24

Background


Note: Certain details have been changed for privacy's sake.


I am the go-to person for tech help for my friends (and enemies), family, and teachers. I have helped everyone I know with tech since 3rd grade (I am currently in high school).

During school when a video wouldn't play, the projector wasn't calibrated, things wouldn't print, etc., I would help and fix these issues. Teachers thanked me and were appreciative that I was able to fix their school-related issues within 5-10min without having to go through the IT staff.

However, there was an art teacher at the school (I say "was" because she resigned, much later after this incident). She was rightfully known for ALWAYS being on her phone. It became so bad that a petition was signed by multiple parents addressed to the board to get rid of her (although nothing came of it). As an outspoken, very opinionated, person I frequently made jokes to friends and made it clear that I was totally against her and her use of her phone. I even said things to her face (which looking back may have not been the most appropriate).

Towards the beginning of an art class, she put a lesson on the projector and started to explain what we were going to do that day. Her phone pinged and she picked it up and started to look through it. The lesson came to halt, and since we were used to this we started talking and the room got loud. A few minutes later:

Teacher: "[Insert My Name Here] come here."

Everyone went silent

I walk over to her desk, wondering what did I do?

Teacher: "I'm getting a message on my phone that my iCloud is out of space. What should I do?"

I'm thinking it's probably photos of art or something for the class

Me: "If you don't want to buy more space on iCloud, you can transfer the photos to the computer and delete them from your phone"

Teacher: "Here's my Mac. Can you do it for me?"

Me: "Should we transfer it to the school computer for the lesson?"

Teacher: "What? No. These are my vacation photos."

Everyone laughed, except me.

I didn't want to help her with a personal matter and encourage this behavior, but I also didn't want to get in trouble and sent to the principal for refusing, who based on my experiences with him, would probably not care that it was an inappropriate request.

So, I ended up helping her transfer everything. This took the entire rest of the period, while everyone else got to sit back and enjoy the off period.

This sucked for multiple reasons:

  1. I had to help a teacher I didn't like

  2. I was encouraging her irresponsible behavior

  3. Didn't help socially among other kids

  4. Everyone else got a period to talk, socialize, or do work from other classes and I didn't

  5. It was completely inappropriate for a teacher to ask this.


My goal for future reference:

I want a way to politely tell her that (in a way that I would not get into trouble):

  • It is inappropriate to ask for help with personal matters.
  • I don't feel comfortable helping her with non-school related technology questions.

She's the type of teacher that is liable to respond like "No? Excuse me?! Go to the principal immediately".

Note: Going to an administrator is not really an option as it was a right then and there thing and she probably would not have let me leave.


I don't really want to give the impression that I am unable to help or don't know how for the following reasons:

  • It's hard to say I don't know when I am helping 5 other teachers with other tech problems
  • It's one of my few socially driving forces. I really don't want to lose what social interactions I gain (with other kids) by them losing their confidence in my abilities.
  • It is not very clear what you are asking. Are you still in this class with this teacher? You mentioned that she resigned. Or are you asking how to say no to a request in a future situation with a different figure of authority? Can you clarify your question? – lukebeast887 Aug 3 '18 at 20:28
  • @lukebeast887 "My goal for future reference:" – JBis Aug 3 '18 at 20:29
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    @wolfv Please don't write answers in comments. This lowers quality control by not allowing both up and downvotes, and any upvotes you may get will not give you rep, so please feel free to write a good answer to this question to expand on your comment. Otherwise, comments that do not ask for clarification on the question will be deleted. – JBis Aug 4 '18 at 0:34
9

Well, this can be challenging because they are a figure of authority in your life that seems to be misusing that authority. Some points to recognize first:

  1. It is inappropriate for your teacher to be interrupting an entire class so that you can help her with her personal IT issues, such as configuring her iCloud in the middle of a class.

  2. It is not your job to do this, you are a student in the class. Not her personal assistant.

  3. She is abusing her figure of authority to intimidate you into doing something that both you and her know is inappropriate at this time.

Possible Responses:

Option 1: Simply tell her that you would rather not help with this task as it will be disruptive to the class. Say something like, "I know that you want me to help you configure your iCloud, but right now we are in the middle of lecture and it would take me the rest of the class period to do this. Are you sure you want to interrupt class for this?"

A response like this forces her to acknowledge that A. This will disrupt the rest of class B. She should not be asking you to do this right now, and C. Give her a way to return to the lecture without causing any issues.

