Wednesday, April 15, 2020

No Grade Should Fall in Spring

I just read a piece from a student journalist at Francis Lewis High School. In it, he describes the difficulty of navigating online instruction when there's stiff competition for the use of the home laptop. And alas, the home laptop may not be precisely state of the art, so there's that too.

Worse, you may have to share it with half a dozen other family members. This is the case in a lot of homes. In fact I know teachers who have multiple college students at home, all sharing an inadequate number of computers, and sucking up bandwidth from one another.

I have a pair of sisters who share a phone to attend my class. Now if this student journalist from our school has that issue, how many more students citywide have similar ones? Despite the ubiquitous phones in our classrooms, we don't really notice students who haven't got them. That's an issue.

Right now, there's talk of dropping APPR for the school year. That's a very good idea. There's no way a supervisor can rate anyone based on Danelson while students hide behind avatars. You can't observe student engagement if you can't observe students. Furthermore, you can't act to improve student engagement if you can't see it, or if you can't even guess as to why that is. If we advocate not to be judged unfairly, how can we not ask the same consideration for our students?

Who knows why they're behind those avatars? Sure, they could be asleep. Sure, they could be out of the room, or playing video games somewhere. However, they could also be in an overcrowded apartment, or living under conditions they don't see fit to share with you or their classmates. They could have someone sick, hospitalized or even dying from the virus. There are so many possibilities, we can barely begin to speculate.

Why don't students show to your online classes? We really don't know that either. Word got out early that attendance ought not to factor into grades, and maybe they know that. I've got one student who was passing when we left, but who now rarely shows. I suspect he's screwing up, but I can't prove it. Also, who knows why he's doing it, or what stressors exist in his young life?

I have another student who suffers from depression. She felt great anxiety over the schools closing. She had an average over 90% before we broke. I cannot fault this young woman for her feelings. I'm absolutely certain she'd have continued were we not facing this apocalypse. On reflection, her reaction makes more sense than mine. I should be at least as freaked out as she is, and the only reason I'm not is because I'm too busy to think about it.

The student who wrote the linked article will be okay. Our school gave out a crapload of Chromebooks, and administration will reach out and make sure this young man gets one of his very own. But the majority of unconnected students aren't writing articles in school newspapers that are read by their principals, and are unlikely to be noticed or helped.

The city has a form you can fill out and a number you can call. The student journalist has a lot to say about that. Here's what happened when he finally reached a human, after having spent hours on hold:

I wanted to make sure our form didn’t get lost in the district’s vast bureaucracy. With each call to the education department, a stern voice emerged putting me on hold for an hour, only to inform me after my 14th attempt that week that they had no answers — that they could only help us fill out the form.

“Sorry, sir,” the provider said. “I can’t help you with that. If I could, I would. But I can’t.”

“No, it’s all right,” I said, my voice breaking.

“Why’s this so hard?” my mom asked, crying.

I gave her a tissue, squeezing her shoulder. “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

This is the experience of a literate and motivated young man. Imagine those of others with less patience. Imagine those with no English. Imagine a great number of students who don't know there is a form, and don't know there's a number. Imagine all those who, like the student journalist, vainly assumed that the number was there to expedite their issue, rather than simply help them with a form they'd already filled out.

The DOE is a disgrace. Tweed ought to be emptied, fumigated, and repopulated with people whose values include serving people who attend and/ or work for NYC schools. That's certainly not happening now, and I've never spoken with a teacher who believes otherwise.

There are way too many obstacles for our kids to overcome, and we have no way of knowing what they are. I have students who've worked at failing all year, who were failing on March 17th, and who don't attend my online classes. I'm comfortable with failing them, and I won't have to lower their grades to do it.

For all others, I simply haven't got the knowledge. Maybe they felt uncomfortable with me live. Maybe my subject is tougher than math, which is the case for a good deal of my kids. Maybe they are grappling with a horrible premature loss.

There's no way I can know, and there's no way I can lower their grades. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would even want to.
blog comments powered by Disqus