Saturday, April 04, 2020

Today's Message to Staff--One Day at a Time

It's pretty hard to take things one day at a time, actually. Yesterday Mayor de Blasio, in his infinite wisdom, withdrew the two previously agreed upon Christian/ Jewish holidays from us and our students. In return for having taken seven days from us, he placed four days in our CAR.

Perhaps that makes sense in Common Core math, but on this astral plane it's ridiculous. Michael Mulgrew is outraged, and I know that because UFT twitter is posting angry tweets from outraged teachers and others. I have never seen that before.

UFT will demand monetary compensation for us, and if we don't get it we will go to court. Of course, courts are not currently open, so that will have to wait

I myself had some choice words for the mayor, and to this day I cannot get over his having closed Broadway while leaving the schools open. So much for the equity the DOE is always blathering on about.

The chancellor wrote us an email, and I answered him too. While there were serious issues with Zoom, removing it from us with no notice whatsoever left many of us, yours truly included, up the creek without even a virtual paddle.

I urge you to be strong. Even as the city pelts us with veritable garbage there are many worse off than we are. Stay strong. We will not let Mayor de Blasio forget this, his legacy of failure, insensitivity and indifference to not only UFT, but also to the 1.1 million children and their families, the people we serve.

Best regards,

Arthur

I Answer the Chancellor's Letter to Staff

Dear Mr. Chancellor:

I cannot find words to express my disappointment. It is outrageous that anyone would do this concurrently with pulling Zoom as a tool. While there are good reasons to have done that, doing it concurrently with the loss of what few days we had to regroup is nothing less than an outrage.

I was taught how to use Zoom on the last day of our last week. I have no idea how I'm going to teach on Monday. I expect no support whatsoever from DOE, and I'm sure that's what I'll receive. In fact, in the unlikely event the DOE could help at all, I wouldn't cooperate. I'm no longer working weekends for people who sent me, my members, and my students into the most overcrowded school in New York City during a pandemic in which the city determined it was too risky to open Broadway theaters.

I hear a lot of talk from DOE about equity. How on earth is it equitable that people who pay $800 for a seat to Hamilton are too fragile to interact with one another, but 1.1 million NYC students, not to mention 100,000 UFT members, can interact freely in buildings well over 200% capacity?

I'll just add that I've seen you speak on multiple occasions, and what I liked best was your respect and empathy for teachers. When my union got 108,000 signatures on a petition asking the Mayor to show us the same consideration he had for well-heeled theatergoers, you asked for 108, 000 signatures from epidemiologists.

That suggested to me that not only our feelings, but also our health and very lives were not very important to you. That broke my heart right there.

Very sincerely,

Arthur Goldstein, ESL teacher, UFT chapter leader
Francis Lewis High School

Friday, April 03, 2020

Save the Rich, Screw the Kids, Screw the Teachers, Says NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

That's what Bill de Blasio decided a few weeks back. Rich people were important, but a million kids and a hundred thousand UFT members could all drop dead as far as he was concerned. Alas, Bill de Blasio does not learn from his mistakes, and tonight he's told 1.1 million kids, UFT and CSA, already working ourselves dizzy,  that we can all go to hell.

Passover? Too bad for you, says Bill De Blasio. Holy Thursday? Forget it. Good Friday? It's the same as the Bad Easter Break Cuomo confiscated last week. What do NYC kids get for this? Nothing whatsoever. What do UFT members get? Four days in their CAR, to use or not as they see fit.

For Bill de Blasio, taking seven days and giving back four seems like a fair deal. Now I don't like to brag, but I happen to be a high school graduate. While I don't particularly pride myself on my math skills, last time I looked, four does not quite equal seven. While Bill de Blasio appears to have mastered Common Core math, it's outrageous that he pretends to be progressive and has nothing but contempt for working people already under incredible pressure.

The United Federation of Teachers will be taking his scraggly hypocritical ass to court if he doesn't pay our due. He gets a little time to wait for that. However, he won't fare very well in the court of public opinion, open even as we speak. He's the one who hemmed and hawed and left a million children in filthy, neglected overcrowded schools, and crumbling trailers way past their due date.

Here's what I know about Bill de Blasio--he prides himself on his pre-K programs, but even as he worked on them, he neglected the public schools to a point I found incredible. In fact, under Bloomberg the enrollment in my school had gone down by 10-15%. We had an agreement with the DOE. When he became mayor, our deal fell apart and our enrollment went right back where it was.

I sat on the UFT negotiating committee where one of de Blasio's thugs told me flat out that they couldn't care less about class sizes. How does a mayor who claims to care about children allow his subordinates to spout such things? He left Bloomberg's people in place and left us a hostile DOE.

Bill de Blasio has not got the remotest notion what we are doing remotely. We had to redo our entire profession in a matter of days. I'm still feeling my way around, and I've got more experience than most. At a time of enormous stress for us, after Cuomo ripped a week away from students and teachers, de Blasio decided to make things even worse.

I'm Bill de Blasio and I can do what I want. That's a pretty juvenile attitude. I would not have survived as a teacher if I took such an approach. I listen to kids. I show them respect. I let them know they're important. Bill de Blasio just told 1.1 million students that he couldn't care less about them.

Someone told me today that de Blasio was the worst mayor ever. I said that Giuliani and Bloomberg would give him a run for his money. I take that back. He's giving them a run for their money, all while pretending to be a champion for the people.

I have never seen such abject indifference to public schoolchildren, not even from Michael Bloomberg. There is no defense for Bill de Blasio.

It's no wonder that failed mayor Bill de Blasio, desperate for attention, decided to spend half of last year out of state in a vain effort for recognition. My dog wasn't even running, and still managed to achieve primary numbers equal to de Blasio's. The mayor is term-limited, and he has nowhere to go but down. Maybe he'll have to get a real job, without chauffeurs to drive him to gala luncheons. He's as aimless and incoherent as Donald J. Trump.

I hope to see him making copies at Kinko's next year.

Better Than Nothing

 I've never done online instruction before. I've been trying different things almost every day, kind of throwing darts to see what sticks.

The lesson I spent the most time on was a song called Morning Has Broken. I really love that song. My goal was to get students to love it too. The first time I taught it, it fell flat. The vocabulary was a little rugged for my newcomers.

But I got a chance to do it again. The second time, I reviewed the vocabulary a second time and spent more time on it. It wasn't the best lesson I'd ever delivered, but my students were a little more engaged. Maybe I leaned on the more eager participants a little too much, in an effort to not bomb twice in a row.

 This week I'm moving back toward things I'd use in my physical classroom, and by next week I'll be giving more at-home assignments. I'll try not to give them more than 15 minutes worth per class. I hear they are overworked.

