Saturday, August 08, 2020

Friday, August 07, 2020

Not As I Do

It's remarkable to turn on the TV and see people broadcasting from their home computers. More remarkable still is when they speak from isolation demanding we open school buildings. Though it's too risky for them to get off their butts and go to a TV station, though it's too dangerous for the interviewers to be in the same room with these authorities on education, it's okay for over a million kids to visit NYC school buildings. 

 In fact, in New York City, indoor dining is considered too dangerous, so New Yorkers may only eat outside of restaurants. The city, in fact, started a program to enable and expand this. They don't seem to have bothered preparing this much for school next year. We've got an outlandish program that proposes two teachers for every class, one online and one in person. Guess what? The city doesn't have enough teachers to accomplish that. 

We get hopeful letters from the chancellor, saying they care about our health and that of the students. This notwithstanding, it's simply inevitable that there will be new cases of Covid. And while we may have contained it for a while by being extremely careful, this particular experiment will move us precisely in the opposite direction. Eleven Kansas educators just went to a Branson educational retreat, and six came back infected. I'm pretty sure hotels in Branson are cleaner than NYC schools. 

Elsewhere, there are other disturbing developments. While it's comforting to entertain nonsense about how young people are at such low risk, a 7-year-old boy in Georgia with no complicating health issues just died of the virus. Does Mayor de Blasio or Governor Cuomo think that New Yorkers are somehow tougher, and therefore immune? What are they going to say after the first New York kid dies? It's the price of doing business?

I'm bone weary of hearing people say it's all about the kids, while ignoring not only the kids who get sick and die, but more pointedly, their teachers. If you think over a million kids are going to universally observe social distancing, I have a bridge to sell you. And while you're out blathering about the lazy teachers who don't want to do anything, Melissa Martinez, a San Antonio kindergarten teacher, has just died of Covid

So go ahead, talking head. Sit in your living room, broadcast from your laptop, and tell me and hundreds of thousands of my UFT brothers and sisters why we have to go into filthy, decrepit, neglected buildings. Tell us why we should trust Mayor Bill de Blasio to monitor infected schools when he plainly failed to do so last March. Tell us why he'll close schools as per his promise when he simply placed them in a bureaucratic purgatory last year. 

Tell us, Governor Cuomo, from your socially distanced, sparsely attended press conference, why young children and teenagers will obediently observe the conditions just as the governor of New York does. Go ahead, Atlantic editor, and find health care workers to ridicule vilify us, and make believe that we'll have PPE just like they have in hospitals. Pretend that unions didn't have to go to ridiculous lengths to secure PPE for hospital staff. Pretend schools are cleaned as hospitals are. 

While politicians and TV talking heads do their work from the comfort and safety of highly controlled environments, let's play pretend and hope for the best regarding New York City's 1.1 million students and 80,000 teachers, not to mention administrators, office staff and custodians. After all, we all know, "Children First" really means all the adults can drop dead.

And when that begins to really happen, what are you going to say, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and Chancellor Carranza? It's unfortunate? We had no way of knowing? We'll do better next time? History suggests otherwise.

I know what I'll say. I'll say you've yet to clean the blood on your hands from March, and now there's more.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

The Chancellor Sends Us Another Email

Dear Colleagues,
I hope you and yours are safe and healthy, and experiencing a bit of rest and relaxation this summer. You'd better get as much rest as you can now, because September's coming, and we have no idea what the hell is going to happen.
Last month, I wrote to you with information about our plan for blended learning in the fall. Today, I am writing to share details about some newly announced health and safety protocols, which we hope will work, but who knows? They didn't work anywhere else, but we think our way is the charm. Uncertainty is a constant during this pandemic, and our plans must be flexible enough to allow us to make excuses and weasel out of blame when they fail. But in all cases, your safety and the safety of our students and families would be the first priority—no matter what, if it weren't for my boss's reckless insistence on opening buildings.
We all experienced anxiety and alarm from the events of this pandemic starting back in March, as we failed to close public schools after having closed Broadway. Since then, we have been working diligently and in partnership with other city agencies to build on the lessons learned and prepare fully for a new school year. Last time we failed to follow our own rules and let Covid-infested buildings linger open for a long time. We are drawing on your feedback and on the best-available public health guidance to craft our plans for the fall. This is difficult, since we haven't asked what you want, but my magic 8-ball has gotten me this far.
Full details of the protocols are available on the DOE website. I also encourage you to read the plan we recently submitted to the State Department of Health, which Governor Cuomo says is an outline rather than a plan. Screw him. He doesn't pay my salary.

