Tech Tips: Dual Monitors

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself repeating some of the same advice time after time, and I thought I’d put together a sort of collection of these common pieces of wisdom to refer to in the future.  Technology can be daunting, especially because sometimes overcoming the learning curve is an obstacle that can prevent it from being as useful as it’s supposed to be.  Cut my grading time in half, you say?  Sounds great.  Oh, you mean after 3 hours of bumbling my way through your software? A lot of teachers would just stick to their own methods.  I’ve tried to be braver about this in order to cut through some of that stigma and amass a plethora of knowledge regarding tech that can actually save time and actually make life easier.  Essentially, this will be a list of tech tips that are worth the learning curve.

Using Dual Monitors

Holy toledo, I made this one first because it saves so much frustration.  Half the reason people still print things out – like emails, memos, and even lesson plans – is because it’s so darn cumbersome to switch from window to window for reference.  Sure, you could arrange your windows side by side, but then you’re cutting your monitor real estate in half, and for many teachers, that makes us endlessly frustrated as we alt-tab, ctrl-tab our way through different windows and tabs.  So we print things out and hold the paper or list or whatever as we go through our grading and planning.

Using an extra monitor can seem daunting because it just looks like too much trouble. You have to plug it in, then connect it to your computer, and then fiddle with the display settings… ugh!

Do it when you know you’re going to spend some real time on your work, not for a quick email check.  I cannot convey enough how some of the most mundane, time-wasting things that you don’t even think about are solved by having two monitors.  In most cases, you only need to use one monitor because most teachers have laptops.  Once you set the monitor as an extension, you’ll feel so good with Google Classroom on one screen, Schoolloop on the other… or your powerpoint on one screen, your reference materials on the other… or even a parent’s email on one screen with their student’s work on the other.

Now you can drag the picture from the browser over to your powerpoint instead of alt-clicking and switching tabs.  It has changed the way I grade, the way I teach, and the way I plan.  I will never go back.  If you take your laptop from place to place, and the plugging/unplugging game starts to get to you, consider getting another device as a dedicated workstation.

I have a home computer that I use as a workstation and it has two monitors.  I use it for planning and grading.  I can do most of my planning and grading in about two work sessions per week – including essays!

dual.png
Notice also that my monitors are in portrait mode – a must for teachers, especially ELA!

My school laptop is now only for school and is plugged into the projector there, which extends my desktop and also outputs that extension to a second monitor.  The result?  On the left screen, my laptop, I can put up attendance, etc.  Anything I want the kids to see, I can drag to the right screen, and look at it without turning my back on my kids to look at the projector.

picscreens.png For on-the-go purposes, I usually just grab a Chromebook from the cart rather than my plugged-in laptop.

If you have an idea for a Teacher Tech Tip, or you have a problem that you hope I can solve with technology, go ahead and leave a comment or hit up my Twitter handle @TheEnglishPhan.

You Don’t Like Sleep.

Sleep is a beautiful thing.  Sleep helps you lose weight, grow taller, heighten your senses, process memories, dump old memories – you get all that for SLEEPING, an activity that, in theory, takes little to no effort, and only requires you to take the time to do it.

When I was young, I squandered the opportunities to sleep as often as I could.  Well, according to my memory anyway; apparently, when I was a baby I was a very good napper.  I didn’t do any of that crib-climbing stuff that I watched my little brother do with fascination.  In fact, at one point, my mom said she put me on a mattress on the ground – no restraints, fences, nothing – and I made no attempt to escape whatsoever.  What a loser.  My brother in that same situation for one parent-imposed naptime was crawling out of there like Gollum.

But intellectually, I fought naptimes, and I stayed up late doing homework, IMing, gaming, binge-watching Netflix and staying up with my insomniac brother.  Over time, I kind of forgot what it was like to have a full, complete sleep.  Sometimes I noted that I was too tired to sleep.  Yep, in moments of extreme tiredness, my body would do things not conducive to sleeping.  My body was too sleepy to figure out how to sleep – short of collapsing in exhaustion when I finally hit zero.

It was actually my wife who pushed me to go to bed on time during my first two or so years of teaching.  I still remember what it was like that first morning after an eight hours sleep.  I had super powers!  My food didn’t drag me down, my senses were loading up my brain with information, my work got done so fast with my usual planning that I had all this extra time, too!  Life was… better!  Who wouldn’t do this?!