When I'm in a classroom, I'm always looking around to see who's listening and who's lost in space. If a students head goes down, my voice might get remarkably loud as I'm walking past that particular student. In the virtual classroom, students are largely hidden behind avatars. I have no way of knowing whether they're paying attention, and no way of checking. Sometimes I call on students and they don't answer. Are they asleep? Are they even in the room? It's anybody's guess.

Then there are the kids who've disappeared. Some of them I may have expected. I have one who suffers from depression, and this has clearly hurt. I have one who cut a lot in the fall, but had seemed to turn over a new leaf. I'll be calling his home around 8 AM. Another is one of my favorite students. I had a teacher who speaks her language call, and waddya know? The number we have is no good. Both of them have shown up once each. Still, who really knows what they're going through? How can anyone fail in this circumstance? There should be a no credit option as worst possible scenario.

The day they closed the schools I had a test planned. In our school, you see, different departments have different test days. Mine are Mondays and Wednesdays. My class had an outside visitor on several Mondays and Wednesdays, and I just couldn't fit it in. Now it's three weeks later. If I give a test, I'm going to have to trust that the students I don't see aren't checking their notebooks or online having someone who knows better do it for them.

This is a tough thing for me to accept, particularly because I've given up assigning writing tasks at home for years now. It's just too frustrating to receive work that my ELLs clearly did not do. One year a student handed me four extra credit reports I hadn't requested. One of them was about the delights of reading Shakespeare, and the student was failing my class because she had abysmal test grades and barely did homework at all. Sometimes kids think you can't tell the difference between and English learner and the work of some hack writer on the internet.

Actually that's the distinct minority of students I've had, fewer than 5% of writing assignments. (Homework is another thing altogether.) With the world falling to pieces around me, I'm still concerned about students cheating. Maybe I should forget it, let them cheat, and move on to worrying about something that really matters. I'm still chapter leader, for example, and my CL workload has exploded. The volume of email alone is staggering.

I'm at home, but I'm no less busy than when I was going to work. When you're at home you don't keep regular hours. I'm not off at three o' clock. Time marches on and I'm still here. What am I gonna do--go home?

One thing really stands out to me--It's very clear that online instruction is a band-aid.  The best I can say about it is it's better than nothing. We're doing it because we have no choice. Anyone who'd choose this is either a morally bankrupt opportunist soaking up cash or a fool. I'm certain some reformy genius will be waving a banner after this, saying you see? Students don't actually have to attend classes. No one has to show up. They can just sit on their computers at home while the state sends me money.

In fact, that's not even a new thing. There are cyber charters all over. I've even seen them advertised on TV. They have a terrible reputation and the only thing they do well is soak up cash. They should be forced to utilize this motto:

We guarantee our product to be better than nothing.

Short of lying outright, there's no way it could be advertised otherwise.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

UFT Virtual Town Hall Report

By special guest blogger
 Mindy Rosier-Rayburn


For those of you who were unable to get on the UFT call on Wednesday afternoon, here's the skinny...

Cuomo made the executive decision to cancel spring break. We can't fight it. Cuomo has the final word. The UFT is not happy about this but we are working with the DOE in terms of compensation. Whether it's days back to us when we return to school, or getting extra pay, the Chancellor understands that we need some kind of compensation package. This is currently being negotiated. The UFT is also pushing for a different kind of week for the kids. Instead of lessons, maybe we'll be able to do more art, go on virtual tours, or something else. This is also being negotiated. Stay tuned....

Parents are saying that we are giving too much work and they want us to scale it back a bit. In response to this feedback, there are current conversations going on about this with the DOE.

Teachers have been voicing concerns regarding the safety of their school buildings. On the call, a teacher insisted that her school building was not disinfected before we returned for those three days. I'm sure her building was NOT alone. Mulgrew emphatically stated that they are going to make sure all procedures needed to make our buildings safe will be done by the time we go back, whenever that shall be. Everyone's keeping an eye on the coronavirus.  It'll probably get worse before it gets better and we need to be patient for a return date. 

Since we will probably be doing remote teaching longer than originally planned, conversations are starting to happen regarding student grading. Regents, labs, & graduation conversations are also taking place. Graduation celebrations are up in the air. Hopefully we'll be able to make it up to our students if graduation has to be canceled. 

The DOE wanted to skip tenure this year. UFT completely disagrees and we are taking it to the state. 

Student attendance guidance will be coming out in a few days. Mulgrew says the DOE should be involved in reaching out to families of children not  engaging. We are already doing so much. It's time for them to actually help out. For staff attendance, staff will receive an e-form on Fridays to check off their own attendance. 

Observations are currently up in the air. There are conversations ongoing about that too. 

All related services providers will be finally be receiving clear language guidance soon including clarification when it comes to live video sessions. 

For those of you concerned about meeting the requirements for your certification, the state has extended the deadlines. That information should be mailed out soon.

Mulgrew informed us that books will be sent to homeless children via a partnership. This is truly amazing and heartwarming! A D75 art teacher on the call, recommended art supplies to be sent to our students. Mulgrew thought this was a great idea and will look into it. Personally, I believe this is a fantastic idea as well. 

Summer vacation was NOT canceled. A false rumor going around. It is April Fools Day. 

Finally, it was acknowledged that we are doing more work now then when we were in school. Mulgrew continually praised us throughout this call and he feels the DOE needs to recognize all of this as well. We turned the largest school system into virtual teaching system without training in a matter of days!!! We will be remembered for stepping up like we did. 

Remember, self-care is key!!!

Everything is fluid, please be patient....

A Brief But Important Note

Mulgrew just told the Town Hall that he will be negotiating compensation for Easter Week with the chancellor. Could be days, money, or something, but it will be negotiated. We will NOT be working just for fun.

Letter to Staff on Easter/ Passover Break

Dear colleagues:

This last week or two has gone by in a blur for me. Without actually leaving my home and going to work, it feels like one day just blends into another. Last night I was thinking about someone at the union who told me we were going to fight Cuomo on the rollback of Easter/ Passover break. It felt a world away but I’d only heard it 24 hours earlier.

It’s not easy for me to find words now, and I usually have them bubbling around everywhere. Here’s the thing—like you, I’ve been working around the clock trying to manage these online classes I’m giving. Like you, I’m on a pretty steep learning curve. We’re not the first to do this. There are a whole lot of cyber charter schools, and they are terrible. Bill Gates did an online program at a city school and it bombed, The students walked out in protest. Yet here we are trying to do this thing with virtually no prep whatsoever.

And now, while we’re already under all this pressure, we learn that our much-needed break has been pulled out from under us by Governor Cuomo. Cuomo looks like a big hero on TV, as he’s evidently a grownup who’s not insane. (Our standards for heroes have dropped since we were kids.)  It’s hard for me to see him like that. One of the reasons there are not enough hospital beds is that Cuomo has been closing hospitals for ten years. He’s also about to turn down almost seven billion dollars in Medicaid funding and talking cuts to education as opposed to taxing the New Yorkers who could best afford it.