The major components of our health and safety planning include the following: 

·         Building Safety Measures: 
o   At all times, students and staff must wear face coverings protecting their nose and mouth while on school property or on DOE-provided transportation, unless students cannot medically tolerate a face covering or wearing the face covering is developmentally inappropriate. If other students repeatedly refuse to do so, we will remove them, maybe. How many times do they have to refuse? Well, you're likely as not infected after the first, so what's the dif?
o   School leadership and facilities staff in every school are reviewing school space and making necessary repairs and adjustments to ensure safe conditions. Sure, you've never had them before, but we're gonna try extra hard this time. TRUST us.
o   Schools will be cleaned throughout the day and disinfected each night, with special attention to high-touch areas. Sure your custodial staff is inadequate, we haven't replaced retiring staff in ten years, and they can't handle what they already need to do, but if you close your eyes, count to ten, and clap your hands, you won't see how filthy the building is.
o   School buildings will display signage on face coverings, hand washing and physical distancing.  We're hoping to get corporate signage so as to compensate for all the money we're gonna lose when the feds don't come through. 
o   Schools will be allowed to modify or reconfigure spaces to ensure compliance with physical distancing rules. By that we mean you may move desks.
o   As soon as we can think of other stuff, we'll let you know about that too. Or maybe not. Everyone loves a surprise!  
·         Test, Trace & Other Health Protocols:  
o   DOE recommends that all staff take a COVID-19 test in the days before the first day of school and monthly throughout the school year. But if you don't, what the hay?
o   If a student or teacher is feeling sick, they are required to stay home and, if their symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, are asked to get tested.  But if they don't, what the hay?
o   If a student begins experiencing symptoms in school, they will be isolated and monitored by a dedicated staff member until they are picked up by their parents or guardians. Good luck finding volunteers for this gig. But if they don't, what the hay?
o   Staff members who become symptomatic at school are asked to notify administration and immediately leave the building.  But if they don't, what the hay?
o   In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case in a school, NYC Test + Trace and NYC Health will investigate to determine close contacts within the school. We will then cover it up for weeks while we pretend to act on it, just like we did last year before you finally humiliated my boss sufficiently to close schools.  
o   If there's more than one case in a school, and it's not in the same classroom, we will devote double the time to pretending we're doing something about it, and we will really hope that it doesn't spread so much that we have to close. My boss really thinks if we can stretch this out his political career will recover. (Hey, what's the difference between Elvis and de Blasio? Elvis is alive.)
o   There will be a clear flow of information to facilitate fast action and prevent spread. A positive confirmed case will trigger an investigation by the NYC Test + Trace Corps and DOHMH to determine close contacts within the school. However, once we hear about it, we will have to check if very, very carefully, just like we did in March, and hopefully we can get through to June without actually doing anything about it.

·         Screening, Entry/Dismissal and Movement Protocols: To minimize the number of individuals who come in contact with each other, and to identify potentially sick students and staff to the greatest extent possible, schools will be required to dismiss students one at a time, beginning at nine AM. Every minute, another student will be dismissed, and schools will develop individual bell sounds for every student in the building. It is our firm hope that, with bells ringing every minute, no one will focus on COVID or the ridiculous nature of classes of ten all facing one direction unable to speak to one another.
As a reminder, full details of the protocols are available on the DOE website. I also encourage you to read the plan we recently submitted to the State Department of Health, because I know you have nothing better to do. Cuomo was right. The plans are so vague I don't understand them myself. Nonetheless, I'm certain I've made them sufficiently unappealing that none of you really want to take time out and read them.

Additionally, principals and educators can see newly-released detailed instructional guidance and sample school-day schedules on the InfoHub. We have a great program that's six classes a day five days a week in blatant violation of the UFT Contract. We're hoping no one notices, and then we'll double it, triple it, and quadruple it until you're all working around the clock and we finally have enough teachers for our impossible hybrid plan.
You have done an extraordinary job of rising to the challenge of this crisis, and our city owes you both a debt of gratitude and a rock-solid commitment to your health and safety as we move forward together. If it comes to layoffs, I will feel deeply down, depressed and doubtful. But hey, a chancellor's gotta do what a chancellor's gotta do. 

Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to devote valuable lip service to your feedback. I mean, it's not like we took a survey or anything, so your feedback is whatever the hell we say it is. Though we have an entire legal department devoted to depriving you of your contractual rights, though we failed to keep you safe last year, though many of you have gotten sick and died due to our gross negligence, we pledge to keep listening whenever we can't find a better alternative, to keep improving since we can't possibly do any worse, and to value your health and safety, and the health and safety of our students, above all else, even though we clearly failed to do that last year.  
In unity, 

Be a Role Model. Risk Your Life and Those of Your Students to Set an Example

You may or may not have noticed that I don't write about nursing here. I once had a girlfriend who was a nurse, though. Sometimes she'd bring me a stack of magazines and books and have me write a term paper for her. I got As on my nursing papers.

Still, you wouldn't want me as a nurse. I don't know nursing. This notwithstanding, The Atlantic had no problem having a nurse write a column on what educators ought to be doing during a raging pandemic.

My issues with this article begin with the title:

I’m a Nurse in New York. Teachers Should Do Their Jobs, Just Like I Did.

As far as I know, teachers in New York worked straight through April, May and June. Not only that, but we worked an entire week we were supposed to be off. You'd think someone writing an article about us would know that. I suppose being a nurse was her first qualification, or it wouldn't be right there in the title. Let's look at her second: husband, a public-school teacher in New York City...

I sat through a Presidential forum in Pittsburgh last year. Candidate after candidate was married to a public school teacher, had a mom who was a public school teacher, or knew a public school teacher. I'm sorry, but that does not make you an education expert. That's what you call an appeal to authority, and it's a logical fallacy. It's compounded by the fact that it's so indirect. Knowing someone, even intimately, does not suggest you are expert on their job.

I support teacher-led campaigns to make sure that safety measures are in place. And any city or state experiencing a spike in cases should keep schools shut, along with indoor businesses. What I don’t support is preemptively threatening “safety strikes,” as the American Federation of Teachers did in late July.

So there you have an  argument. The writer supports safety, and schools that don't provide it should be shut. However, you ought not to threaten to strike simply because schools appear unsafe. What ought you to do? Write a strongly worded letter? Hope for the best? In fact, there is no better reason to strike than for safety. There is nothing more fundamental or indispensable.

There then comes the tired "teachers are babysitters" argument:

What do teachers think will happen if working parents cannot send their children to school? Life as we know it simply will not go on.

This is problematic on multiple levels. While we certainly supervise children, that is not our primary function. It's our job to set examples and teach them. We don't set a particularly good example when we decline to stand up for safety. And perhaps the writer hasn't noticed, but pandemic life is not "life as we know it" by any standard.

More importantly, the writer fails to even consider the conditions under which students are returning to school. The fact is, in New York City, she won't even get the babysitting service she equates with "life as we know it." Students will be in buildings 20-50% of the time, and the rest of the time, I can only presume, will be life as we don't know it. Not only that, but the quality of education provided in person will be distinctly inferior to what we can provide with remote instruction.

The writer compares us to nurses and food service providers. She calls us essential workers. I guess this depends on what essential means. If it means people will die without our services, then we are not essential workers. If it means our services are very important, then we ought to provide them in the best way we can. At the moment, the very best was for us to provide services is remotely. The nurse hasn't considered that. She also does not appear to listen very well to her husband, whom she uses repeatedly to rationalize her position:

“I can’t think of one time that there was actually hand soap in the men’s bathroom,” my husband told me. That’ll have to change, hopefully for good. 

I don't know about the writer, but I learn from experience. With all due respect, I'd be an idiot to believe that NYC schools would suddenly be spotless, that custodians would finally have the resources of which they've been deprived for decades, or that Mayor de Blasio, who totally screwed up in March, will miraculously become competent in September.

In case those experiences aren't enough, school openings have proven disastrous thus far. Right off the top of my head come Israel, South Korea, Hong Kong, Beijing, and now Georgia. 

I love my doctor. She's smart and knowledgeable. I saw her a few weeks ago and she was dressed like a martian. She was wearing an N95 mask, a face shield, gloves, and an entire body covering. (No, teachers, you won't get that, nor will your students.) I asked her for an accommodation letter, and she said yes, certainly. She told me she wouldn't be coming in unless she absolutely had to. She said she was now teleconferencing, and if I didn't absolutely have to see her, I should avail myself of that service. I told her I would.

