Friday, July 31, 2009


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet look for a break

The Maria Chronicles, #4

Damn it, Damn it, Damn it!

Maria would like to throw her new Macbook out the window. For the last half hour she’s been trying to paste The Federalist Papers, #35, into the course web page she’s been assigned for her upcoming classes. Having taken this new job, she’s determined to refresh her entire skill set, ranging from her curricular offerings to her use of technology, and to that end she eagerly accepted the invitation to put all her courses online. She spent an hour yesterday with the school’s tech guru, Ray Rozenholtz, the genial gabber who issued Maria the computer and reassured her that she’d find the software to be a breeze. And it kind of was – when she was sitting there in his office, that is. Now, though, alone in the cluster of desks that constitute the History Department office on a sweltering late August afternoon, she’s hopelessly stuck. When she copied and pasted the immortal Alexander Hamilton onto the page, he lost all his formatting. That wasn’t such a big deal, except that the whole thing is now a single slab of type, no line breaks, and no matter how many times she hits the return key the thing remains an unreadable blob.

Maria sighs deeply. "Now what?" she says, aggrieved, to herself.

"Technology trouble?" A voice behind her says. Maria almost leaps out of her chair in terror.

"Oh my God!" she says, swiveling to see the source of the voice. It's a blond-haired boy, pimply, with green eyes, clearly frightened by her fright

"Sorry!" His reply is loud, even forceful, with a tint of aggrievement. He's rattled by her being rattled.

"I'm sorry," Maria says, apologetically. "It's just that I didn't know anyone was here."

"I came to see Ms. Abruzzi," the boy explains.

"She's not here," Maria says, stating the obvious about the department chair and immediately regretting it.

"I know," he replies neutrally. "But we have an appointment. I'm a couple minutes early."

"Oh." Maria is recovering her equilibrium, part of which involves realizing that she has to take the lead here with this child in terms of the social niceties. "I'm Maria Bradstreet," she says, extending her hand.

"You're the new history teacher," he says with a smile. "For Mr. Haynes."

"Yes, that's right." Haynes apparently lasted a year. Following a teacher that left mid-year. Maria got hired because the school was desperate for a seasoned teacher in what is a young department. "And what's your name?"

"Me? I'm Kenny Lowe."

"Well, hello, Kenny."

"I think you might be my teacher this year?"

"Wonderful! In which course?"

"The regular history course. Whatever that's called."

"You mean the U.S. history survey."

"Yeah, the survey."

"Ah. Very good. Of course, at the rate things are going there isn't going to be much to do, because I'm having trouble with copying and pasting documents."

"Is that it there?" Kenny asks, squinting at the screen. "Why don't you just make a link rather than copy it in?"

Maria feels like an idiot. "Yeah, I guess I could have done that. I just thought it would be easier to cut and paste. But when I did, all the formatting disappeared and the whole thing is one long paragraph."

"Can I take a look?"

"Be my guest!" Maria pushes her swivel chair away to make room for him. Kenny looks intently at the computer, which gives her a chance to look more closely at him. His features are delicate, partially obscured by his acne and whiskers. She's struck by the intensity of his concentration -- it has an adult quality, even as his manner and appearance suggest an uneasy purchase on his adolescence.

"It's the line breaks," he says to her, still looking at the screen. All the coding is missing. She sees him make type the letter "b" and a slash within brackets, and then a series of CTRL/V where he thinks the breaks should go. He then hits the PUBLISH button on screen. Sure enough, the line breaks are there. "I think you'll be able to do italics and bold the usual way," he says. "For some reason, you need to put in the HTML language for the line breaks."

"Wow," Maria says, grateful and humbled. Are you a computer aficionado, Kenny?"

"Well I dunno. I guess," he says, which Maria surmises is a vast understatement. "I like to do animations."

"You mean like cartoons?"

"Yeah, sort of. Me and my friends have a website --"

"Ah, so I see you've met Kenny," Jen Abruzzi says, coming into the room. He's my advisee. "You've met Ms. Bradstreet?"


"Kenny got me out of a technology jam," Maria says.

"I'm not surprised," Jen says. "He's our resident computer geek." She flashes him an affectionate smile. "C'mon into my office, Kenny. We'll see if you we can straighten out the chem kink in your schedule."

The two of them disappear into Jen's adjacent office. Maria looks back at the screen. She feels a twinge of unease: She's in Kenny's debt and wonders if that will affect her sense of authority over him in the classroom. But having had the thought, her fear recedes. Maybe with a different kid she'd have more reason for concern. He seems like he'll be fine. Actually, she suspects this will actually help their relationship. She remembers an incident in Benjamin Franklin's autobiography when young Franklin courts favor with a rich and influential man not by trying to be of service, but asking to borrow a book Franklin knew the man owns. It's probably a good idea to seek their help from time to time to build good will and trust.

Later. Now she has to finish this syllabus. And establish herself here. Effective dependency requires strength. Maria has a ways to go, around here at least.