Cuomo is responsible for our cumbersome and much-dreaded evaluation system. So forgive me if he’s your hero. He’s certainly not mine. That said, the legislature gave him sweeping powers earlier this month to deal with this emergency. While he hasn’t declared martial law (just yet), he can indeed force us to work during a break.

Personally, I think it’s a bad idea. I also think it’s likely as not that many students will take the break regardless. As a parent, I think it’s healthy for kids to have time off. And yes, just like you, I could use a little time off myself.

Our alternative is to take the governor to court, I suppose, and challenge him. What would that look like?

Every day I walk my little dog on the Nautical Mile here in Freeport. All the seasonal restaurants that would be opening right now remain shut and dark. All the restaurants that open year-round are shut down too. People who work in those restaurants are home. And unlike us, they aren’t collecting paychecks. Service industry employees all around the country have no work and no income.

Nurses and doctors, on the other hand, are pretty busy. They’re working 16-hour shifts. Police are busy too. In a pandemic, people are still out collecting our garbage. All of these people are at high risk for contracting the virus. That’s not to say we aren’t, having lingered way too long in the most overcrowded school building in New York City. On the brighter side, it’s going on two weeks since we left, and if you haven’t got symptoms by now, you probably won’t get any.

Considering all the people out of work and all the people stretched so far trying to keep the rest of us safe, I don’t think we’d garner much public sympathy taking the governor to court over a demand for a paid week off. Even parents like me, who believe the breaks are beneficial, who cursed the teachers who made my daughter do tedious projects on her ostensibly free week might not identify with people demanding a week off in a time of crisis.

You’re free to disagree, and I absolutely understand if you do. Feel free to reach out and do so right now, if you wish. I’m very sorry this happened. It was certainly not my decision.

But if we’re going to draw a line in the sand, this is not it. And make no mistake, with a national economic crisis looming, there are further challenges coming down the pike. Let’s stay strong and fight where it counts.

Best regards,

Arthur

Monday, March 30, 2020

UFT Executive Board March 30, 2020 (via phone) Andrew Cuomo Wants Teachers and Students to Work Through Easter Break

5:50 Roll Call

6 PM Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.

Minutes—approved via email.

Michael Mulgrew, UFT President
—Update on DOE—Trying to finalize attendance policy for students and teachers, hoping within two days.

Worked hard for related service providers, reversed mandate for tele therapy. Some members wish to continue. Sometimes parents have posted therapy sessions, FERPA violation. They need language that parents will not do this. Will be clarification, may take 5-10 days with difficult supervisors. Working to make it available by phone.

State
—budget will be done in 24 hours, were looking at tens of thousands of layoffs, but there is fed money for state for education. When we get through crisis, first thing people will look at is schools and getting kids back in regular routine. We will play a vital role, but this is unprecedented. Social and emotional toll on all, will be ramifications. We will deal. We don’t want to deal with people having jobs threatened. Challenge because economy has been decimated.

Imminent threat on everyone. Must plan for when we do get out of it, and build a safety bubble around ed. We think fed. money will keep us from losing people. We have a lifeline for the next few months, but will need something bigger and stronger. Ed. plays vital role at all times.

Our nurses are beyond heroes, visiting nurses, NYU, SI, incredible what they’re dealing with. We’ve sent food out for them, least we can do.

Federal—package went through, no more talk of back to business on easter.

In NY, people must stay home for next two weeks. Police will crack down because this time is vital if we wish to end it. NYSUT believes governor saying since he waived 180 days that schools should work through Easter/ Passover break. NYC schools working at high level in stressful situation, ought not to be part of this.

Recommended amount of work? What you deem appropriate for your students. We have district plans and members working with one another. Teachers are figuring it out. Have spoken with members who gave too much work. Trying to figure out what’s appropriate.

Remote learning plan is very simple form. Most -repopulated.

How do we protect RSPs (related service providers) from being taped? Covered it and got state law changed. Now therapy can be done with phones. We will form training groups for RSPs. No one has enough training. Amazing we are getting work done. DOE didn’t offer real training.

State assessments suspended—if regents canceled how will it impact teachers? Will discuss with SED and let you know.

There is no agreement on how to do remote observations. We are working on it. I don’t think principals even understand it.

No online platform movement. Grading policy should be a school discussion. Whole school attendance is child interacting with school, not only class. Students who need extra support now—we’re doing better than most school systems around state. Some just send paperwork home.

We see good practices for whole school, while teachers take attendance in only their classes. We have to find students who don’t interact at all. Those may not be promoted or get credit. We need to find and help those students, especially those who need services.

Payroll secretaries now have home access. They are vitally important.

Teacher attendance should be simple. Some DOE people make things too complicated. Let’s focus on getting our jobs done.

How many UFT members tested positive?—Couldn’t guess at this point. Will say they are expecting a 40-50% positive rate in NYC, but many have had it and don’t know it. Will be an antibody test, and that will be pivotal. We will make sure when schools open that DOE and DOH may not sabotage their own process.

When we were going to court on Monday to close schools Mayor closed them. We may have stayed open another week. DOH failed to follow own process. We will take action before we return to make sure DOH and mayor’s office understand this is not a game. If there is an order, schools close. That’s it. We will take action before schools open.

Mayor said he wanted to open on 20th—doesn’t see it happening.

No NYSESLAT—what will we do—we will work it out.

In talks with DOE about tenure.

Governor saying we should all work through spring break because we waived 180 days. NYC taking this very seriously. We are outpacing everyone else. Should no be penalized because others didn’t.

Don’t know about observations via remote. May have to negotiate one.

We’re no entering a really hard time for this crisis. Stay home. Now is critical. Learning we offer is lifeline to families. All facing it. Not just about learning. Teaching is more complex. Maybe people will learn that and that may be sliver lining.

Much work ahead to prevent asinine behavior from people who don’t know how to support others.

Thanks us for all our accomplishments. Happy union is able to accomplish such great deeds and communication.

Final roll call. Barr asks us to inform members, thanks us for calling in.

We are adjourned. 6:34

My Online Lesson Bombs, and Other Tales

Today I completed part two of my lesson on Morning Has Broken, and while part one went well, part two did truly badly. During the first part of my lesson, I introduced Cat Stevens and discussed how he converted to Islam and gave up music. Students seemed to follow pretty well.

I also gave vocabulary, as words like elation do not come up every day. However, between Thursday, when I last saw the class, and today, their recall seemed to fall from the planet into some uncharted abyss straight out of an Indiana Jones flick  (and I should know because I watched one last night).

Morning has broken, like the first morning.

Are this morning and the first morning the same or different?

Crickets.

