Thursday, January 30, 2014

"From Classroom to Pump Room" Part 3: Teacher succeeds after a few failures!

If nothing else, I always fathomed myself an “idea” guy. I may not know how to get there, but I always have an idea. You may not believe this next part but I swear on my daughter it is true. I realized selling the cosmetics wasn’t going to happen. But, I had an idea. Let me assure you, I’m still on the failure part, this is just the next failure.

One of my frustrations as a teacher was contacting parents. I would send home the appropriate attendance forms, detailing dates of absences, tardies, missed assignments, and the like. But, and I knew this, the students got to the mail before their parents did!! I would call during my planning period, I would call the parent’s place of business, and rarely did I have much success contacting parents by the “school approved” methods. I got to thinking…what if there was a computerized dialer that actually worked? 
What if I put the numbers in and sent home a recording? I approached Lou with the idea and he immediately liked it. While these exact systems are widely used in schools today, once again, I swear, if I wasn’t the first person with the idea to use these machines in schools, I was among the first couple. One thing I knew for sure, I couldn’t go to my principal and sell him our phone computer, I was too ethical to sell him a piece of junk, and I knew, the school didn’t have an extra $5000.00 sitting around to be spent on, what at this time, was a crazy, but maybe workable, idea.

I figured, there has to be more of these phone dialers out there. I set out to find one that worked and Lou would find a computer programmer expert-type who could make them for us by figuring out how they worked. Sure enough, I found a company, I believe based in Kansas City, who manufactured and sold a board that was actually placed in an existing computer, hooked to a phone line, and worked by dialing numbers that were manually set, and delivering a pre-recorded message. It cost about $400.00 as I recall. Again, please accept my figures as fairly accurate. I never thought I would be writing about any of this, and it was many years ago.

Again, being an “idea guy” I wanted to test this machine, see if it worked, and see if I would have any success using it for the purpose of contacting parents. I had a very amicable assistant principal back then. I knew he thought I was an excellent teacher, and he trusted me. I went to him with my idea. He made the mistake of telling me the principal would be out of the building attending a conference or something, for the next week. I explained in more detail about my idea and how I would use it. All I needed was a computer, an office with a phone line, and his okay to just try it and see what happened. Son of a gun if he didn’t think it was a good idea and not only did he help me out, the office I used was the principal’s!!

I got an older computer that had the necessary amount of memory to support this board we, had purchased and talked the school tech support guy, Brad, into installing it. I then went to some of my friends with the idea. I asked them to give me the phone numbers of their twenty or so worst students. It came as no surprise that many of the names submitted were duplicated over and over. It also was coincidence that parent conferences were a few days away. Instead of recording a message regarding student attendance, I recorded one saying that, “your student has been identified as one who would benefit from parents attending the conference." Usually, these invites were sent home in the mail as part of a beginning of the year newsletter and students were asked to remind their parents as the times approached…yeah, right.
So, with no warning, I began entering phone numbers of the identified students, recorded the message inviting parents to the conference and eagerly awaited the results. The results were, to say the least, terrific. So I had the idea, now, could we either duplicate or mass produce a similar board and sell them to schools. I learned, again from Lou, about selling an idea. He was a master at selling ideas, and dreams, unfortunately.
He went so far as to have a "non-working prototype" produced and entered our business in a couple of educational conferences. We didn't sell one of our  machines, though we had a lot of interest in them. Looking back, it's a good thing we didn't sell any, since we didn't' actually have a working one to sell!

During this time, Lou leased us a small office. I wasn’t sure why, but it was cool telling people I had an office. Then he came to me and told me he needed to secure a line of credit and needed me to sign for a line of credit. I hesitated knowing this could be a stupid move, but becoming more and more desperate, I agreed. All was good for months. I trusted Lou and had no reason to believe he would go against his promise to never, ever use my credit. By now our daughter was born, he and his wife knew about her heart defect and I was certain he wouldn’t cause me any financial distress. I know you’re thinking, is this guy an idiot?…well not exactly, but close. One day I got a call from a bank telling me I owed $1500.00 on a line of credit. I was crushed. I went to the bank and found out Lou had in fact used some of my line of credit… stupid, stupid me. I also learned what check kiting was. I had never heard the term until the banker explained it to me.

So… for my effort during these couple of years I was a failure and duped out of $1500 by a “friend”. Shortly thereafter, we took a chance, assured by doctors that our first daughter’s heart was a one in thousand fluke, we had our second child, another daughter. The doctors were right; she was born with no health problems.

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