Of course you can't draw blood or do physical testing remotely. I'll tell you one thing, though--her office is spotlessly clean and so is her hospital. I wish her only the best.

Meanwhile, the chancellor of New York City schools has finally announced students without masks would be sent home from school. Of course, that won't happen until after they arrive unmasked, and potentially infect their teachers, classmates and families. Of course if younger children aren't "developmentally able," they get a pass, and maybe you get infected. And students won't get sent home until they "repeatedly" refuse. So how much infection, exactly, is it okay for students to spread? And why they hell shouldn't we not only threaten to strike, but also follow through, to protect our lives, our students' lives, and the lives of all our families?

Sorry, but "I'm a nurse and my husband is a teacher, so suck it up, risk your lives, those of your students, and those of all your families." is one of the very worst arguments I've ever heard.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Magical Co-Teachers

I finally understand the DOE plan to conduct remote learning. I'm hearing details, and now it makes total sense to me. There will be no more Miserable Mondays and Torture Tuesdays, so all schools will be six hours and fifty minutes.

This way, you'll be able to spend the first thirty minutes of each day meeting with your remote or in-person counterpart. You'll also get a thirty minute prep and the end of the day and you won't even need to be in the building for that.

There are other details I've heard, but I'm going to focus on just a few here. One, of course, is that if you happen to be in a building like mine, with multiple sessions, your day starts at 8 and ends at 2:50 already. I guess if you have a first period class, you spend the first thirty minutes of it coordinating with your co-teacher. Your students will just have to sit and wait, I guess.

Who is your co-teacher? Well, if you are teaching remotely, your co-teacher is the person who teaches the other ten students in the building. And if you are in the building, your co-teacher is the person who teaches the ten students who aren't online that day. Let's examine this concept just a little bit.

First of all, the person in the classroom will have several disadvantages. One is the state regulation that says all desks must face in the same direction so as to preclude droplets being orbited in the direction of students or the teacher. I mean, it's good that the people in that room will have less chance of contracting and spreading a deadly disease, but nonetheless it's gonna be tough to communicate when everyone is social distanced, no one can approach anyone, no one can see the teacher's face, and the teacher can't come to any student to check work or answer questions that require knowledge of anything that is not apparent. Students won't be writing on boards, or even in a chat window.

So there's that. There's the fact that teachers have different voices and styles and may cover different material without actually planning to. There's the fact that students may like your style better than mine, end up hating me, and may stubbornly refuse to learn from me, demanding to be with you. Granted, that may be a stretch. There's a bigger problem, the one de Blasio and Carranza have failed to face ever since they made up this program.

The main problem is this--if I'm scheduled to teach five classes, and a hundred of my colleagues are scheduled to do the same, that means my building has five hundred classes. If we're elementary teachers, we have one hundred classes. Under this plan, our high school now has one thousand classes, and our elementary has two hundred.

Each school, though, still has only one hundred teachers. Where are the other one hundred coming from? Are they going to drag in people from Tweed? Are they going to hire tons of new subs, and assume the subs are capable of teaching whatever to whomever with no training whatsoever? Are they going to put every ATR to work? Because if they do, and if no problems whatsoever ensue, we still won't have nearly enough teachers to cover this plan.

Maybe we shouldn't have spent fifty years without lowering class sizes after all. Maybe then we'd have leeway to deal with this emergency. As things stand, though, teachers cannot handle extra students and provide anything like the services students need under any scenario, let alone this one. Given their utter lack of planning since April,  I'm not at all surprised the city now wishes to rely on magical teachers who don't exist.

This notwithstanding, with no qualifications whatsoever, I could do the chancellor's job better than Richard Carranza simply because I believe in verifiable reality.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Dr. Fauci’s Experiment

On the evening of July 28th, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the American Federation of Teachers the following:

“You’re going to be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know.”

I was a little surprised by that. First of all, I frequently see Dr. Fauci compared to President Trump, portrayed as the relative voice of reason. He seems to be truthful to a fault, and frequently speaks the bad news the White House would be happier to deny. I can only suppose that’s why he made this statement as well.