I have two students who could easily answer, and I avoid calling on them. I call on two students who say nothing whatsoever. One, in fact, came to my second class as well and said nothing whatsoever. I asked him direct questions. Nothing. I contacted him in the chat. Nothing. It appears that someone opened up the channel during class time, left it open for the duration, and figured that was good enough.

Eventually I called on my stronger students, which was better than me reading out the answer myself. In class, where I have eyes on everyone there, I could explain, I could address my comments to those with question marks in their eyes. Online, with only their avatars, I have no idea. All I'm sure of is I'm not reaching them.

One of my favorite questions is Why? After we establish this morning and the first morning are alike, that's my go-to. Now there is a response some of my Chinese students offer. I have no idea where it comes from, and that is No why.  I push and push, and get the same thing back. This somehow makes sense to them, but not to me. And sometimes they're not persuaded that no why is simply not even a response.

My next class went somewhat better. I had written a short piece called Show and Tell last week, in which I explained what it was, and that I had done it as a child. It contained questions we discussed, and those questions went considerably better than Morning Has Broken to).day. Of course, that's a pretty low standard. It's like saying Andrew Cuomo is a better public speaker than Trump or Biden (and make no mistake, I'm not a Cuomo fan either).

Today we had an actual task, which was to do a show and tell. I'd already shown my co-teacher, Toby the wonder dog. I spoke about how he was a stray in Puerto Rico and how he survived Hurricane Maria. My students today, after having had a week to prepare, were to do their own. One student showed his glasses, which I had to respect, as it showed quick thinking.

"Why do you love these glasses?"

"No why."

"There has to be a why. Tell me what's good about them."

"They're made in China."

Well, that beats the hell out of no why.

One student said she was unprepared and showed nothing. Two students, including the one who was unresponsive earlier, responded not at all, despite my calling on them repeatedly. In actual class, these students answer me. I very much suspect they were not even in the room where their devices were. Nonetheless, they did not complete the assignment. I guess it would've been to their advantage to simply be absent, since I can't penalize them for that. On the other hand, I can penalize them for not doing the work, so there's that.

One redeeming quality I've found in the classroom is the chat window. Sometimes students correct one another there. One student wrote, "I'm sorry," after answering a question wrong. I told her there was nothing to be sorry about, and that we all made mistakes.

I've also been using the chat as a virtual blackboard. If we do short numbered exercises, you do number one, you do number two, write the number and post it in the chat. That's been working well. Alas, nothing works as well as the in person, in place face to face.

We are all new teachers now, and it will take all of us to work out the kinks. We'll get there,  Just not right away.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

I Won't Walk the Line

I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to go back for that last week with my colleagues. I think it had a lot to do with my being chapter leader. I felt I had to. Looking back, I don't think I was very smart. Anyone could have taken off, no questions asked, and all if would have cost was a day from the bank.

A lot of people did, and in retrospect they'd thought things out better than I had. I now find the news so upsetting that I won't watch it on TV very long. After five minutes it's just more and more of the same thing.

Nonetheless, it's remarkable to read that Donald Trump thinks we should just go back to work by Easter. Even more remarkable is to read Bill de Blasio sputtering out much the same nonsense. I'm not sure what I was thinking two weeks ago, but given everything I see and read, that's nothing short of insane. It was surely not a good idea to go back for those last three days, but the school was pretty quiet, and social distancing was at least a possibility.

The school in which I work, though, is over 200% capacity. That's just fine with Mayor de Blasio, because he works from a spacious office somewhere and doesn't actually have to walk the halls with double the number of people who belong there. That, of course, is the exclusive privilege of the 4500 kids and 500 staff about whom Bill de Blasio does not give a fiddler's fart.

The thing I keep going back to is Broadway. If it's too dangerous for well-heeled theatergoers to sit through an $800 performance of Hamilton, how is it okay for 5,000 people to push their way through Francis Lewis High School? And let's not forget there are over a million other students wandering through the halls of the buildings Bill de Blasio has neglected these last seven years. Let's not forget all the UFT, all the DC37, and all the other working people in our schools.

Bill de Blasio forgot all of them. Bill de Blasio let us amble through another week of elevated risk. I just happen to be a person at elevated risk, as are many of my colleagues, not only in my building, but city wide. I hadn't realized the gravity of the situation, and I essentially took my life in my hands, along with a million other New Yorkers, about whom Bill de Blasio did not and does not give a damn.

So go ahead, Mr. President. Go ahead, Mr. Mayor. I'm not going back. As a parent, I wouldn't send my kid back. In fact, I cannot imagine any parent watching the news even a little bit sending a kid back into this. In a worldwide emergency, someone is supposed to provide leadership. A lot of people are looking to Andrew Cuomo these days, saying draft him for president. As much as I'd like to see someone more able to beat Donald Trump than Joe Biden, I have my doubts about Cuomo too:

“If you now look at it, it didn't make any sense to close the schools, send my kids home with me or older people, or with grandmothers who were vulnerable to this virus,” Cuomo said in the CNN interview. “And young people were then maybe bringing it into the house. We didn't have any data or science to instruct us. But now you can come up with a smarter public health strategy that actually protects older people, lets younger people get back to work, and that can start the economic recovery. But it has to be that smart. It can't be reactive. It can't be emotional.”

As Chancellor Carranza so deftly pointed out, I'm not an epidemiologist. Nor were the 108,000 people who had signed the UFT petition to close schools by the time he rejected our plea. However, while I don't like to brag, I happen to be a high school graduate. Pardon my blatant appeal to authority, but on that basis alone I can tell you that every day you go back to your school, particularly an overcrowded one like mine, you actually increase your potential exposure to the virus, and you therefore increase the chances of exposing grandma.

Cuomo can spout nonsense with the best of them. If Trump, de Blasio, or Cuomo chooses to open America, open NY, open NYC, or open schools, that's on them. They can defy common sense, which many have determined to be the least common of all the senses anyway. If Glenn Beck wants to die for the Dow, it's a free country and I fully support his decision.

But my lookout is closer to home. People are always more important than markets. For me, for the people I love, even for my little dog, forget it. I'm not walking back into any Petri dish any time soon, and I'm telling you all to stay away with me. Nothing is worth risking your health, and the truth is none of these bloviating cowards, Beck, de Blasio, Cuomo or Trump, would really risk theirs either.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

One Giant Step for Stupidity


Yesterday I marked a student present who had not shown up to class all week. How does that happen? Lately it happens when the DOE puts out guidelines without consulting with the union. It turns out that people who sit in offices all day may have little knowledge of what goes on in classrooms. And yes, if school supervisors sit in offices all day that can apply to them as well.

We got a directive the other day that we must take attendance daily whether or not we hold class.I checked to make sure the source was DOE, and of course it was. That's understandable, of course, if you aren't holding virtual classes. If you're communicating via email or chat or something, the student doesn't have to actually show up to a class meeting. If you are holding class meetings, as I am, that's something else altogether. Nonetheless, those of us holding classes should send an email, a yes/no question, or whatever, and if the student responds, we are to mark that student present.

