A perfectly reasonable request: Please help my daughter get signed into her Chromebook. It is, after all, my well and true purpose over these past two months. I sit at my table four days out of five waiting for parents, students and staff to come by and ask me a question just like that. That kind of ask is infinitely preferable to those who drop a device on that table of mine and announce, "This doesn't work." Which isn't really an ask, is it?
When Ulice's dad came through the gate, he was already pulling the power cord and the wifi hotspot from the bag which also contained his daughter's Chromebook. Computadora. He brought Ulice along just in case there was a little English that could be wrestled from the conversation. But I knew from previous experience that I was in for a multilingual experience and I was pretty sure that my high school German was not going to bail me out.
We began with our best smiles and encouraging gestures. "Problema?" I queried.
Ulice's dad the proceeded to explain in detail the struggles he had experienced attempting to connect his daughter to distance learning. Great detail. In Spanish.
Suddenly I was adrift in a blur of verbs and nouns and words that I had never heard. Some of them I recognized, so I clung to them desperately in hopes of making sense of what was going on. There was most definitely a problem with the computer, and there was something about seeing the teacher. Which made me hopeful because even though my Spanish is muy mal, I can talk tech with the best of them. I made another grand gesture and dad put the Chromebook down in front of me.
When I opened it up, I had a new surprise. All the menus and prompts were in Spanish. I floundered briefly and then chose to open up my Chromebook and turned on my good friend Google Translate. Which was right about the time I noticed that Ulice's dad had done something similar on his phone. Together we took big long swings at making the computadora work to our liking.
Which is about the time that I began to feel the confusion that so many of our kids feel every day as instruction sails just slightly over their heads. Not because they aren't interested or captivated by the task in front of them, but because there are just too many words. Words that don't make sense. Words that ring a bell, but are gone in a moment. Words that make learning more words possible. But the rush of making sense puts up a barrier. The one we've heard so much about.
Ulice was a great sport as her father and I continued in our struggle to make her online experience viable. I called in help, but having another voice just made things more complicated and required more explanation in ways that only served to muddy the waters further. Agua. I don't know muddy.
Finally, in a fit of tech pique, I slid the keyboard in front of me and performed a factory reset on Ulice's device. Moments later, I was staring at a screen that was completely intelligible to me, and I continued to make it work for Ulice. It was a surrender, I felt, but after nearly an hour I felt we needed to have something that felt like a next step.
Like Mister Caven needs to work on his Spanish.