I was frantically called on the phone by a teacher at one of the schools a couple of years ago. She said that something was terribly wrong with all of the computers in her computer lab. When I asked her what the problem was, she said, "All of the screens are backward!"
"What do you mean 'backward'?" I asked.
"I don't know!" she said. "They're all backward!"
I couldn't get any more intelligently out of her, so I told her I'd get to her lab as quickly as I could. About ten minutes later I walked over to the computer lab at the school. I walked in and immediately laughed. The screens weren't backward. They were upside down. Some students had gone into the graphics properties on the computers and rotated the display on every one of them 180 degrees. The displays were upside down.
And the teacher's solution: she had turned all of the monitors upside down so that the displays would be correct. The monitors were rolling back and forth on top of their curved tops with the stands flailing back and forth in the air. And kids were sitting in chairs trying to type on these monitors.
"What are you laughing about?" the frazzled teacher laughed. "Do you see what I mean? They're BACKWARD!"
"I'm sorry I laughed," I said sincerely. "It's just that...well..you have the monitors upside down!"
"What else was I supposed to do?" she yelled at me. "I have classes to teach!"
"You're right," I said. "I'm sorry. And you did what you had to do to get back to teaching. I think it's great that you found a solution. Here," I said, pointing her to one of the computers where no student was sitting, "let me show you what's wrong." I got on the computer and showed her how to rotate the monitor's display.
"Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "That's so easy! How did you know how to do that?"
I shrugged and smiled. "It's what they pay me for. I can help you get the rest of these fixed if you'd like."
"No, no, no," she said. "I can do the rest of these! I'm just glad you came over. How do you think something like this could have happened?"
I glanced over at the students. Two boys in the corner were trying hard to stifle their laughter. They weren't very successful. "I don't know," I told her. "It could be several things. My guess is that there was some kind of update to the graphics card that was downloaded automatically last night and that might have done something. I wouldn't worry about it. You know how to fix it, and unless it keeps happening," I said as I raised my eyebrows and shot a meaningful glance at the two boys, "I wouldn't spend too much time on it."
"Well, thanks again!" she said, and I thanked HER for being willing to rotate the other monitors herself, and I went out the door.
Why didn't I call out the kids for what they did? Technically, they were vandalizing the equipment. They had violated the "Acceptable Use Policy" that they had signed. They could have been given discipline ranging from detention to a ban from computers for the rest of the year. Why didn't I give them the punishment they'd earned?
The answer is simple: when I was a student, I would have done the same thing.