Now, sleep is one of the only things that lacks in my life.  Lack of sleep makes it hard to lose weight, work, and even spend time with my wife – which, because I’m suffering from lack of sleep, makes it so I have to make up for all of this by… you got it: NOT sleeping – which made it WORSE.  Yes, learn this lesson now.  Right my wrongs.  Not sleeping will make you so bad at being awake that you won’t get a chance to sleep.

So now I see these young teenagers every day at my work, and on the surface of it, it looks like they’re smarter than I was.  “I love sleep!” they’ll say.  Yet, day after day, students will wander into my classroom with half-lidded eyes and profess to long nights of Netflix, gaming and Snapchatting.  I thought you loved sleep?

When I love something, I prioritize it.  I make time for it.  That’s not what’s happening when my students are thinking about sleep.  They are doing things that aren’t sleep, and putting it off further and further, and only thinking of it wistfully because they’re bad at being awake.  “I can’t wait till spring break so I can just get some sleep,” which means that they can do all of their night time stuff and oversleep with no consequences.

So maybe it’s time to be precise: Do you love sleep, or do you hate waking up?

If it’s the latter, would you hate waking up so much if you just got some sleep?

Why Eat?

So, like most of America that isn’t in denial, I’ve been trying to lose weight recently.  Why?  Because honestly, life is too short to spend most of it unable to touch your toes.  I can touch my toes right now, but it’s only a matter of time.

Like anyone will tell you, it’s difficult.  Over the summer I lost 30 pounds.  There my progress stopped, and I’ve been fluctuating ever since.  I have a couple theories about why I’m having trouble, and one of them is simply because there are too many reasons to eat.

1.  We eat when we’re hungry.

Well, DUHHHH.  When you’re hungry, you eat.  However, I think there’s a hunger inflation at play here.  It doesn’t make sense that I can eat one grilled cheese sandwich or a full buffet dinner and still feel hungry three hours later.  That’s like putting a hundred-dollar bill into a vending machine and getting the same lukewarm Dasani as the dude putting in 35 cents!  What you eat supposedly matters – so why is my body pretending that it’s all the same?  How can I trust anything if I can’t even trust my own body?

How am I supposed to even believe that I’ve ever been hungry?  I’ve never known hardship; I don’t think I’ve ever notably skipped a meal due to happenstance.  Weird qualifier, but I think it’s an important one; I’ve never been a victim of circumstance.  Meanwhile, my father came to the US with nothing but the clothes on his back and built a life up from scratch – and my body dares to tell me it’s hungry because I didn’t have egg with my rice and spam?  Thas some codswallop, coz!  I call malarkey!  It can’t be true!  Yet my stomach roars and demands to be fed – and I’m trying to retrain it like a naughty dog without developing an eating disorder.

The key here, I think, is recalibration.  I just need to ask myself: which triggers in my body indicate actual hunger, and which ones are false alarms?

2. We eat when we’re bored.

Need time to pass?  Prepping something to eat is one of the easiest ways to do it.  Munching away lets us look at the clock afterward with satisfaction.  Gathering ingredients, putting them together, and finally enjoying the fruits of your labor has helped many impatient children – and later, adults – deal with the trial of waiting.  

Human beings hate to wait.  My father hates to wait, my brother hates to wait – and I definitely hate to wait.  Asking a kid with ADHD to wait instantly places them into a time paradox in which 45 thoughts are had, processed, and possibly even voiced in the span of a few seconds.  Being told to wait has made me a victim of some cruel master of Time and Space chuckling away as he watched me figure out nine ways to make annoying clicking noises at my siblings while my parents tried to pump gas.  So of course, you give a kid a snack, he’s placated.  As an adult with nothing to do, it’s too easy to look for something “to munch on.”

People can’t handle monotony.  In fact, studies show that when you eat out of boredom, it’s not for the pleasure of the food.  When scientists put people in a room and had them watch the same 85-second clip of indoor tennis to watch, they gave these people some M&Ms to munch on.  The second time, they gave them the ability to self-administer electrical shocks.  They were both popular among our bored people.