I’m not at all sure, though, that teachers, students, and our families ought to be participating in this experiment. The stakes here are literally life and death, and I’m neither inclined nor honored to be a canary in a coal mine. I’ve lost friends to this virus. I have young colleagues who’ve spent weeks in the hospital. Even more of my colleagues have lost parents and other family. In fact, we’ve learned a lot about COVID 19 in a relatively short period of time, and we’ve learned it the hard way.

Of course there is still a lot we don’t know about the virus. It’s shocking, however, that any medical doctor, let alone Dr. Fauci, would suggest that the way to learn about it is to send Americans into schools and find out exactly how many of them get sick and die. While it’s true that this information might prove of value, we’ve already got 150,000 dead and millions more sick.

I’m not a doctor, and I won’t pretend to know much about disease. I do know, though, that doctors take an oath to first, do no harm. I’m baffled as to how sending tens of millions of Americans to schools to find out just how the virus spreads entails doing no harm.

Furthermore, we have a pretty good idea of what school openings can be like. In Israel, we now know that opening the schools prematurely was a disaster that brought about a resurgence of the Corona virus. In South Korea, a country that had managed to contain the virus much better than we had, they had to close schools within days of opening, after the virus spiked once again.  Hong Kong opened schools, but is now fighting a third wave of the virus.

Given these real examples, among others, it’s even harder to determine why Dr. Fauci might think this experiment is well-advised. It’s even more of a mystery why he’d announce such a thing to the AFT and expect it to be well-received. Hopefully he'll make up his mind to oppose it, and sooner rather than later.

On its surface, this statement sounds more like something from an old black and white horror movie than the words of one of the country’s most-respected physicians. This kind of experiment is not all that disturbing when it’s performed on a stolen corpse in some cold, dark castle during a violent thunderstorm. When we’re talking about America’s teachers and children, it takes on a different connotation altogether.

AFT members signed up to support children, not to be crash test dummies. We certainly didn’t sign up to use our students as such. Furthermore, the plans under which we go back are so poorly-thought-out that it’s doubtful our students will benefit educationally, let alone socially or emotionally.

I’m glad Dr. Fauci speaks the truth, and I’m glad he isn’t intimidated into misleading us about this pandemic. This notwithstanding, it’s simply unconscionable to perform life and death experiments with America’s teachers and students. I sincerely hope Dr. Fauci does everything in his power to get American to reconsider this experiment and advocate for a better plan.

Friday, July 31, 2020

NY Times Education Reporters Don't Read the NY Times

There were a few important stories yesterday. One is right in the NY Times, home of anti-union, anti-teacher ideologues posing as education reporters.

Waddya know, those goshdarn kids can carry the virus after all. Personally, I'm not sure why that was a secret to anyone. It certainly wasn't a secret to my students, many of whom wore masks and compulsively used hand sanitizer.

“But one takeaway from this is that we can’t assume that just because kids aren’t getting sick, or very sick, that they don’t have the virus.”

So no matter how many temperature tests you give, no matter how many asymptomatic students you have in your classroom, you really won't know who is and is not carrying the virus. But on the brighter side, you have this:

That measurement does not necessarily prove children are passing the virus to others. Still, the findings should influence the debate over reopening schools, several experts said.

So maybe they aren't contagious, and maybe you won't get sick, and maybe you won't pass it on to your more vulnerable family members. That's heartwarming, isn't it? Why don't I drink a bottle of scotch and get in the car for a drive. Maybe I won't kill anyone.

I guess that's why it's easy for Times reporters to stereotype us as unwilling to work under any circumstance. One of the great things about stories like that is the NY Post Editorial Board can simply reword them and hit us again. Sometimes you read about loony stories appearing somewhere, getting picked up by Fox, and then hitting more mainstream media. This time, it starts in the Times. Go figure. Let's support the kids and let the grownups all drop dead. Who really needs parents or grandparents anyway?

Here's another story Times reporters haven't read, in Politico. Evidently, school openings have not been working as a rule. It appears that where they did, it entailed a whole lot more planning and preparation than we've seen in the United States. In New York City, as the mayor and chancellor trip all over themselves producing increasingly desperate last-minute attempts to look less like bozos, it's extremely hard to trust their attempts at opening buildings.

Now here's something that's worth paying attention to:

Teacher unions have typically been involved in planning school reopenings in Europe, which is critical, since teachers are the most viable enforcers of new safety rules. “There's a great deal of trust in authorities because we know that we can always sit down and talk about things,” Dorte Lange of the Danish Union of Teachers said.

