Amparo Bertram (spacealien_vamp) wrote,
Amparo Bertram

Boring day blues

This week at the professional development center we finished up the last of our pest identification classes. The way these classes are designed, the instructor lectures with PowerPoint for a while and then gives us several hours to look at our samples under microscopes. Last Friday, when we were doing caterpillars, we had the entire eight hour day scheduled with nothing but examining samples. This Wednesday we had six free hours for beetles, and then another several hours for beetle larvae on Thursday.

Considering that we don't have to memorize the samples, we just have to be able to identify them by comparing them with diagrams and descriptions in our books, it doesn't take that long. In fact, I got through the samples by looking at them once, and I was done, with hours to go before we could leave at the end of the day. No problem, though, I just pulled out one of my novels and sat there reading for the duration.

That is, until Thursday morning, when the instructor dropped this bombshell on us: "On CBP time, you can only read CBP-approved material." We are apparently not allowed to bring in reading material of any kind (not just novels but also things like newspapers) to fill our time during class when we have nothing else to do. Our fourth week into the course, and this is the first time anyone has said such a thing. We are also not allowed to listen to music because wearing earphones is a violation of the uniform code. We can't put our heads down and sleep, either; we were warned that students have been fired for sleeping during class time before. By that point, I was so annoyed that I burst out, "Well, how about staring blankly off into space, is that still allowed?"

After that, the instructor felt guilty and went to fetch a collection of CBP-approved material for us to read. This included the official CBP magazine, entomology books, a couple history/culture-related books, and the muster binder. (This is a binder filled with printouts of reports detailing various smuggling methods that have been uncovered and lists of wanted fugitives.) I grabbed a book called Understanding Arabs, which was interesting enough. I finished it by Friday, though. I hope the remainder of our classes don't have so much dead time, because entomology texts are not my idea of a compelling read.

Another incident this week is that one member of the class flunked out. This happens by scoring lower than 80% on both a test and a retest. The tests are so mind-numbingly easy that I didn't believe it at first when I heard the news.

But then, I'm also surprised when other members of the class fail to notice study methods that would make their lives sooo much less stressful. For example, with the beetles, they tell us what the host of each beetle is. This information will be given on the test. Though we have 30 beetles to identify, there may only be 4 beetles that are found on wood, for example. Thus, once you know that it's a wood beetle, you only have to choose among 4 possibilities, of which only two actually resemble each other (with differently shaped antennae to tell them apart). What amazed me was that some people in the class didn't think to check the host before trying to identify the beetle. Well, sure, it's going to be hard if you're picking one out of 30 when you could be picking one out of 4. Whenever someone asked me for study advice, "Check the host first!" is what I answered. It seems blindingly obvious to me, but I guess people miss things when they stress out.

And, I imagine, this is why they give us so much dead time during class. If everyone studied the most efficient way, we could cut out all that time and go home a week earlier. <sigh>

Friday we had our practical lessons on pest interception. The instructor brought in knives and cutting boards for each of us and supplied us with a number of produce items purchased from a local organic grocery store. We had to cut open the various fruits and vegetables (and flowers) and examine them for pests. They even supplied us with several pumpkins for us to "check for pests" by carving faces into them. ^_^ The people in my row decorated our pumpkin with various pieces of the vegetables we were examining to make the pumpkin look like a beetle. Once that was put on display, bunches of the other instructors in the facility came in to snap pictures of it.

Friday night I was invited to attend a Halloween party that one of my classmates was throwing. I baked ginger cookies and brought them. It turned out to be the most sedate Halloween party I've ever attended. When I walked in, everyone was sitting around just staring at each other. It took considerable effort to get some conversation going; there were no games or music or anything planned. Once people got to talking, it went okay. If I had known it would be so low-key, though, I probably would have skipped it to go raiding with my Warcraft guild instead. They had fun killing Illidan (final boss of Black Temple) for the first time.

Another issue that cropped up this week is that my roommate told me she expects her brother and boyfriend to come visit for a week. She expects they will be very noisy, so she requested to move to a single room. However, the manager told her that if she moved to a single room, then I would have to move to a single room as well. Single rooms don't have ovens in their kitchens. I said flat out that I didn't want to move because I didn't want to lose my kitchen. I suggested that she see if one of the other women in single rooms would switch with her, but apparently they don't want to go to the trouble of moving all their accumulated stuff. (If she had asked earlier, like when we first moved in, someone would likely have agreed.) I don't know how this is going to turn out. I don't mind if she has visitors, I just hope they don't have wild parties until the wee hours every night.

Next week we will be moving on to the "regulatory decision making" portion of the course. There will be lessons on such things as smuggling, ag bioterrorism, and quality assurance. We are going to move out of our current classroom (which is a lab) to a more standard classroom. We will also be closer to wearing our official uniforms. We had them all delivered over a week ago, but half the class had to return items that didn't fit properly. We have to wait until everyone has enough parts of the uniform to wear before we can switch over. The replacement pieces are starting to trickle in, so it won't be long now.
Tags: cbp maryland training
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