Monday, July 12, 2021

The NX Files

These are indeed strange days. This year has been like no other, and everyone with whom I speak wishes fervently to never repeat it. I almost retired, but decided pretty much at the last moment to stay on. (I've had my final consultation and I do not recall anything whatsoever about what retirement entails. There's a section on the UFT website. I'll either have to study it or pay someone to help, I guess.)

I'm going to share with you some stories I've been hearing from working teachers. Lately, there's a lot of brouhaha about how we need to be observed constantly on camera. Perish forbid we should acknowledge the racist history in the United States without also sharing the commonly held view that neo-nazis with torches are "very fine people." The fact is, all of us have been observed by parents over this year. I saw them walking in and out of camera view, at least with those students who did me the courtesy of turning on their cameras.

Of course, that's not always ideal. For example, a friend of mine would see the father of one of his students each and every day. He'd be in the background, not sitting with his daughter. He would sit on the couch, put on his earphones and watch video. That's not so unusual. The thing was, though, that the father's water pipe was always audible. Most of the time the girl was muted so it was only occasionally a thing.  My friend was uncomfortable with the visual, though, and used to ask the girl to move her camera angle.

Another friend, in another district, told me that students there were expected to participate, and that using a camera was one form of participation. He's not a teacher, but a student of his acquaintance told him that he and his friends were able to make 11-minute clips of them looking at the computer screen. They ran them on loops and the teachers, they say, were perfectly happy with their attendance. I told him that wouldn't work in my class because I made it a point to call on everyone. 

Now maybe that wasn't the wise way to go. Just recently teachers have been telling me that they'd call on students, and those who didn't answer were just marked absent. I didn't do that, but I will say that every single student who seemed not to be in class never handed in work, and all of them managed to fail. It will be a relief to no longer have to call on students who are not actually there. 

Another teacher told me she reached out to a very capable student who mostly did not attend class. The student had made up some assignments, but not enough. She called the student's mom to let her know what her son needed to do. Later that day, the teacher received a dozen assignments from the student. The second one she checked had the name of another student on it. 

The teacher had to call the mom again, on the very same day, to say she was not giving the student credit for this. She then had to call the mom of the student who actually did the homework and say this might affect her average. This was a high-performing student, and both the mom and kid freaked out. The teacher had no intention of carrying out this threat, and was happy to have accomplished her goal of making the student consider her actions more carefully. 

She then got an email from the high-performing student.  The student said another teacher had been running extra help sessions and asked her to help the student who ended up plagiarizing her work. She told the student that sharing her assignments was not, in fact, helping, and that any time she gave her work to someone else she could assume it would be copied.  In this case the student hadn't even bothered to do that much.

She then got an email from the plagiarizing student who said he was visiting a sick relative in the hospital that day, and that's why he copied the homework. He had fully intended to do it himself, but given the circumstance, he had no choice. Of course that was nonsense, because the assignments were not due that day anyway. 

And that's why this student joins the others in the NX Files. If you have a story for the files, feel free to share it in the comments.

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