- You have to unlock a classroom the day after term finishes to turn off a projector that a teacher left on, despite a whole-school reminder email to make sure they were turned off.
- People start surreptitiously opening gates that are supposed to stay closed over the break, because they think there’s no-one around to notice.
- You respond to a burglar alarm going off because some hirers were told there was no alarm in the building they hired, so when they walked in and set off the alarm they just ignored it and hoped it would turn off on its own.
- You get a variety of ‘Suspicious login detected’ emails from Google Apps after students legitimately log in to their school email from Qatar and the UAE.
- Co-workers who are definitely not going to hand in their notice during the holidays to screw the school over mysteriously clear their desks, by complete coincidence, despite never clearing their desks for the holiday before.
- A massive Dell shipment arrives the day before you go away for 2 weeks, despite clear instructions to the reseller not to deliver until you got back.
Over the weekend, this happened:
Short version of the story: a Daily Mail reporter allegedly posed as a jihadist to try and wheedle out some (largely imaginary) fellow extremists, in order to write yet another story implying that all Muslims are terrorists. Forum admins quickly cottoned on and exposed their IP as coming from the Daily Mail offices.
(Update: since this post was written, it has been well established that the individual named in the initial report has had nothing to do with the Daily Mail for years. The DM themselves also claim the message didn’t originate from their offices at all, though that part has not been independently verified.)
So what has this got to do with school IT, or father figures (as per the title)?
The refrigerator in our Science prep room scares me.
First it was the fact that half the contents looked like they were specimens of some kind, cosying right up next to the milk the department used for coffee.
Then it was the email that went round from the Head of Science one day:
There is some mystery meat in the Science fridge. If it is not claimed by 2pm, it will be disposed of as a matter of Health and Safety.
Later it was the school nurse walking in to my office with a bottle of ether and some drugs she’d found in the aforementioned fridge, one of which was some penicillin that expired before I was born, and the other being a pack of doses of Gonadotropin from the same era.
I don’t go into the Science prep room any more.
0805: Go to History department and return iPad that I found unsecured the previous evening during security audit. Fit new lockbox for iPad to inside of department store room.
0825: Move laptop trolley from secure storage to Library.
0836: Delete stuck print job from front office printer queue. Remind front office for the 18th time to please use the ticketing system, not just email.
1031: Accompany printer technician who arrives to repair hardware fault on managed printer. Stay with technician throughout repair since visitors cannot be around pupils unaccompanied without a safeguarding check.
1118: Repair completed, exactly 3 minutes after break finishes.
1119: Automatic alert that wireless AP in music department is offline.
1120: Phone call that computer in music department is not logging on correctly.
1122: Find music department comms cabinet without power because someone has plugged in an electric kettle after dropping it into a sinkful of water and tripped the RCDs for the entire floor.
1124: Maintenance attends to make safe and restore power, takes photo evidence of unsafe use of electrical equipment.
1135: Pupil hits 100% of storage quota. Delete copies of downloaded horror FPS and illegal MP3 downloads. Quota usage now 24%.
1140: Late break.
1210: Happen upon urgent parcels that arrived 2 hours ago without goods in telling me.
1220: Email from software supplier about .msi installer I enquired about. Tells me he will “get it done one day” as it’s “a bit tricky to write”. (Spoiler: it isn’t).
1230: Finish testing phantom power microphone for French oral exam recording.
1240: Phonecall from receptionist to ask if I would like to speak to the new account manager for one of our existing suppliers. Ask them to put the call through. Am told there is no call; the rep has turned up unannounced in person at reception.
1245: Impromptu meeting with new account manager, who is forgiven on account of having brought chocolate.
1330: Run Windows Update on all non-Server Core servers. Schedule overnight restarts to complete installations.
1341: MIS consultant emails me about a UI bug I reported. Says that the new behaviour has in fact been the way the product has always worked. Clearly I have been imagining my own workflow for the last two years, and have subconsciously worked around the utterly counter-intuitive behaviour currently in the product.
1420: For the 5th time in 2 weeks, show someone which link on the school Intranet to click on to find the instructions guides I painstakingly write. (It’s in the same place I show to all staff at every INSET.)
1432: Teacher calls and asks why they have a message on their homepage that they have not completed their attendance register for yesterday afternoon. Explain that it is because they have not completed their attendance register for yesterday afternoon.
1450: Toner cartridge change in lower school IT lab. Find stack of confidential paperwork that a teacher printed to the wrong printer 3 days ago.
1515: Attend assembly hall after report that the projector remote needed new batteries. Remove existing batteries and reinsert them the right way around, and they work fine.
