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Journal of an IT manager: Juggling tasks is part of the high school curriculum

IT manager Tom Rule is also a full-time teacher. This week, follow his adventures as he and his IT partner navigate a maze of grading papers, reviving hard drives, and keeping the private school's multiple IT tasks in check.


This week, IT Manager Republic is featuring the daily journal of Tom Rule, an IT manager and teacher at a private school in Macon, GA. The following journal entries are from Monday.

7:30 A.M.
Brenda Timms and I are the two IT managers who make up the computer department at a Catholic school in Macon, GA. We have 600 students, about 40 faculty members, seven buildings, more than 100 computers, three platforms, and various other networked gizmos to take care of.

And we also teach. I have five classes a day, which include Web design classes, and Brenda teaches two sections of C++. Life is certainly not boring!

Brenda was hit first thing this morning with some printing issues in the student computer lab. The lab is equipped with 15 PCs that print to a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 5. For some reason, all of the Windows print jobs have to go through the main Linux server and cannot talk to the printer directly.

The teacher who is using the lab for a keyboarding class is getting antsy because she needs hard copies to grade. We talked about the best solution and decided that we would have the keyboarding class print from the Windows machine in the library. I’ll have to get the keyboarding program installed before sixth period and reset the default printer.

Right before first period, I popped over to the library’s Mac server to set up some info on a gopher site that I want to demonstrate to a couple of classes. Most students think that the Web is 20 or 30 years old and are astonished to learn that it is only 9 years old! I like to show them the Internet’s precursor. I hope I set it up right because there’s no time to check.

First period
My Web design class went fairly well. Brenda is fighting issues dealing with printing from DOS in the larger computer lab, where she teaches C++ classes with the DOS version of Turbo. The Microsoft C++ package never worked right. There have been many instances where classes and coding that were supposed to work just plain didn’t work right. That is intolerable when you're trying to teach a language to students. It has got to work textbook right or you have a lot of confusion.

Second period
While Brenda teaches, I have my planning period, when I am supposed to get ready for my classes. But today I had to install Office on a PC with a dead CD-ROM drive. No CD-ROM drive makes an installation difficult. It looks like the motherboard has a bad secondary IDE bus. This is yet another major replacement decision to be made later.

Thank goodness for e-mail. I replied to a message from the guidance office asking about their Windows password. I’d get less done if I had to go across campus to fix their problem. Fortunately, most of our faculty is techno-savvy enough to try a suggested fix.

I was able to pop up to the larger lab a few minutes early and finish repartitioning the hard drive on a dead PC and start the formatting process before class.

Third period
Today my computer applications class is taking a retest on computer parts and pieces online through something I set up at DiscoverySchool.com.

This online test is made up of short answers, and I get the tests e-mailed to me. This means some time in front of the monitor grading the e-mails. I’ll have to figure out how to carve out some time for that on Tuesday.

Brenda is finished with her classes for the day and immediately gets bombarded with several issues. We have an iMac go absolutely bonkers on us and, of course, it’s out of warranty. Brenda will replace its hard drive because the closest Apple repair shop is two hours away.

Brenda took some time to research a replacement printer for the large lab. We’ve got an IBM 4029 that was donated to the school, but it is beginning to creak a bit. If we can replace it with a heavy-duty one that works cross-platform, we can move the IBM to the smaller lab, which will take care of the problem with the printer that the keyboarding class uses and take some load off of the main Linux server.

Fourth period
My eighth graders arrive for the computer skills class and today’s MacOS lesson (we covered Windows basics last week). We pulled out the iBooks, which have a wireless connection to the network. There was an amusing discussion among the girls about what color iBooks we should have purchased. Pink was the clear winner.

For the lesson, I tried to use Network Assistant to demonstrate the concepts at each computer, but it crashed about 5 times. I finally had to explain what to do and draw on the whiteboard.

Also, this particular class is split in half by lunch. So during lunch, I eat my sandwich, reboot all of the iBooks, and try out the demo. It worked perfectly. The students came back from lunch, and we moved through the lesson.

Fifth period
I teach a second section of the computer skills class. Network Assistant worked for 10 minutes this time. After rebooting the whole lab, I gave up on the assistant and had the kids follow my verbal directions.

I took the last seven minutes of class trying to set up an inkjet before I had to rush off to my last class of the day. The Windows 98 machine recognized the printer right away, asked for the disks, installed the software, etc., in a smooth manner. I was actually feeling hopeful as I tried a test print, but of course, I got an error message: bad ink cartridge. I hope there’s an extra in the supply closet.

I had to get the typing program installed and the printer reset in the library before sixth period, so I dashed over when the bell rang and got it set up for the keyboarding class.

On the way out of the library, I noticed that two of the library’s iMacs had “out of service” notes on them. I’ll have to check on that later.

Brenda, meanwhile, was swapping out the iMac’s hard drive. When she hit the metal shield inside, she sent a pop-up message asking for some help using a cross-platform app we use called MacPopUp.

Seventh period
I popped down to Brenda’s office to assist with the iMac. For us, it was a two-person job since we were doing the surgery on Brenda’s desk. The machine rebooted, and we began a restore of the system software.

I hope we can get this machine's owner, a faculty member, to understand that it will still take some more time to get his machine completely ready to go. He didn’t seem to understand that we can’t fix everything right away.

Dealing with a frustrated client can be a challenge. The thing we try to remember is that they are as frustrated as we are when technology screws up. But we are really stretched too thin. Our teaching levels and the service levels are declining. This is something we will have to just deal with for this year. We plan on finding some relief for next year.

While Brenda was working with the iMac and the guidance office PC and researching HP printers, I dashed upstairs to plan for the after-school Web team meeting. After school, Brenda swings by the lab and we bring each other up to date on the day’s happenings.

The meeting goes well. I have a good team this year. At 5:00 P.M., I finally leave but 20 minutes later than I needed to in order to meet my wife at the mall.

Maybe tomorrow I can leave on time.

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