Saturday, August 4, 2012

Photoshop Crash Course

My photoshop skills, visually summed up
I don't often write about my job at 〇〇 High School or my students, mostly out of courtesy for their privacy - it's not much fun to write a blog post without photos, after all, and it would be difficult to contact many of them for permission. Still, sometimes the oddest things happened to me at school.

This particular story, I'm going to leave out a lot of details - to this day, I've never known who, besides me, was aware of what was going on, and I would hate to embarrass the student in question. It's so far out there, though, that I can say hands-down it was the strangest thing to ever happen in my JET career.

Presentations were a pretty common thing in my classroom, as my students were all very smart, high-level kids. I encouraged a lot of creativity; I wanted them to think outside the box, something many Japanese high school students struggle with. Presentations - easy at first, in groups with roleplaying, and then working up to 3-minute solo speeches - were the venue I usually chose, to help them speak more easily by choosing topics important to them. Visuals were important, and I encouraged students to use the Internet to print out images for their presentations, or draw pictures.  

We were midway into yet another set of these presentations, where a student had to give their speech several times to a few different groups. They (I'd rather not specify 'he' or 'she'!) had put together a large number of visuals for the class to look at as they spoke, and was almost finished with the presentation while the class observed. As I looked on, with one of the partner teachers beside me, I did a double take at one of the images on display. "Hey um, that picture in the bottom left there, beside the pot of stew...doesn't that look like a maxi pad?"

She squinted, looked more carefully at the photo. "Uh...yes...I think so."

Nobody else said anything.

"Maybe they got it off the internet and just...didn't notice?"

"Not notice!? How?"

Neither, though, had anyone else - the kids were very ready to eat lunch, and probably weren't as attentive as they could have been. We were all in the A/V room, as well, which I think made the strange photo kind of difficult to see clearly - with the exception of myself and the other teacher at the front. With so many students in the room, everybody was sitting quite far back from where the presenter stood.

At lunch, myself and S rushed downstairs and I sat at the computer and Googled the student's topic. Sure enough, on page three of the image search, I see another two photos from the slide, and the questionable image of what appeared to us to be a pot of vegetables with a used maxi pad & tampon sitting nonchalantly beside. It was from some kind of art website. Looking at the full-sized picture up close, my companion said, "OK, I can't look at that anymore, I am seriously going to be sick. I know it's probably just red paint, but I will be sick."

Clearly, the student had just Googled the same search term I did, picked the first few images they saw and stuck them on without really "seeing" them. At first glance, the pad did look like a napkin or tablecloth or something, because you just don't expect something like that to be on the table beside a pot of soup!

We would have shrugged it off, except...the student had to give the presentation again the next day, and was so shy, we knew there was just no way they could have done it on purpose. If we'd pointed it out, they might have been mortified and refused to do their speech, or any speech, in front of this class ever again.

What on earth is one supposed to do in this situation? I couldn't bring myself to tell any of the other teachers - the more people who knew, the more embarrassing it was for the student. Telling the student would have been just as bad, but we couldn't let the presentation go ahead a second time with that photo in there.

So I...I opened up Photoshop.

I don't know much about Photoshop. You may have noticed that the photos on this blog are usually middling-quality, an equal reflection of both my poor-quality camera, lack of talent for image composition and amateur graphics skills. There's something to be said for adrenaline, though, because you'd better believe that I took that image, and I edited the pad out of it, and used copy-paste to replace the area with a tiny little swatch from the other side of the photo. Then I went to the student's homeroom, borrowed their materials to "have a quick look," replaced the offensive picture with the fixed version, and brought it back before the end of lunch.

In a smaller classroom the next day, the student delivered the presentation for the final time, to a smaller group of attentive classmates - myself and S standing on either side, watching nervously. When the edited photo came up, I just looked at S from across the room and she mouthed "oh my God."

We were in such close quarters now, compared to the A/V room, that you could see the tiniest imperfections in the photo where I hadn't quite blended two colours together, and the background was just a touch too smooth here and there. Only because I was looking, only because I knew where the Photoshopping was, and my attention was focused squarely on only that. If we had not changed it....

What would have happened? I really, honestly do not know.

I don't know if the student was ever aware I had altered the photo. They delivered with so much more confidence that time, smiling, with a voice was big enough to reach everyone. I think if they had actually known about the picture, trying to be naughty, they would have been nervous when we came in - wouldn't have needed to be a detective to figure out who was responsible, after all. I really think this student didn't notice that a single thing had changed between Wednesday and Thursday, and never knew that this bizarre image got in there. At times, since, I've wondered if I ought to have said something, but my reaction in retrospect was fairly Japanese - I just wanted to save face for this shy student. I'm not sure there was a "right thing" to do.

To this day, I still have no idea whose eyes might have caught onto the fact that the napkin by the soup bowl was, in fact, a sanitary napkin. Maybe nobody saw - maybe it was only me; maybe they were concentrating  too much on the English words to do more than just follow along. But if any of the students noticed, bless them; I don't think they said a single word.