Monday, October 03, 2016

110 in the Shade (and in the City Classroom, Too)

Yesterday I played fiddle at Terrhune Orchards in Princeton, New Jersey. On guitar was Bob Harris, who spent years playing with late and legendary fiddler Vassar Clements. He told us stories of playing with Vassar in Houston on 110 degree days. He spoke of how Vassar, who used to think Nashville had the worst weather, changed his mind in Houston. We were lucky yesterday. For one thing, it was October. That helped a lot.

Now my heart goes out to musicians playing in hot weather. It's uncomfortable, and miserable, and it's hard for me to understand why even fans want to be out there watching music they love. But you have to respect people who brave miserable conditions to do their jobs. And I suppose a lot of you see where I'm going by now.

At my school, a lot of rooms are air-conditioned. That puts us in a better place than a lot of other schools, which simply are not. (Some administrations will say they just can't, that the electricity is limited, until Moskowitz comes in and air-conditions an entire floor.) The Department of Education, in its infinite wisdom, places no upper temperature limit on classrooms. So when my members email me about the miserable conditions they're suffering, my best bet is to ask them if they've got some medical condition that precludes their being in such a place. Can you get a doctor's note? Because then you're protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. And while pregnancy is not a disability, if your pregnancy causes some condition that makes it inadvisable to sit in a pressure cooker, you can find alternate placement.

I was in trailers for maybe 12 years. I feel like they're part of me. I strongly advise you not to trust anyone who tells you that tin is a good insulator. They are miserable when the AC is out. You really cannot be expected to accomplish anything in a tin box on a 90-degree day with no AC. To its credit, my administration will let you leave the trailer when it's particularly miserable, with no AC, no heat, a sheet of ice on the floor, a sheet of ice on the path to enter, or a flood outside. I'm confident other administrations can't be bothered with such trivialities.

In fact, newer DOE buildings are completely air-conditioned. That's a great idea, particularly because these new buildings haven't got windows you can actually open. Of course, sometimes the AC goes out in these buildings, and when it does the DOE just keeps them open anyway. After all, when the snow comes up to our noses, Carmen Fariña declares, "It's a beautiful day," and says that because Macy's is open, we should be too. What Fariña fails to consider, though, is that Macy's AC is maintained so that it does NOT go out on hot days. No one is going to walk into a miserably hot store to buy anything. And I'll bet you dimes to dollars that Fariña's office is air-conditioned, even as tens of thousands of city kids swelter in miserable classrooms.

This year, I'm in a computer room. It's a large room, with space enough that we can run a class, and the computers are along the perimeter. In fact, the room is so large that it has not one, but two air-conditioners. One has been broken since day one, and with our southern exposure, the room has been miserably hot most of the term. It's particularly awful in the afternoon. I think last Friday was remarkable for not being as uncomfortable as the rest of the year. I'm told the school has ordered a new AC for that room but that it hasn't come in yet.

I really looked for ways I could file an effective grievance. Thankfully, neither I nor my co-teacher suffer from any respiratory ailment. I thought perhaps there were regs for computers. I know that AC has been an addition to computer rooms for decades, even as we humans were told to sit and suffer. I can remember many times I've opted to go to computer rooms or language labs simply because I knew they were air-conditioned. I thought perhaps I could find some regulation in place to protect the computers but alas, I've come up empty so far.

Listen, if they're gonna judge us on student engagement, they ought not to place us in rooms where the natural inclination of sentient beings is to lie down and sleep until the heat passes. And if that argument isn't enough--how about this one? It's 2016. The city is obsessed with making students college and career-ready, and colleges and careers are now air-conditioned. That's a fact, Jack, and we're not preparing our students well by making them suffer in sub-standard conditions.

We, the United Federation of Teachers, opted to wait until 2020 to get paid for what our brother and sister unionists got back in 2009. Consequently, the city is sitting on a ton of cash we lent them interest-free. Why the hell not invest in making learning conditions not miserable for one-million kids?

How about that, Chancellor Fariña? What's more basic than that?
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