That’s right. Apparently, my generation can’t even handle boredom without being self-destructive.  Not that human beings in general are known for handling boredom well.  Part of the argument for education for everyone is to keep kids “off the streets,” a euphemism for “not let them be bored because boredom and freedom lead to drugs, alcohol, and/or petty crime.”  True, education is a pretty good answer to that because it teaches brain activity in the face of boredom – quite literally – but I want to follow that ideal to the letter if I can… in other words, challenge my brain instead of filling my stomach.

3. We eat to socialize.

Eating is literally a social event – and a social lubricant.

“Hey, let’s have lunch!”  – That Guy We All Know

I just had lunch with a friend.  We ate pizza, and it was good, but my point is, why do we – including me – feel it’s necessary to eat in order to socialize?  This friend was a good enough friend that I know the pizza wasn’t necessary to have a stimulating experience.  Since getting married, in order to stay in my circle the amount of fun/stimulation required per square hour is pretty ridiculous, so the fact that I wanted to hang with him at all should have been enough.  Yet I can imagine that text.

whodied

Okay, I’m stretching a bit.  What I’m pretty sure happened was that people were awful at talking to each other and needed something in common.  The thought is “Hey, we all need to eat, so let’s all eat.”  It’s actually even a logical thought if it’s seen as a requirement for life; if we’re both going to eat, we might as well eat together and knock it out while we bond.  However, I feel the threat is when that balloons into “We need to eat whenever we’re together.”  (Not the case with you, dude, I was just using an example of socializing while eating).  I’m not like that with my friends – at least, not since college, but I have felt the social pressure to eat.  Part of it is linked to the one about boredom.  If you think dealing with boredom as an individual is difficult, dealing with boredom AND social awkwardness as a group is even worse – and probably what leads to both obesity and gang violence.

The key here is to be with people who have similar goals.  When I was doing P90x with the same pizza buddy, there was a shared unwillingness to negate the suffering we had just gone through with Ab-Ripper X that kept us from going off the rails and downing sundaes.  It’s a lot harder when you’re expected to just show self-control.  Part of me wants to post a picture of a starving person on the wall to remind me not to be overindulgent, but another part of me thinks it will have the opposite effect and lead to me eating even more out of appreciation for not being in that situation.

4. We eat for financial reasons.

This one is huge – especially if you’re raised by immigrants.  You’re taught not to waste food even if you don’t feel like eating it, and that somewhere people are starving, so you should be grateful for what you have.  This isn’t really an incorrect lesson as much as it is a traumatizing one.  After all, you definitely want your child to prioritize survival over pickiness without them being weeded out by Darwinism.

At the same time, this lesson can lead to some problems.  For one thing, buying anything at Costco becomes a commitment – sometimes for the worse.  You can’t go buy a salad because you need to finish all the burger patties before they get all moldy because there’s no more room in the freezer!  You need to eat ALL the bacon!  You need to eat all of the leftovers before they go bad, especially if one of your family members calls it quits and refuses to eat it.

5. We eat for emotional reasons.

Emotions definitely have impacted how people eat.  People use food to deal with their issues instead of coping with them head-on or seeking catharsis.  I’m pretty aware when something like this is happening, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to it.

However, there’s another aspect of emotion that is much more of a threat to me.  If someone you love cooks up, oh, I don’t know, a whole pan of the bombest fried rice on the planet, complete with egg and Chinese sausage, and then follows that by making french toast, do you refuse such gifts and say “no thanks, I’ll make some wheat toast?”

If you would, you’re a monster, and you’ll live those extra years of life cold and alone.

The food tastes good… because it has love.  More importantly, accepting that love is important.  So important that I not only used two forms of the same word, “important,” in one sentence, but also risked possibly making this sentence a fragment by beginning with “so” as a vague intensifier to make my point.

Yet, I want to live – which means finding a way to make my appreciation apparent in more ways than the happy reception of food.  In fact, I would say that the answer to all of this is a simple-to-say, hard-to-do one: Enrich my life so that food isn’t the crutch, the focus, or the answer.  As human beings, we are past the point where food is the focus of an entire day in order to survive – at least, in my current environment.  It’s time for my life to reflect that.  I should look forward to life, not to dinner.

Do you look forward to your food more than you should?  What reasons make you eat besides just hunger?