.”
Meanwhile, the new computer teacher — and this is the sweet part — has a delightfully low-tech name: Mary Jane Dusterwinkle. She divides each task into a lengthy list of tiny steps, every detail written down for someone with a wobbly memory. She draws pictures of the icons and even remembers to type in the word “Click.” Bless her heart.