That's a novel thought. Instead of demonizing teachers for wanting to protect their lives, maybe we could, you know, work with them. Maybe teachers are a positive influence on students. Maybe teachers, by showing concern for their own lives, are modeling something worthwhile. My little dog jumps when he hears loud noises. He doesn't want to get hurt. I don't want him to get hurt, and I don't want children to get hurt either.

Hey, if NY Times reporters and Post editorial writers feel differently, that's on them. Maybe they'd be comfortable pushing their own children out of airplanes without parachutes. Of course, that would put them on par with dangerous criminals.

Make no mistake--that's exactly what they are.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

NY Times Trashes Unionized Teachers, Presents Barely Researched Nonsense as Fact

I'd like to say I was startled by this remarkably unresearched piece of reporting in the NY Times, but alas their agenda is plain to see. The NY Times, the paper of record, has decided to tell the world that unionized teachers a. do not want to go back into schools, and b. don't want to teach online either. The claim itself is pretty spectacular.

Unions are threatening to strike if classrooms reopen, but are also pushing to limit live remote teaching. Their demands will shape pandemic education.

Wow. Those teachers are so unreasonable. They don't want to do anything. This, in fact, is no different than recent claims made in the NY Post. Here's the difference--the Post, at least, ran it on the editorial page, while the Times runs it as a feature. While I don't like either story, at least the Post seems aware of what is and is not opinion.

How they come to conclusions is a little tougher to determine. It's certainly not based on verifiable fact. Perhaps the two (!) reporters on this piece came to an opinion and sought out to prove it. Perhaps they feel their case is valid. However, it isn't.

Let's look at their first assertion--that unions are threatening to strike. Here's what they say:

On Tuesday, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union raised the stakes dramatically by authorizing its local and state chapters to strike if their districts do not take sufficient precautions — such as requiring masks and updating ventilation systems — before reopening classrooms. Already, teachers’ unions have sued Florida’s governor over that state’s efforts to require schools to offer in-person instruction.

I'm not entirely sure that's anything so drastic. The fact is Florida is exploding in Corona virus. Deaths just spiked to a record high. The MAGA governor claims students are at less risk, so therefore teachers at more risk must go back. I'm puzzled at why a lawsuit against that is radical in any way.

As for the rest of the country, considering that school reopenings have failed as Corona surged in Israel, South Korea, Hong King, and Beijing, I'm curious as to why strikes to preserve lives and health of not only teachers and their families, but also students and their families, is extreme in any way. In fact I heard Randi Weingarten say that strikes would be utilized only if nothing else worked.

Let's look at the other half of the Times' assertion, which I'd color categorically untrue. The Times claims teachers want to limit online teaching. Their evidence is ridiculous, and they don't remotely understand what online teaching is.

Some critics see teachers’ unions as trying to have it both ways: reluctant to return to classrooms, but also resistant in some districts to providing a full day of remote school via tools like live video — the kind of interactive, online instruction that many parents say their children need after watching them flounder in the spring.

This is the kind of argument we regularly get from President Trump--people are saying this or that. Which people? Trump never says so, and neither does this pair of Times reporters. I used live video every day I taught, and so did most teachers I knew. There were issues with it, of course, but I see no evidence these reporters even know what they are.

Here are just a few things the Times reporters failed to consider:

We had no training and were told to just do this. This was not an easy thing for me, or for any teacher I know. Though I'm fond of technology, though my laptop and I are almost joined at the hip, I had never used Zoom or Google Classroom before. I was lucky to find a young teacher who gave me a crash course just before we left. Not everyone was so lucky. I have still not seen or heard anything about substantive training. While it was great the DOE provided for three days of it in March, the fact is that school administrators who provided it, for the most part, knew as little about it as I did.

We don't live in classrooms. Some teachers are simply unable to broadcast from home. We don't all live in 1950s TV show conditions. I know teachers who have disabled children who have violent tantrums. I know teachers who are homeless. The NY Times doesn't know teachers like these because they talk to "some critics" rather than real live teachers. An easy solution to this would be to provide real training and open school buildings to teachers (and students) who lack safe quiet places and/ or technology.

