Friday, May 29, 2020

I Fail a Test

For months, as the pandemic approached, I worked in the most overcrowded school in the city. We've got 5,000 people walking around in a building designed for closer to 2,000. Getting through the halls is a skill.

One day I was walking down the hall from the cafeteria to class, and worried about making it on time. A math teacher of diminutive stature cut in front of me and ordered me to follow her. "I'm from the Bronx," she declared, and I made it on time.

I took a group of students to see a Broadway show in early March. We took the train back to Queens, and then a bus back to the school. On the train, one of my students made a point of giving me some of her hand sanitizer. I thought it was very kind. Like many of my students, she'd never been to Manhattan before that day. Her mom only let her come after another teacher on the trip, one who speaks Spanish better than I do, assured her we would personally bring her back to the school.

Less than two weeks later Bill de Blasio closed Broadway. Evidently it was too risky to sit in a theater. Of course it was no problem going into school buildings and fighting your way through hall passing. It was only the day Broadway closed that I began to consider how really risky our behavior was. How could we not be at unacceptable risk if it was too dangerous to sit in a theater?

The next week I made my last visit to UFT at 52 Broadway. I drove to Forest Hills and took the E train to World Trade Center. For half of the ride I was the only one on the train. It was a little spooky and very odd. At the DA, I looked around and it was over half empty. I've never seen so few people at one of these meetings. I'm pretty sure it was only a few days before de Blasio was finally pressured into closing up school buildings.

Of course, once the buildings closed, that wasn't enough for the mayor. The mayor sent us back to them for three days of training, which was a great idea. Why not have random administrators, none of whom had ever done online teaching, train us how to teach online? Just to make sure things went well, the DOE gave no guidance whatsoever. Evidently, though the closing by then looked pretty much inevitable, they had done no prep whatsoever.

We sat around a lot, went to hastily prepared PD sessions here and there, and got some firsthand experience using Zoom. A first-year teacher sat with me and taught me how to program Zoom meetings. He showed me the rudiments of Google Classroom. Over the last few weeks, I've learned how to use it better. When I want to get really good, I'm gonna call the first year teacher and have him walk me through it. If I wait for the DOE to help, I'll never learn anything.

On the subject of not learning anything, on one of the last three days I was sitting at a table with three of my colleagues eating lunch. We were not yet social distancing. In retrospect, we were all careless and crazy One of my colleagues said, "You know, I'd like to give a workshop on Zoom."

"Have you ever used it?" I asked.

"No," she answered. "But that doesn't matter."

I'm sure she'd have given a great workshop, and figured out whatever she needed to before having done so. And that is precisely what sets her apart from the DOE, who would set time aside, prepare nothing, and hope for the best. (The best, to them, entails being as blameless as possible.) Teachers face impossible situations fairly regularly, and we do the best we can to deal with them. That's why my colleague had such confidence.

Another woman at that table is on our consultation committee. We've been meeting frequently during the apocolypse. She recently had occasion to tell me she took an antibodies test and tested negative. I was really surprised. All that close contact, well after we should've known better, and this was the result.

I understand, of course, that there are like 500 antibodies tests and we have no idea how reliable they are. Those who work to deny our brothers and sisters health care tell us this is the best medical system in the world, and such is the state of things. At least we no longer have to sneeze in the face of a rich person to find out whether or not we carry Covid.

Anyway, one day this week I went to a doctor I regularly see for a checkup. It was an adventure, the first time I set foot out of my town in months. I decided to ask the doctor, since he was taking blood, to test me for the antibodies.

And I also tested negative. The only actual result is I'm no less paranoid now than I was last week. I'll walk across the street to avoid human contact and continue to stay at home. And if September rolls around and the idiots who run the city and state decide once again that it's okay for us to risk our lives and those of others just so they can open the schools with no drastic modification since everything is now fine, I won't be leaving my little town to help them out.
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