Thursday, July 30, 2020

NY Times Trashes Unionized Teachers, Presents Barely Researched Nonsense as Fact

I'd like to say I was startled by this remarkably unresearched piece of reporting in the NY Times, but alas their agenda is plain to see. The NY Times, the paper of record, has decided to tell the world that unionized teachers a. do not want to go back into schools, and b. don't want to teach online either. The claim itself is pretty spectacular.

Unions are threatening to strike if classrooms reopen, but are also pushing to limit live remote teaching. Their demands will shape pandemic education.

Wow. Those teachers are so unreasonable. They don't want to do anything. This, in fact, is no different than recent claims made in the NY Post. Here's the difference--the Post, at least, ran it on the editorial page, while the Times runs it as a feature. While I don't like either story, at least the Post seems aware of what is and is not opinion.

How they come to conclusions is a little tougher to determine. It's certainly not based on verifiable fact. Perhaps the two (!) reporters on this piece came to an opinion and sought out to prove it. Perhaps they feel their case is valid. However, it isn't.

Let's look at their first assertion--that unions are threatening to strike. Here's what they say:

On Tuesday, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union raised the stakes dramatically by authorizing its local and state chapters to strike if their districts do not take sufficient precautions — such as requiring masks and updating ventilation systems — before reopening classrooms. Already, teachers’ unions have sued Florida’s governor over that state’s efforts to require schools to offer in-person instruction.

I'm not entirely sure that's anything so drastic. The fact is Florida is exploding in Corona virus. Deaths just spiked to a record high. The MAGA governor claims students are at less risk, so therefore teachers at more risk must go back. I'm puzzled at why a lawsuit against that is radical in any way.

As for the rest of the country, considering that school reopenings have failed as Corona surged in Israel, South Korea, Hong King, and Beijing, I'm curious as to why strikes to preserve lives and health of not only teachers and their families, but also students and their families, is extreme in any way. In fact I heard Randi Weingarten say that strikes would be utilized only if nothing else worked.

Let's look at the other half of the Times' assertion, which I'd color categorically untrue. The Times claims teachers want to limit online teaching. Their evidence is ridiculous, and they don't remotely understand what online teaching is.

Some critics see teachers’ unions as trying to have it both ways: reluctant to return to classrooms, but also resistant in some districts to providing a full day of remote school via tools like live video — the kind of interactive, online instruction that many parents say their children need after watching them flounder in the spring.

This is the kind of argument we regularly get from President Trump--people are saying this or that. Which people? Trump never says so, and neither does this pair of Times reporters. I used live video every day I taught, and so did most teachers I knew. There were issues with it, of course, but I see no evidence these reporters even know what they are.

Here are just a few things the Times reporters failed to consider:

We had no training and were told to just do this. This was not an easy thing for me, or for any teacher I know. Though I'm fond of technology, though my laptop and I are almost joined at the hip, I had never used Zoom or Google Classroom before. I was lucky to find a young teacher who gave me a crash course just before we left. Not everyone was so lucky. I have still not seen or heard anything about substantive training. While it was great the DOE provided for three days of it in March, the fact is that school administrators who provided it, for the most part, knew as little about it as I did.

We don't live in classrooms. Some teachers are simply unable to broadcast from home. We don't all live in 1950s TV show conditions. I know teachers who have disabled children who have violent tantrums. I know teachers who are homeless. The NY Times doesn't know teachers like these because they talk to "some critics" rather than real live teachers. An easy solution to this would be to provide real training and open school buildings to teachers (and students) who lack safe quiet places and/ or technology.

Online instruction is not simply going online. I don't give a lot of difficult homework. Mostly, I'll give exercises that take ten or fifteen minutes to do, and go over them in class. While students are writing them on the board to review, I'll walk around and check for completion. While these assignments don't make a high percentage of the overall grade, I'll give 100% for completion, 50 for partial, and zero for nothing. I can't walk around a virtual classroom checking work. I end up grading everything, and it's really time consuming. That's not to mention more substantial assignments, like essays, that come in all the time. I grade them as I see them, and it takes a lot longer than sitting with a stack of papers that I collected.

Furthermore, we are in touch with students via email on a regular basis. This goes well beyond school hours. We spend a whole lot more time chasing after students who don't show up or do work. While I'd be able to talk face to face quietly with a student in my classroom, or pull the student out in the hall during normal circumstances, I can't do that in a virtual classroom. Sometimes I can address students directly in the chat, but a whole lot of the neediest students aren't actually reading it. Which brings me to this--

No demands are made of students. The reporters at the Times fail to note that many students didn't show their faces online. They have no idea what it's like to call on a cute kitten avatar and get no response. The Times reporters, intent on vilifying unionized teachers, don't know that students are playing video games, sleeping, or doing whatever during class time. They don't understand that students were asked to "check in" rather than participate. That has to change for online instruction to improve.

I remain amazed at the shoddy, incurious reporting that passes for "all the news that's fit to print." It leads me to wonder--if the education reporting is this bad, how sloppy and misleading is the work on subjects with which I'm less familiar?
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