Online instruction is not simply going online. I don't give a lot of difficult homework. Mostly, I'll give exercises that take ten or fifteen minutes to do, and go over them in class. While students are writing them on the board to review, I'll walk around and check for completion. While these assignments don't make a high percentage of the overall grade, I'll give 100% for completion, 50 for partial, and zero for nothing. I can't walk around a virtual classroom checking work. I end up grading everything, and it's really time consuming. That's not to mention more substantial assignments, like essays, that come in all the time. I grade them as I see them, and it takes a lot longer than sitting with a stack of papers that I collected.

Furthermore, we are in touch with students via email on a regular basis. This goes well beyond school hours. We spend a whole lot more time chasing after students who don't show up or do work. While I'd be able to talk face to face quietly with a student in my classroom, or pull the student out in the hall during normal circumstances, I can't do that in a virtual classroom. Sometimes I can address students directly in the chat, but a whole lot of the neediest students aren't actually reading it. Which brings me to this--

No demands are made of students. The reporters at the Times fail to note that many students didn't show their faces online. They have no idea what it's like to call on a cute kitten avatar and get no response. The Times reporters, intent on vilifying unionized teachers, don't know that students are playing video games, sleeping, or doing whatever during class time. They don't understand that students were asked to "check in" rather than participate. That has to change for online instruction to improve.

I remain amazed at the shoddy, incurious reporting that passes for "all the news that's fit to print." It leads me to wonder--if the education reporting is this bad, how sloppy and misleading is the work on subjects with which I'm less familiar?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my new piece in Gotham Gazette about how Mayor de Blasio's reopening plan fails from not only the perspective of health, but that of pedagogy as well.

Monday, July 27, 2020

NY Times Education Reporter Eliza Shapiro Doesn't Know What Teachers Do

Every day I'm surprised. There's just never a bottom. A man can get up and say the most vulgar things you've ever heard and get elected President by every possible measure (except votes cast). That same man can then spend four years indulging in the most juvenile insults, outlandish conspiracy theories, and tell so many untruths it becomes impossible to count.

The NY Times, though, is something altogether different. They see things from a far more exalted plane than the rest of us, and come down from their pedestal every now and then to let us know important things we won't find in any other paper. For example, amidst a crushing pandemic, the Times is there with a vital story on how Americans are so threatened they need to turn second homes into primary homes. What an ordeal (and what a comedown from going to the Cape, or renting that chateau in the South of France).

NY Times education reporter Eliza Shapiro is focused on whether or not teachers are childcare providers. While it's true a lot of children spend their days with us, we simply are not. Our job is to support children and help with with education, not to watch them while mom and dad go to work. Our absence from school buildings doesn't help anyone, but the fact is we too have children, and we too have to worry about where they are and what they're doing.

We live in a country that doesn't much value childcare. When my daughter was very young, it was so expensive that it made a lot more sense for my wife to stay home than for us to pay for a service. It's also true that the people who do the actual work aren't compensated well. Instead, the companies or bosses who hire these people make the money. That's the American way, I suppose (and that's another issue altogether).

It's upsetting, nonetheless, to see this from someone who's ostensibly an authority on education:

This, of course, is an attack on our union. We are demonized because we have the will and ability to fight back. That's not a bad thing, Eliza Shapiro, and rather than attack us, you ought to work toward empowering these lower-paid workers of whom you speak. (As a matter of fact, Ms. Shapiro, and the NY TImes, UFT represents some childcare workers. You ought to know that.)

Furthermore, this tweet has the effect of pitting us against whatever other union reps childcare workers, which we are by no means attempting. By standing up for ourselves, you might think, we are somehow hurting others. That's preposterous. I'm bone weary of hearing such nonsense, and it's worse when it comes from a faux-authority like the NY Times.

Furthermore, it seems to endorse the argument put forth in the embedded tweet, that we ought not to argue we aren't childcare providers. This tweet takes the argument of one teacher boasting of her master's degree, and stereotypes all of us as suggesting we're superior because of our education level. As recently as yesterday I wrote that all jobs are important, and that less prestigious jobs are often more important in fundamental ways.

In the backyard behind mine there's a childcare facility. Before the apocalypse I'd see children playing there all the time. Often balls and toys would come over our fence. Every now and then they send some forlorn little kid to ask if she can go into the backyard and retrieve her ball, or doll, or whatever. Frequently they'd inadvertently pilfer my dog's toys and have the children play with them.