Now in case this isn't sufficiently absurd, consider this--you may not penalize anyone for not showing up to your virtual class. Therefore, the students who bother to show up and participate have no actual advantage over those who do not. In fact they may be at a disadvantage, as perhaps their performance could negatively impact their grade. Of course there may be circumstances under which a student may not participate. For example, your student may not have an internet-enabled device. That applies to exactly none of my students, as far as I know.

I have one student who I know suffers from depression, and has anxiety over everything that's going on. I understand that completely and I would never penalize this student. I'm not actually looking to penalize anyone anyway. Still, the notion of assessing students who are held harmless for doing nothing is tough to get my head around.

Assessments in the traditional sense are also absurd. I cannot force students to show their faces during live sessions. I had limited success yesterday when I offered extra credit to anyone who had a camera on. I'll continue doing that, but one student says he has no video, and I'm not in a position to challenge that. Perhaps it's true, even though I happen to know he carries a late model iPhone. Who knows?

Were I able to get them all to show their faces, I'd be much more confident in giving some kind of assessment and watching them take it. As is, I can give projects and writing assignments. However, decades of experience suggest to me that I have no way to ensure my students actually completed such things themselves. I have known kids who've claimed cheating was part of their culture, although they didn't use those exact words.

I'm told the attendance question will be negotiated with the union, and I do believe it will come back a little less insane. There's no way it can be perfect, because nothing is, especially these days.

This is reminiscent of the memo regarding instruction. When the DOE put it out unilaterally, it contained a sample class schedule. That meant that everyone was expected to do online classes. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, had not considered how few of us live in school buildings. But that wasn't the main thing they failed to consider.

While a lowly teacher like me considers a student who suffers from depression, the DOE hadn't considered the individual circumstances of teachers or their families. You don't know how to operate a computer? Figure out how to use Google Classroom and Zoom by Monday or take a leave of absence. You have an autistic child who has violent tantrums? Put the kid in a cage in the basement and close the door so no one hears. You have kids home from college all using Zoom for their classes sucking up your bandwidth? Send them all to the public library, which is closed.

You can never underestimate the insensitivity of the DOE. Many are Bloomberg leftovers. I was very happy when de Blasio was elected because I stupidly assumed he'd get rid of them. The other day some opinion writer in the Post called Carranza racist. This of course, is because he fired two women who turned around and sued, claiming he did so because they were white. I happen to know he also fired a Latina who was in charge of ELL programming for the city. I'd have been much happier with both de Blasio and Carranza if they'd cleaned house.

Nonetheless, the second iteration of the guidelines did not contain a bell schedule, and made it clear that no school was to require one. In case that wasn't explicit enough, the DOE has put out a companion FAQ to the guidelines previously issued. It appears to have been coordinated with the union, and it contains this:
Please be mindful that our staff, students, and parents may be caring for others, sharing technology resources, and/or be battling illness themselves. Under the current conditions, staff should be given flexibility in establishing remote teaching instructional programs

What does this mean, exactly? This means that, if your principal puts out a directive that absolutely everyone must teach their classes face to face via Zoom every single day, he's laboring under a misconception. If that's the case, you need to contact your chapter leader immediately. Should your CL be asleep on some other virtual astral plane, reach out to your district rep.

Here's another important excerpt:


  • Schools should not try to replicate a regular school day schedule in a virtual
    environment.


This emphasizes you ought not to be simply mirroring what you do every day in a school building. Every time the DOE sends something out that hasn't been vetted by us, there's something really wrong with it. It's unfortunate that so many school leaders have so little respect for those of us who actually do the work.

That, of course, is why we have and need a union. If you prefer to be at the whim of a leader who knows everything, go work for a charter school. There are plenty around, and they're largely populated with teachers who, for whatever reason, have been unable to procure a UFT job. There are plenty of people, like the President of the United States, who'd like to do away with union and shut our voices out for good. All the more reason to raise them now.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Where's the Leadership?

A few days ago, Bill de Blasio said he didn't think NYC schools would reopen this year. Today, he said he hoped to have them open by April 20th. It sounds like he's been listening to Donald Trump. Of course, school openings are not what's on Donald Trump's reptilian little mind:

President Donald Trump says he’s willing to help blue-state governors who are struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks — but only if they’re willing to stop criticizing him in exchange.

“It’s a two-way street,” Trump told Fox News on Tuesday. “They have to treat us well, also. They can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.’”


To Donald Trump, the most important thing here is not whether or not people get ventilators, or medical care, or hospital beds, or get to continue living. Donald Trump's priority, rather, is that people say nice things about him. It's funny that this is so important to him.

I'm a leader of sorts, albeit on a much smaller scale. I learned very quickly that whatever you do, not everyone will be pleased. You have to listen carefully, do the best you can, and make decisions. Of course if you pick red, someone will want blue. If you aren't willing to endure the slings and arrows, you'd better get a different kind of job. Maybe you could get a nice job sitting in an office cubicle somewhere doing whatever people do in those things. Don't you think the world would be a better place if Donald J. Trump were in a cubicle somewhere?

A friend of mine texted me earlier today, disgusted that Andrew Cuomo was saying good things about Donald Trump. Now that I've read this story, I understand why. If Cuomo can save lives of New Yorkers by indulging the Child-in-Chief's monumental ego, it's just part of the job somehow. TV news being almost all the same these days, I avoid watching it, and I avoid watching Cuomo, but I've seen him a few times. Despite all the nonsense he's perpetrated against teachers, I find myself looking at him and saying, "Look at that guy. He's a grownup and he's not insane." I used to think that was a low standard, but things I've seen and experienced over the last week or so have made me reconsider.

It looks like Joe Biden, who only crawls out of his coffin for special occasions, has decided not to bother debating Senator Bernie Sanders. You can see Bernie on the Senate floor calling the GOP to task for their insane priorities. Perish forbid they should give poor people a little more than they usually have, even as Wall Street gets trillions, you know, the trillions Joe Biden said we didn't have to insure healthcare for all. Biden made an awkward statement from his awkward basement studio, even as Trump's insane handling of the crisis is approved by 60% of the American people.

I guess it's appropriate that an insane situation is monitored by and insane person. But it's compounded by the fact that we as a nation are insane enough to approve of his lies and selfishness. Who's going to lead us through this crisis, and how can we elect an actual leader in November?

Technical Difficulties

Today was my worst day as a remote teacher. I had an interesting lesson, or at least I thought so. I picked the song, Morning Has Broken, by Cat Stevens. For my money, it's one of the most life-affirming things I've ever heard. Another is Sweet Old World, by Lucinda Williams, though I personally like Emmylou Harris's version better. However, that one is an oblique reference to suicide, and I don't want to bring that into my classroom, virtual or otherwise.