1537: Spot check on IT labs via AB Tutor. Find about 1/3 of the class mucking around on email and games instead of on their online languages exercises. Call IT lab to advise teacher.
1549: Email English department about the new software I know they bought recently that has mysteriously not turned up.
1555: Delivery from English department via pupil courier of aforementioned software.
1556: Email from English department asking whether the software will be ready for them to use tomorrow morning.
1610: Diagnose problem with InfoPath form that we use to track server maintenance. Turns out to be a stale cached version of the form being used on the client.
1630: Return laptop trolley to secure storage overnight.
1650: Tip-off from a pupil that another pupil is attempting to impersonate a member of staff online. Investigate and send evidence to SMT for tomorrow.
Well, I thought it would be a few more years before it came to this, but today I packed up my office into a few cardboard boxes, shut down my workstation, and turned off the lights for the last time.
Relax. They’re refitting the office over Easter.
When I come back, I’ll have brand new lights to turn on, freshly painted walls, and most importantly, a separate air-conditioned server room. I’m told I will not only be able to answer the phone without shouting over the rack noise, but also actually use the office in summer without having to shower and change into a fresh shirt every 2 hours.
Until then, posts will less frequent than usual. Unless I need to rant about the builders.
Recently, I have been spending a disproportionate amount of time on an aspect of my job that never even came close to being mentioned on the job description.
Specifically, looking after the gerbils.
A couple of weeks ago when I was working late on a Friday, I heard a sudden clatter from the science lab next door. Given that the entire building was pitch black apart from my office, I instinctively grabbed the nearest heavy thing to hand before jumping up to find out what was going on. This happened to be a 0.75m aluminium projector pole, which on reflection I judged to be a particularly masterful choice with a good weight/bludgeoning power ratio . It was all for nought, however; the noise was caused by the water bottle falling off of the side of the gerbil habitat (or as I call it, the “Gerbilarium”).
But did it fall… or was it pushed?
Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, and I arrived one morning to be met by the science teachers combing the entire top floor. One of the gerbils had escaped.
He learned some time ago that if the top hatch is not sufficiently weighed down, he can leap up, knock it open, and be on his merry way. When I say “sufficiently” weighed down, what I mean is “with half a brick”. We used to use a piece of wood. He can knock it off. I’ve become convinced the little bugger has been systematically testing the defences of his prison, no doubt incensed by the now constant gaze of the replacement GerbilCam I installed after he destroyed the previous camera.
The problems of a gerbil breakout are twofold. Firstly, they like to chew. Especially on cables. A follower on Twitter once put it this way after I mentioned a previous breakout: “Nibble nibble, fibre down on Monday”. The second problem is that the Gerbilarium is the only place in the building with accessible food and water. Unless we get an escapee back in relatively quickly, the poor bugger will die of thirst. Even if he made it that far, an adventure outside would most likely end up with him becoming quick meal to the local foxes or red kites we have living on site.
Anyway, after about 45 mins of searching we left out some food as a lure and went about our day. Until about 9.30, when I was sitting at my desk pondering possible hiding places for our furry friend, and I heard a sudden shriek from the prep room.
‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘there he is.’
It was at that precise moment that one of the science teachers had lost all credibility with her class by opening a supply cupboard and reacting girlishly to our missing gerbil scurrying around in the bottom of it. Luckily for us he was quite hungry by this point so was easily tempted into the open by some fresh greens, at which point I cunningly scooped him up while he was distracted by food. Unfortunately by the time I got hold of him I had been sealed into the prep room by doors that only open inwards, with both hands full of gerbil. Only after tapping on the glass of one of the doors and waiting for a pupil to spot the gerbil trying to escape my clutches was I able to get back into the biology lab and deposit him back into the habitat.
He still hasn’t forgiven me.
This weekend I was directed towards an article entitled “Why schools don’t need ICT“, by Ian Yorston, the Head of Digital Strategy at Radley College. The earnest Twitterer who led me to the article enthusiastically commented “so true!” I was intrigued.
My intrigue didn’t last long. As I read the article, it seemed so packed with fallacies that at any moment I expected the author to leap out from behind a curtain, fell every one of his prior arguments with a single, bold, stroke and declare “Hah! Do you see? That’s what the naysayers would have you believe, and it’s all rubbish!”
Sadly, that moment never came. I’m left with only two possibilities: either the entire article is a clever devil’s advocate piece, or Yorston may be the worst Head of Digital Strategy I’ve ever heard of.
If you haven’t read the article yet, please go and read it now. Then come back when you’re as angry as I was when I wrote what follows.
Update: Ian Yorston responded in the comments section, explaining the sorely-missing context for his article; a problem not of his own doing. Things certainly made a lot more sense after hearing from him.