Okay, I'm not crazy about these people. I don't like seeing my dog's toys stolen. Beyond that, I don't think I'd want my kid to play with toys someone else's dog is using. Regardless, their job is not my job. It doesn't make me better than they are, even though I don't go around stealing doggie toys.

However, it doesn't make me worse either. I've watched for decades as media has vilified unionized teachers for the crime of devoting our lives to teaching America's children. The Times is right there with the Post and the News when it comes to attacking us and supporting blithering nonsense like Common Core and junk science evaluations for teachers.

I remember, decades ago, reading an outraged commentary in the Times about how teachers had a February break and it was tough for parents to find childcare. Evidently, no one had bothered to tell the Times reporter that the DOE was proposing not to have classes, but rather to force teachers to come in for PD that week. That was my first critical look at NY Times education reporting. I'd argue that both the News and the Post do better jobs of reporting city education, and by a wide margin. While the Times does great stories now and then, I don't look to them for regular coverage.

I'll agree on one thing--there is a child care crisis in this pandemic. I can tell simply by looking at the empty backyard behind my house. The answer, however, is not to put childcare workers at risk, and the answer isn't to put teachers at risk either.  The answer is something closer to have a government that's responsive to the needs of working people, rather than the whims of criminal demagogues.

However, there's something fundamentally unsettling about a reporter from the so-called paper of record not being able to differentiate between teachers and child care workers. That's beyond the pale.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Hybrid Model--Essential Work or Political Hackery?

I’m vain. I think my subject, English as a new language, is the most important my students have. As such, I want them to understand structure. Teaching grammar, though, bores my kids to death. I have to find a better way.

One of the things that makes me crazy its the use of the present tense. When one of my students says, “She go to the store,” it makes me want to jump out a window. I’ll feign a heart attack or something to draw attention to my displeasure. I look for novel ways to practice this structure. One activity is a game that replicates an old TV show called What’s My Line. Students pretend to have one job or another, and we practice asking questions to figure out what it is.

Do you work in an office?
Do you need any special diplomas?
Do you work outside?

These are all good questions. I point out others that might guide their yes/ not questions toward an educated guess:

Who works in an office?
Who needs a diploma?

There’s one question I get that I object to, though.

Is your job important?

Grammar isn’t everything. I try to show students that all jobs are important. When I was their age, I worked as a dishwasher. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty essential to have my dish washed before I eat off it. I’d argue, in fact, that some of the jobs that have the most prestige are ones we’d miss least.

For example, as a teacher, don’t show up to work, and there will be a direct effect on students. If the chancellor takes a sick day, they won’t notice the difference. While every job is important, it’s often those with the least prestige that affect us the most. Who should spend a week in Tahiti right now—your lawyer or the guy who collects your garbage?

We talk a lot about who essential workers are. Are teachers essential workers? Perhaps not in the sense of how it’s generally used, but education is indispensable. We didn’t just throw up our hands and give up last March, and we need to figure out the best way to deliver instruction in September.

There were a lot of things we could’ve done better. For example, had the mayor closed the schools when Broadway went dark, we could’ve spent a week or two preparing for remote instruction (and spread less disease). Instead, we  had three days in which we were supposed to be trained by administrators who’d never tried remote learning before. They did exactly as well as expected.

We now have tens of thousands of teachers with experience in remote learning. Some are better than others. I’m in the middle somewhere. A first-year teacher I know is much better at it. He knows how to give assessments via Google Classroom, and how to break students into groups on Zoom. In fact, there are programs that specifically monitor testing. Colleges use them, but I’ve thus far heard nothing about DOE picking them up.

Meanwhile, the city is prepping for “hybrid” learning, some online and some in person. Basically, you get in person instruction somewhere between 20 and 50% of the time, depending on how overcrowded your school happens to be. I have no idea how that’s remotely equitable, but I don’t work at Tweed. Doubtless someone over there will poop out an impressive-sounding rationale.

Even when they do, there are bigger problems. If teachers serve students on an alternating basis, who serves them on their off days? Also, how exactly do they expect classroom routine to be productive with everyone social distanced and masked? There’s no group work, no pair work, and the teacher can’t even approach the students to check their work.

As it happens, they could do all those things remotely.

It behooves us to give our students the best instruction we can. With this virus threatening their very survival, not to mention that of their families, it’s very hard to see how a hybrid model has advantages over a remote model.

If anyone without a MAGA agenda can argue otherwise, I'm all ears.