Thursday, March 19, 2020

Uncharted Territory

I often think of the apocryphal Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." It crossed my mind quite a bit when Mike Bloomberg was mayor. But the times seem to get more and more interesting.

I've never seen a time like this. My mother once told me she got scarlet fever as a child and was quarantined. Back then they weren't as advanced as we are. They, you know, actually tested and diagnosed you, even if you didn't happen to be Tom Hanks.

Now I go to work, what's left of it, and everyone is wearing masks and gloves. I understand, of course, the urge to protect yourself. Still, last week we were in the building with 4,999 other people, right up until Friday. We weren't wearing masks or gloves then, or the day before that, or the day before that. We haven't got a diagnosed case in our school. This notwithstanding, I only know of one person who's been tested. I cannot imagine that no one is carrying the virus. Far easier, for me, is to imagine everyone has it.

Then there are our jobs, which have changed substantively in the space of a week. I was excited about trying new technology with my classes, excited about seeing my students and perhaps guiding and supporting them through these troubled times. Then, of course, Part 154 popped up, with its demand for a certain number of minutes. Evidently the geniuses in Albany could not waive that for anything so simple as a deadly pandemic, even if the classes they mandate don't remotely meet the needs of ELLs. It appears to me, at least, that to meet the requirements we will not only have to come up with a creative solution, but we will also have to do so today. Special ed. has similar requirements, it appears.

As for the rest of us, I don't see how you can do anything without utilizing technology. Google Classroom seems indispensable right now, but correct me if you know another route. Two days ago, a first year teacher sat with me and showed me how to use it. Yesterday I spent hours trying to place my students in groups, only to find that more than half of them didn't have the school email addresses required for me to enter them. Now I don't even know if I'll be using those groupings, because of Part 154. Thank you Regents, for being inept and indifferent as always! Sorry you can't go to a restaurant for today's gala luncheon.

While I don't use Google Classroom, I'm almost married to my beat up little Macbook Air. I'd be lost without it, even though I've literally got it taped together in places. I've now been to three chapter leader meetings and two school meetings on Zoom, and while I'll certainly screw it up the first few times I use it, I learn things by doing them. You can't learn anything if you aren't willing to fall on your face the first few times. I try to impart that to beginning English learners.

This is going to be a rocky road. While your troubles are surely different from mine, I'm sure you have them. I hear a lot from teachers with young children who are usually at school. How can you get the computer when your kids are online with their teachers? How can you video cast with your children running around being three years old? Are you going to have to get up at two AM and write a plan? Make a video? Grade the work you assigned?

Back when we were racing to the top, a lot of people compared the plans to rate us with junk science withny building a plane we were already flying. It was insane, of course, to approach a venture that way. Given the circumstances, we really haven't got a choice this time. We can blame people. Blame de Blasio for not closing as soon as our health was imperiled. Blame me for not bothering with Google classroom until it hit me in the head like a grand piano.

Now I enjoy a good sulk as much as anybody, but we haven't got time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. You want to feel sorry for someone? Feel sorry for the restaurant worker no longer working. Feel sorry for the business owners told to close their doors until further notice. Feel sorry for the millions of Americans who lack insurance and further exacerbate this crisis through no fault of their own.

Know this, though. We are lucky. We have jobs and we have contracts. We are union and we are not alone. We don't have bosses who say you come in today, but you go home. We have students who need us. Aside from their parents, we're the best role models they have. It's possible we are the only role models they have. This is the time when we show who we really are and what we really can do. We're gonna have to give it our best, forget about our own troubles, at least while we're teaching, and give these 1.1 million kids as much hope and guidance as we possibly can.

We really have no other choice.
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