September 17, 2014

Captain, this turbolift seems to be malfunctioning

Hanging in the balance.

It's how I've felt many times in my adult life, as I've considered career and education options. It's how I've felt for the past several months waiting for my job in Turkey to finally begin. It's how I've felt the past two weeks waiting for classes to start.

Mostly, it's how I felt this afternoon, suspended somewhere between the 10th and 11th floor of our apartment building in a small, stuffy elevator. At least I wasn't alone--Alan was there--but I was still pretty freaked out. The elevator buttons wouldn't light up, the call button didn't work, and the slot for the telephone was empty. Continuing our on-going joke and commentary on various hazards we see in Turkey, I voiced in my chastizing tone with a special eye roll, "Turkey!" I then pressed the alarm button, which, to my delight, made a loud ringing sound outside of the elevator. A Turkish voice came over the intercom. Using the phrase Alan had suggested, I said the equivalent of "Elevator has problem." I couldn't understand the Turkish response, but I assume they promised speedy help.

We stood for several minutes, taking a few Facebook-ready selfies of our predicament. I tried to ward off claustrophia and general panic while Alan cracked jokes and strategized the best position to be in if the elevator plunged. We heard prying noise above our heads, presumably from the eleventh floor. They stopped. Then the lights went out. Pitch black.

I dug in my bag for my iPad as a source of light, and composed a Facebook post to be posted upon our safe return to our apartment. Busying myself with social media helped me not think about the small and hot elevator.

Eventually, the lights relit and the elevator went to the ground floor. Went, not plummeted.  The apartment manager was there to greet us. He assured us the the problem was only on the eleventh floor, pushed the 12 button, and sent us back up the shaft. On the way up, Alan and I both had the same thought, why hadn't we taken the stairs, or at least the other elevator?

We arrived safely at the twelfth floor, took the stairs down to the eleventh, and were very happy to not be encased anymore. We were only stuck for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, but it was long enough for me to reflect on the parallels of literally hanging in the balance and the way I've felt recently.

Today was my first day of teaching at the prep school. Yesterday I taught a university writing class for sophomores. So far, I'm two-for-two on technology failure in the classroom. The number one rule for teaching with technology is to have a back up plan. My back up plans were not as well fleshed out as I would have liked, and the fact that I had somehow forgotten my whiteboard markers yesterday gave me an even bigger challenge. Harkening back to the why-didn't-we-take-the-stairs situation, I found myself wondering why I hadn't made a stronger technology back up plan for today considering yesterday's events. A glutton for punishment, I guess!

Over the past several years, I've grown accustomed to being able to project my computer screen on a wall for students to see. In fact, here in Turkey, we use SmartBoards, which have even stronger capabilities than a simple projector system. The SmartBoard basically projects an electronic version of the book on a chalkboard-size touch screen that works similarly to an iPad.  However, the technology is only as good as your knowledge of HOW to use it, and on a more basic level, it is only as good as the cable connections between your computer and the board. Working with borrowed cables both times (mine haven't arrived yet), I felt like I was flying blind--in a way trapped by my own lesson plan's dependence on technology. In the university class (with a simple projector), I simply gave up on projecting and focused on the papers I had printed, while using the PowerPoint on my computer screen more like class notes. Today, I recruited some IT help during the first 30 minutes of class and at break, which helped get me about 75% of where I wanted to be. I still couldn't use the board effectively, but I compensated for the remaining 25% with enthusiasm and whiteboard markers, a newfound luxury after the previous day's fiasco.

Not unlike the elevator's eventual returning of trapped occupants, I did eventually figure out solutions to  the problems I experienced these first two days (after class, I spent a long time fiddling with the system and talking with colleagues). And not unlike surviving the elevator, I have survived my lessons despite the technological malfunctions. Furthermore, similarly to when the lights went completely out in the elevator, I did not panic when no students had the textbook. I did leave the room to get scratch paper, as they didn't have that with them either. On days like yesterday and today, I'm glad that I have a strong foundation in teaching methodology and classroom experience to draw on.  Thinking on one's feet and making quick decisions are two underrated skills that good teachers possess and use constantly. Unplanned events in class are common, and as a newbie to the program and technology, I am especially prone to things not going as I planned.

Wish me good luck for tomorrow's new and improved lesson (taking into account the potential lack of books) and for upcoming elevator travel. Maybe I'll take the stairs.