Yesterday I wrote a long Keynote presentation. I explained who Cat Stevens was, and how he evolved into Yusuf Islam. I gave them vocabulary that would help them get through it. Then I gave them the lyrics with words missing, so they could fill it in. Except I didn't. I hadn't taken the final step of sharing it with them when I uploaded it onto Google Classroom. I fumbled around but with all the windows on my laptop, just couldn't do it. There was nowhere to go, and I ended the class ten minutes early.

Afterward, I figured out what the problem was. The next problem, of course, is that my other section will have the words and the classes will likely be out of sync. I guess I could share today's class the full lyrics and that would fix the issue. Alas, that wasn't the only issue I had.

My Keynote presentations contain animation and are designed so that lines appear one at a time, However, when I showed it full screen, no one could see it. I had to show it on partial screen and show full slides. That sucked because I had a discussion planned revolving around one line at a time. I was very lucky that one of my students' paraprofessionals happened to be in the room and was quick to correct me, as somehow what I saw on my screen was not what they saw, even though I was sharing the screen.

This was disappointing because things went relatively smoothly my first two days. I guess I'm not a computer wizard after all. Fortunately, I'm friendly with a lot of young teachers who are much smarter than I am. I shall be calling on their services this PM for sure. Hopefully tomorrow will go better.

Also, I've been completely unsuccessful in getting my students to show their faces. I'm not sure exactly how far to go with that. I know I can't force them but I'm gonna keep trying. It seems disingenuous to offer extra credit because I've decided not to even grade anything the first week or two. On the bright side, I only had two absences this morning. That's an improvement.

I hope your difficulties are no worse than mine. Please let me know how you're doing in these challenging times.

Update: Even after I had an hour to fix it, I somehow failed to upload a short story I wrote for my other class. I had to read it to them.  This time I went back again and tested to make sure I did it correctly. One class now has Morning Has Broken twice. I left it that way just to be sure. I will get the hang of this, but it will take a little time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Online Teaching and Offline Infections

I have a lot of questions about doing this online. Who's paying attention, for one? Most of my students have pictures up where their faces should be. Sometimes I call on them and they show their faces. Sometimes they don't. How do I know that the kid isn't on the other side of the room playing a game on his phone?

One kid yesterday wasn't responding when I called on him. When he finally did, it was in the chat. How do I know it was him? Another student who was not that great orally did fabulously when answering in the chat. However, I also notice when she logged in there were two names. Perhaps the person she was with was the one typing the answers. Who knows?

I honestly cannot imagine giving a graded assessment of any sort. How will I know the students themselves answered? I see that the DOE doesn't want to grant tenure while the schools are closed. That point may be moot because most tenure occurs in September, and I really, really hope we're back by then. Of course the DOE is infested with Bloomberg leftovers who want to do everything "for the kids." That means, essentially, "Screw the grownups." It's pretty short-sighted because those kids we're doing for are headed toward being grownups. But I digress.

If teachers are not getting tenure because we aren't really in school somehow, how are we supposed to grade students who somehow aren't there either? We are either working or we are not, students are either learning or they are not, and we have to show flexibility in this time of emergency. It's awful that the DOE wants to extend the tenure of people who've been chasing it for four years. Principals who need the extra few months to decide simply haven't been paying attention.

As for my students, I'm not really inclined to ask them to show their faces right now. I'd like them to be comfortable above all else. That said, it's impossible to gauge their interest without seeing them. Not only that, it's very tough to measure the quality of their work in any way under these circumstances. If I were in a classroom, I'd be walking around all the time to find out exactly what was going on. I can't do that.

I'm going to encourage them to show their faces, but I have no idea whether or not I can require it. Ultimately I won't. I know teachers who are terrified of showing their faces on camera. How could I expect that kids would feel any less insecure than grownups? As if that were not enough, this is a very stressful time. I have students who were raised to sit down, shut up, and worship the teacher as a deity. It sounds awful. And some are painfully shy. One of the best things I do is get kids like that out of their shells. Online that is a very tall order.

Some of my students report that all they do is play video games all day, every day. Now I've gone on game binges from time to time. Years ago, I'd close my eyes at night and see Tetris bricks floating down. Now, I don't even get started because I know it's just a huge time suck. Are the students happy to have their game play interrupted? At least one said yes. She deemed playing games all day boring. That made me happy.

But happiness isn't everything. Yesterday I found out there were two confirmed cases of the virus in our building. I'm not really sure what we're supposed to do when we hear that. It's like, "Now that you're finally home, here's an extra thing to worry about." Should we panic? Jump out a window? Should all 5,000 people in the building be tested? I'd say yes to the last. But of course, they say the best way to get tested is to sneeze in a rich person's face and wait for the results.

It's kind of funny the city said oh, if we confirm a case, we'll close the school. (We now know they didn't even do that.) How could they not know that there were cases everywhere? I just assumed it. I was walking around telling people, "For all we know, we all have it." We really have no way of knowing otherwise. The fact that almost no one was being tested, that there were outlandish obstacles preventing people from being tested, exacerbated the situation. Of course the very worst thing was Bill de Blasio's pigheaded witless decision to keep the schools open even as he deemed Broadway too dangerous.

What do I tell my students? How can I reassure them? I only hope they aren't watching the news. I know what it has to say already. You have to be a masochist to sit and listen to this. You just need to move forward and do the best you can. My online teaching will get better, and so will the country.

If only Joe Biden could crawl out of his coffin and prove he can survive exposure to daylight, we'd really have something to look forward to.

Monday, March 23, 2020

UFT Executive Board March 23, 2020 (via conference call)--Virus and its Discontents

6:02: Secretary LeRoy Barr calls us to order.

Minutes approved via email

Barr—Today was first day of this new process. Trying to make this as good an experience for members as possible. Thanks members for work they did today.

Cassie Prugh--Legislative Report—Been busy monitoring activity over virus. Trying to share w union. Beyond that, state budget should move beginning Thursday. Assembly looking at electronic voting. Budged could be combo of bills. Medicaid cuts given to legislature for review. May avoid across board cut. Good news, no premium or cut getting passed along to members. May avoid direct cost shift to NYC, but many cuts are on the table.

City—All schedules and meeting postponed, Nothing on budget process. Stay tuned. Deadline July 1. AFT endorsed Biden. March 24 special election for Queensborough Pres. postponed.

Census underway. Mayor asked for a deadline extension to September so we may do better.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew
—Thanks Cassie. Says we are leery that something bad could happen in budget because no one paying attention. Now city looking at 1.8 billion deficit, next year 3 billion. We have to look at this and longterm problems. There is a lot of hurt coming for years to come.

State focused more on virus and not on budget, which is appropriate.

Wishes everyone well, sends best wishes to those not feeling well.

