Saturday, August 29, 2020

Magical Blended Teachers

It's taken me days to understand what the last DOE memo meant. I've discussed it with several people, I've been to a meeting, and now I finally get it.

You have four kinds of teachers--you have the remote teacher, who teaches five full classes on line. You have the live teacher, who teaches five partial classes in person. Then you have the Blended Learning Remote teacher, the one everyone is complaining about around the net. 

There's one more, a Virtual Content Specialist. This position would be posted and people would have to apply. I'm going to ignore that one for now. I don't know what the hell that person does, and I'm not gonna bother finding out. Given the issues with the blended teachers, I''m not sure that one's worth talking about. In fact, I very much doubt any principal has the capacity to engage such a person. This system has created a pretty severe teacher shortage that won't be corrected any time soon.

So this is what a Blended Learning Remote teacher does--Let's say that you and I each teach English One five periods a day. Let's say we both teach onsite, in person. That means we see somewhere between seven and twelve students live, every period, each and every day. Under this model, the Blended Learning Remote teacher would teach all of our other students from both classes.

So this Blended Learning Remote teacher could have between 44 to 55 students each period daily. That's a hell of a student load. Now that teacher could teach them all at once. Or, that teacher could see them in smaller groups. Or, that teacher could figure out some other way to handle this. However, it's going to be tough to mirror what's going on in the live lesson that way, since the live teachers are absolutely not doing groupwork. It would also be a problem assigning groups since the students change every day. I suppose the live teachers could focus on some other aspect of the discipline and leave the main things to the blended teacher--but then why don't we just put all classes online and dispense with the charade altogether?

Perhaps more to the point, it's going to be tough to provide the "equity and excellence" the mayor and chancellor are always blabbering about, given that the online students are likely to get 25% of the attention live students do (On the other hand, since most of their days will be spent online in large classes, you might simply argue it sucks for everyone. There's your equity.)

Where's the upside of this system? For the city, it means they only have to hire 1.5 teachers for blended classes, as opposed to two. For kids, I'm not sure I see added value. For Blended Learning Remote teachers, it will be very tough to juggle such a large number of students. How will you learn the names of so many students, especially while they're popping in and out of your virtual classrooms with such great frequency?

I'm not at all keen on the large class sizes. I suppose you won't have the issues you might have in a live classroom. For example, you won't need to move anyone's seat. On Zoom you can mute everyone so that there are no interruptions. But I don't envision a Blended Learning Remote teacher making the kinds of healthy connections with students that would make a class memorable or worthwhile. I don't imagine any student saying, some day, "Man, my Blended Learning English teacher changed my life."

The initial complaints I've seen about this position were predictable, but not quite accurate. How can they make me teach double the amount of students I've taught before? Well, it's not really double. It's more like 150% on any given day. Okay, that sucks. Not only for you, but also for the students. Why does the city want it? Because they get a relative bargain. Instead of having to hire two teachers per class, they only have to hire 1.5.

The problem, of course, is we haven't even got 1.5 teachers for each class. We're lucky if we have one. The city has a way to solve the problem, of course, because, as the chancellor likes to say, they are "nimble." They seem to think they have 2,000 employees who don't teach, but who can. That in itself is pretty shocking. If these people have jobs so unimportant that they can walk away from them and teach, why the hell were they doing these jobs in the first place?

Of course that elusive 2,000 people who've been doing unnecessary jobs for so long won't be enough, so they say they will hire substitute teachers. I know people who've been substitute teachers who've never been regular teachers, and the city can easily hire more like that. But ask yourself this--do you want someone with no experience teaching your lesson plan? I don't, and frankly I'd have just as little faith in some pencil-pusher from Tweed.You may know how to sit around in an air-conditioned office, but that doesn't mean you can teach English. Or chemistry. Or Chinese. Or whatever. 

Let's get to another issue you may or may not be familiar with. People, believe it or not, do not always get along with one another. I've seen some great ICT teams. I've also seen some terrible ones. I've been to several principal's meetings where the principal would say you--teach the class. You--stand on the side and provide support to individual kids. Don't interact.

Once I was involved with a pair of teachers who absolutely could not get along. The principal told each to designate a rep, and one chose me. I sat with another teacher in the principal's office and we rated the students somehow, looking at their grades and records and whatever else we could find. We tossed a coin for who got first choice, and then picked one by one, breaking the class into two. One teacher taught in one corner of the classroom, the other in the opposite one.

It would be really hard to decide who gets that Blended Learning Remote teacher gig. The DOE says the team of three will negotiate who does what task. I'd assume the BLR teachers would get less prep and less grading because of the volume of students. I guess that would be fair, but you never know how these things will go. The other two teachers could perhaps get some relief. On the other hand, the BLR teacher could be the one the students see most of the time, so maybe it should be the most experienced teacher.

You'd need a really deft hand to make this arrangement fair. In fact, you'd also need two in-person teachers willing to do the same curriculum at the same rate, pretty much day by day. There's also be the notion of individual teacher voice, which I suppose would need to be dropped by the wayside. A colleague of mine sees symbols in everything. I see them in almost nothing. I respect her, and she's a great teacher, but I wouldn't want to be paired with her to teach a novel. 

This plan was not created to improve education in any way. The city is now short only 50% of the additional teachers we need to carry out the mayor's hare-brained scheme. So now the city only needs half the number of magical co-teachers it needed before, and that's it. (The city's still short hundreds of nurses and school's supposed to begin in two weeks.)

And as bad as that is, it pales in comparison to the city declining to invest in testing to keep kids safe. If the city would do substantive COVID testing, I'd volunteer to be the frigging Blended Learning Remote teacher.

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