If she still wants you to move forward and interrupt class, you could just tell her that you do not feel comfortable with helping her to handle a personal IT issue right now.

If she escalates and sends you to the principal's office, just explain the entire situation to the principal. Your administrator should side with you on this topic, as your teacher should not be interrupting class, or be on her phone all the time like this.

If you feel especially nice, tell her that you would be more than willing to come back at lunch or study hall and to help her, but you feel that it is inappropriate and unfair to the other students to interrupt the entire class to do that right now.

Option 2: Do what she asks and go to an administrator later.

You can always just do what she asks and go to the office later and ask to speak to her supervisor (the Principal or Vice Principal, maybe the Superintendent if it is a smaller school). Explain the situation to them and tell them that it made you uncomfortable and that you feel like class should not be disrupted due to situations like this.

It is their job to ensure a smooth learning experience, and to make sure that class is not interrupted, especially if this is a regular occurrence.

Option 3: If you do not want to face her, or an administrator directly you can always talk to your parent/guardian about it.

Chances are that your parent/guardian wants you to get a good education, and if a teacher is interrupting that, they will want to know. Especially if they are using their authority to make you do personal tasks for them. Your parent can always schedule a meeting with the administrators at your school, and you can go with them if you wish. This may reduce the intimidation factor of having to face this situation alone.

Option 4: Just leave it be.

If you really aren't all that concerned and nobody else seems to be either, recognize that maybe it isn't that big of a deal to escalate. Unless this becomes a very regular occurrence or source of disruption, you can just chalk it up to being a one time thing and let it go.


Overall, these types of situations will happen in life, and if you learn to stick up for yourself, while being kind and respectful, it will go a long way to resolve the issue. Try not to manufacture conflict, just think of the best ways to resolve it and ask for advice (like what you are doing right now). Also, good job on becoming the go-to person for IT issues! In the future workplace, being a go-to person to help solve problems because you are knowledgeable can make you a valuable addition to any team. Keep up the good work!

  • 1
    I like your answer because it contains lots of different options. Unfortunately, the administration knew about the problem (it had been going on for years [the phone usage problem not the tech help]), but they were unable to do anything about it, most likely do to tenure. – JBis Aug 4 '18 at 0:32
  • As a student though, your only option is really to just talk to them. If they don't do anything about it there isn't a ton more you can do at that point unfortunately. – lukebeast887 Aug 4 '18 at 3:32
  • Unfortunately, that is correct. – JBis Aug 4 '18 at 15:55
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    Op seems to be a minor. There is always the nuclear option of involving parents. If someone was abusing my kid like that in the middles of classes, it would make an interesting talk with the principal – Rui F Ribeiro Aug 5 '18 at 11:51
12

I agree with the assessments that this is a position of authority abusing their authority. Saying "no" in that position will be uncomfortable; you are correct.

There's not much you can do in that position when commanded to do so. You can, however, set yourself up to not have to do that again.

I'd suggest a quick chat with the principal. You don't need to reveal names, but just say that "A teacher wanted me to take class time to help with her personal phone. I believed that I shouldn't take class time from that to help with personal technical support and i'd like to ask your support for that." If the principal asks why, I'd answer that it takes your time from class (in this case the entire period) and really isn't your role as a student.

Then, when the teacher calls on you, you can say, "Sorry, the principal has forbidden me to do personal support for other teachers. If he or she says it's OK for me to help you, I will be more than happy to." Then it's not your problem, it's the teacher's boss' problem. The boss is the one saying no, not you.

If you're helping other teachers and this is not possible, then I'd limit myself to 5 minutes. If it can't be resolved in that time frame, I'd say "this will take longer than I have, sorry."

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    I agree with this approach, except the student shouldn't have to explain anything to the principal. No teacher has the right to command a student work for them for free, period, and the principal knows this. It's a potentially serious breach of professional ethics, that could lead to disciplinary action against the teacher, up to dismissal. – Andrew Aug 3 '18 at 23:00
  • We both feel that way. The challenge is that as public employees, it's not easy to dismiss a teacher for one incident. In what I see as a best case scenario, the teacher does not have tenure and their contract is not renewed next year. That leaves, unfortunately, an awkward remainder of the school year. It's been my experience that in a disagreement between a teacher and student, administration will take the side of the teacher. – baldPrussian Aug 3 '18 at 23:10
  • Hm. If that's the case, then perhaps have the student go to the principal with a bill for technical services, perhaps backed up with a letter from an attorney? If the student is unable to say no, and the administration won't enforce it's own policy, then legal remuneration is a reasonable recourse. – Andrew Aug 3 '18 at 23:11
  • @Andrew and baldPrussian In previous drafts about this there was a comment about how tenure was suspected to be the reason preventing the teacher from being fired. – JBis Aug 3 '18 at 23:12
10

If you don't find any other way to handle it, you still can play "dumb and scared".