Two weeks ago, mayor wouldn’t close schools. Thanks everyone for efforts. Were trying days before to close schools. Was clear what would happen. Thanks everyone for the push we made to get city to do what they had to. Thanks unions, 1199.

How do you take largest school system in America and make it remote learning in a week? Ignorance astounding. People think because we use Google classroom we can do whatever. Students are no longer there. Many challenges. Last week frustrating, caused anger, but we had to keep moving as fast as possible. Had to launch today.

We had to make sure first responders and health care workers had child care.

Principals had locks broken because they locked up Purell and supplies. Thanks Jeff Povalitus, health and safety for visiting 24 sites today.

Virtual learning means you set up classroom in real time. At times that won’t work. Many superintendents and principals ignored instructions NOT to recreate regular school schedule.

We wil set up focus group about how to do this properly. DOE failed to consider, initially, is there are parents, our partners, involved on other side. Only cared about accountability, paperwork, not serving children.

Met yesterday with chancellor and leadership. Will continue to push and advocate for what we need. People who work with children will figure this out. Lots of issues with DOE policies. We will advocate and fix.

If HS teacher set up virtual classroom at specific time, many don’t log on. DOE doesn’t know that. We need to also talk to parents. Concerned with young children, Many parents laid off. DOE thinks everyone just waiting to log on is absurd. DOE has heard us.

We will figure different ways to do this. No one has the answer. Can’t just be what we don’t like. We have to engage our students.

Questions—Mulgrew’s answers below:

Says we will be putting up webinars to support members. We will offer examples of how to help. We will hopefully have them by Friday. Working on attendance policies, but DOE sent out something we have not agreed upon. NO official attendance policy yet. We may have them Friday or Monday. You must do all you can to engage students under your care. Biggest challenge is students haven’t got tech or ability to engage.

Say chapter leaders backbone of union.

Schools ought not to demand people check in online. Let’s wait a week and come up with something that will work. Ridiculous admin wants to keep school day. Will not work. We are making that point.

We haven’t agreed to anything on responsibilities of paras, secretaries, counselors. With pay is expectation of work. Teachers need to move learning forward. If we’d planned it five months ago, it would work better. Teachers need to set up plans to engage students in learning. Different strategies depending on who you teach.

Google platform crashed numerous times today.

We are not trying to recreate school day. Ought not to be doing regular observations.

Paraprofessionals were invited into Google classrooms as students. That’s degrading. This is why we need focus group.

Payroll secretaries need to have ability to get into systems from home. We need to have that conversation before we survey payroll secretaries.

Janella Hinds—DOE has granted access to necessary applications to secretaries. We sent a letter reminding them of that.

Mulgrew—Need to make sure when they access systems it’s working. Many granted access but couldn’t get in.

Upset about unofficial email on student attendance. You can’t guarantee won’t be used against them in college. Need to fix.

Tenure—we don’t know where we’re going with it. Assuming DOE and mayor will get lawsuits over COVID 19 crisis. We were going to sue because we knew of confirmed cases with no cleaning, closing or investigations. They decided it didn’t matter until they used a triple process. Clearly, that’s why we called BS and said if they didn’t close we’d sue. There will be suits.

State tests canceled.

We are working on tenure. They shouldn’t have put out extensions. We are working on that.

We have in writing no one can be disciplined for days off during these times.

Mulgrew requests Exec. Board every Monday during crisis.

Approved

Mulgrew—Our front-line nurses angry frustrated. our private nurses inundated, not following safety protocol, lack supplies, same at Northwell. visiting nurses running from house to house. No one should forget what they’re going through. Trying to get meals for their families, child care.

We have to figure this out. We know DOE will not. If we leave it to them, kids are screwed. Entire system based on bureaucracy, ego, and protocol. We have to push toward the good. What works for members works for kids.

Thanks for leadership where you work, in union and everyplace else.

6:40 roll call

Barr—Thanks us for calling in. 6:50 We are adjourned.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Co-Teaching in Virus Times

Yes, I know. Toby's a little young and he hasn't got a certification yet. But I assure you he'll only be my assistant while I lead the class. 

Meanwhile, I've been getting an awful lot of email about how to navigate this seemingly new world. It's getting so I can't keep up. I'm qute surprised to find myself continually referencing a message from the CSA President, Mark Cannizaro. Mulgrew sent it out one day last week. I'll get to that.

First, a lot of us are befuddled by using unfamiliar technology, and I have to admit I'm among that crowd. While I'm not techno-phobic by any means, I've never used Google Classroom or Zoom before. I never saw the need, and now I wish I'd tried before. In any case, a lot of young teachers in my school have been incredibly generous with their time.

I did a practice Zoom session with one yesterday and she walked me through how to show your computer screen, which is important, and how to use their white board feature, which kind of sucks. I have a little whiteboard and a new package of colored markers. There's also a setting that allows students to display their screens. I'd turn that off unless I were having them do presentations.

Some people can't use technology at all, and throwing them in at the deep end right now is borderline insane. Also a whole lot us have issues at home. What if you have a family member with special needs who needs constant attention? What if you share an apartment with six roommates and need to share their bandwidth? What if you have very young kids home from school? What if you have kids from college Zooming up all your bandwidth with their classes? What if your baby's daycare is closed, which it most certainly is? What if you have a yappy dog? (Toby is quiet and reflective.)

Ideally, of course, you'd live cast with them. But if you're going to be under constant pressure from your home circumstances, if you're going to be interrupted constantly, or if you're going to be fearful and miserable the entire time, you aren't doing frightened kids any service at all by showing them that. Do it if you can, but figure out something else if you can't. 

There are a lot of alternatives you can employ. If you want to focus on writing, you could take submissions via Google Classroom, provide feedback, and maybe have them rewrite. That's serious work, and it's time-consuming. Of course, your students now have a lot of time. You could make videos in the middle of the night when your family is asleep. It's no fun, but your kids will see your face and you can respond at other times. Maybe you have a better idea.You have to do the best you can in times like these.

I'm going to go live several times a week with my students. I'm also going to offer them an office hour. I don't have any kids at home, and with Toby as my co-teacher, I think I'll be successful once I get a little more comfortable with the software. I know it's tough getting along with co-teachers, but my dog and I have been hanging out together for a while now, and he's never questioned any of my teaching decisions.

Here's what I think Cannizzaro gets right--he tells principals to be leaders. Leaders don't micro-manage in times of crisis, saying things like you must do this and there is no other thing you may possibly do. Leaders support. I'm a leader. My main message to my kids will not be you must do this or that assignment in this or that way. My main message will be I care about you, you are important to me, and I'm setting this time aside for you.

In school, when I'm teaching in some filthy, moldy neglected trailer that had neither paper towels or soap until the Corona virus hit, I try to send that message by wearing a suit to work. At home, I'm going to send it by spending a lot of time focusing on how they feel and what they do. Just as the CSA President provided guidance for principals, saying they ought not to scrutinize teacher schedules and other minutiae, I'm not going to get on student cases over missing a homework assignment here or there. I'm going to be happy and grateful that they even showed up. And this is key:

We are in unchartered territory and everyone understands it. The goal is not to recreate a normal school day given that the sudden changes in our lives and routines are anything but normal. The goal must be to provide some semblance of stability and learning for our students while paying careful attention to their social and emotional health. In turn, we must acknowledge the anxiety and fears in the adults around us and provide an outlet for them as well.

Please bear that in mind when dealing with your students. I'm fixated on grammar, and I verge on having a conniption every time someone says, "He go to the store," and doesn't make the subject and verb agree. You may feel the same way about calculating square roots, or the Battle of Gettysburg, or whatever. But things are different now, both for you and your kids. Think about it. Anyone who thinks we're doing the same thing now that we always do is frankly delusional.

You're a leader too. Try very had to be extra kind to your students. If you're live casting, try to give them a sense of family. Try to make them feel the joy of being together. My students are teenagers, and their social lives have been torn from them. Perhaps there's a limit to how happy you can be playing video games on your phone. Perhaps not.

I'm quite surprised at how thoughtful and apt the head of the principals' union has put things. But I think, in these times, he's managed to capture the essence of what it is we need to do. Here's his letter in full. Try to imagine that you're the leader and you're taking this approach to your students. Please read it and give it some thought.

Letter from CSA President Mark Cannizzaro to principals
Though I have been actively involved in CSA’s communications over the last two weeks, I wanted to personally share my appreciation for your heroic efforts as well as a few thoughts on what comes next.
Since late last week, the CSA felt that the closing of our schools was a drastic but necessary step to safeguard school communities and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our city. Therefore, while aware that transitioning over 1,700 schools to distance learning in just a few days would be a near impossible task, we strongly advocated that the mayor do so.
Since then, as expected, you have been inundated with information and directives that have been sometimes confusing and conflicting, sometimes unrealistic and have often left you with unanswered questions. Through it all, you have been the calming, positive and steady presence your staff needs. You have instilled confidence and trust in them even when your own confidence was shaken. I recognize it, the chancellor recognizes it, and we both thank you!  
With all the confusion, I would like to offer some clarity. Your primary responsibility over the next several weeks is to do the best you can to provide your students with quality learning opportunities. It is understood that some schools and some individual teachers are much further along than others in their distance learning capabilities. You will not be disciplined if you are unable to accurately or completely fulfill every expectation or strictly adhere to deadlines outlined in the DOE’s “expectations memo.”
You are not expected to offer the same level of supervision as you are able to during the typical school day. You and the assistant principals should be checking in on staff and offering support and ideas for how they can best serve students. You do not, however, need to concern yourself with scrutinizing teacher schedules and other minutiae. Continue to encourage and remain a source of strength for your teachers. Be available for them, model as best you can, and be open to their feedback and concerns. While not under the roof of your building, I know you will find innovative and real ways to keep your community connected for the benefit of your students.
We are in unchartered territory and everyone understands it. The goal is not to recreate a normal school day given that the sudden changes in our lives and routines are anything but normal. The goal must be to provide some semblance of stability and learning for our students while paying careful attention to their social and emotional health. In turn, we must acknowledge the anxiety and fears in the adults around us and provide an outlet for them as well.  
Finally, you must take care of yourself.  When things speed up, you must slow down.  Make sure you do the things that bring you peace of mind and body so that you can be present for those who look to you for guidance.   
Please know that CSA will be by your side throughout this process and that we are diligently working to bring clarity and get your questions answered. Please feel free to reach out to us at any time and, in the meantime, just do the best that you can!    
You and your team have done a great job thus far, and I know you will continue to do so. It is an honor to represent you! Stay safe! 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Damn Right I Want Fries with That!

You gotta love dogs

I may be off for a day or two while I organize for next week. 

Meanwhile, I'm featured in this piece on NY1. 

My first virtual interview ever. 

Have a great weekend, all!

It's So Quiet Here

It's eerie to wake up on a school day and not go in. It's 7:17 AM as I write this, and even my dog is sleeping. One of the great things about being a dog when I'm home is you get to sleep as late as you want. Usually, around 5:15 AM, I'm cutting up Freshpet, Toby smells it, and comes running downstairs as though the world were on fire.

Quiet though it is, perhaps the world is on fire. I stopped at a little soup shop on the way home and asked the guy at the counter why they didn't have the spicy chili I liked this week. Half the shop was roped off since it was now only a takeout place. He told me I wouldn't be seeing it for at least two weeks as he was closing the store. Made me think twice about buying, but I bought some chicken soup anyway.

I drove home yesterday and it was as though there were no school. In a way, there wasn't. There were no students in attendance. Now there are certain advantages of students being out. The building is certainly cleaner. Also, when you're walking the halls between periods 5 and 6 you don't have to push, shove, jostle, or be pushed, shoved or jostled. You get to spend more time with your colleagues, and mine are the best anywhere.

On the other hand, it's like the beating heart has been ripped from the building. I'm very lucky this year, in that there are too many beginners to offer only one class. Also, since the NYSESLAT exam that rates student ability is such crap, half or more of the beginners are in advanced classes. So I find myself with classes of about 16-20. It's lovely, actually. I've gotten to know these kids better than I usually do. Every single one of them can have my attention pretty much whenever they wish. I look forward to seeing them next week, and I'm frantically trying to sign them up even as my school hasn't bothered to get half of them the email addresses they need to do so.

I'm not tech-phobic, but a lot of people are. It's a big ask to place them in a situation in which they're dependent on computers. While I'm up for whatever, I'm not nearly as saavy as some of my younger colleagues. I didn't realize until this week how useful Google Classroom could be, and I've probably made a whole lot of paper copies I didn't need to. I had no idea Skedula had an email function until last night, when a young colleague showed me, and I found messages students had written me beginning two years ago.

I've decided to be aggressive signing up students, so I used the Skedula function to get them to sign up for my online classes. I copied their parents, but alas, few of them were signed up. I'm particularly concerned about my weakest class, which thus far has only three students. While large class sizes are pretty bad, a class of three in which only one is thus far verbal in English will be an excruciating thing to manage, especially online.

I know this is going to be tough. I've used Zoom five times this week, and three of the five times it's crashed. With the added burden of a city school system, I'm less than confident it will work. I'm even less confident I'll know how to handle this. I'm a new teacher again. Most of the things I do in the classroom cannot be replicated online. My strategy will be to overplan, have alternate activities, and hope for the best. It will be odd to assign writing exercises and not be able to walk around and help.

But everything is odd these days. How about you? How are you faring in the Time of the Virus?