Start with "In theory its easy, ..." and describe the process step by step. Than tell her the "BUT": you never have tried it before, you are not confident to be able to do it AND if you make a mistake it WILL DELETE some/all of her precious photos. Recommend to get some help elsewhere, "better let a professional do this complicated task which requieres a trained craftsperson". Offer to put her in contact with someone who is able to help.

You have been helpfull. You did nothing. You will still be the "knows stuff"-guy. And she will carry on to ask you. Repeat a few times and she (hopefully) will stop asking.

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    @FezVrasta "Transfer?!!!! I thought you said 'reformat and rewrite over your entire hard drive 7 times so its unrecoverable'". – JBis Aug 4 '18 at 16:01
  • @FezVrasta that seems like a bad idea. How about just taking a little time and then saying "it's done" when he's only transferred one or two files? He can then play dumb when she notices and scratch his head until she goes elsewhere. – DaveG Aug 4 '18 at 16:14
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    @DaveG I don't know how well that would go work. She may start to delete all the photos off her phone because I said the transfers done. | Once she realizes its not done, she will probably call me back over thinking that I made a mistake and am still willing to help her. – JBis Aug 4 '18 at 16:32
  • @JBis ok yeah in that case that's a really bad idea. – DaveG Aug 4 '18 at 16:34
3

Most people take "rejection by practical constraints" easier than "rejection by personal choice".

I doubt your teacher would be happy if you would choose not to help (which should be a valid option, but probably isn't in your case, due to her personal deficiencies) - even more, if that happens in the presence of others. To avoid the conflict, I would point to real (maybe a little exaggerated) practical constraints. The presence of other students will actually help you.

If you adopt the stance of being somewhat willing and capable of helping at least to some extent, I can recommend these simple pre-screening questions:

  • "What steps did you take so far in order to resolve your problem?" to convey the messages
    • it's your problem, not mine
    • if I should help you, you should have made some effort yourself before (within your capabilities, of course)
    • if I help you, you have to tell me in advance what you have tried so far, so we can avoid wasting time/energy

Many people who did not try anything and just want "technical assistance for free" will back off at this point. Then:

  • "Before I touch it - you do have a recent backup, do you?" to convey the messages
    • I certainly won't touch your system unless you have taken reasonable precautions (and have invested some of your time, too)
    • the process might get messy and extremely time-consuming for both of us, requiring to re-install from scratch or to reload from a backup.
    • I'm absolutely exempt from liability for any possible data loss, if we proceed.

Allow your teacher to save face when asking this. E.g. don't ridicule her if she admits never having made a backup - especially not in front of others. Just nod gravely.

Chances are you easily can make a short, honest and polite explanatory rejection statement based on the reply of your teacher, that you will (and should) not help in that case.

If someone cannot pass these simple questions, you certainly should refuse to get involved anyway (unless it's your significant other).


Added: what to do when I get asked to help with creating a backup? - "One moment, that's not a technical 'problem' to 'solve', right?"

Insist that is something she simply has to do and account for... see above: "What steps did you take so far?" - Unspoken message: it's very similar to "charging the device" - owner does it, owner accounts for it, owner has at least be willing to find out for herself how to do it, even the manufacturer is thinking it's a process any owner can perform.

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    I really like the backup idea. That is a legit, and truthful response. I mean the chances of anything happening where we would need to go back to a backup are super slim, but it is still a slight possibility (especially if we are deleting photos off the phone). My only concern would be if she asked for help to backup. – JBis Aug 4 '18 at 16:05
  • @JBis I see... added section at bottom. Have been there (being a computer scientist - and all my relatives seemed to think for a decade my studies are about installing software, changing printer cartridges and optimizing their scrappy machines). It was a lengthy process to disqualify myself for that kind of work ;) – jvb Aug 5 '18 at 12:44

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