Thursday, September 16, 2021

Back to School, and COVID's Not the Only Issue

I'm really in a state of semi-shock at being back at work. While some are overjoyed, and others are horrified, I fall somewhere in the middle. Honestly, with COVID hanging over our heads, I'm mystified at the relentless optimism some people display. This notwithstanding, I'm thrilled to be back doing my real job, and now that I'm a dean, I'm kind of fascinated by my new one.

Being a dean was really great for the first few days. I spent most of my time orienting and helping kids find their way around our huge overcrowded building. This kind of work is great for me. Also I kind of like walking, so running around the building like a lunatic fits right into my personal lunacy. 

My classes are great. The students are mostly new, and sometimes very nervous. Because my classes are small, I've been able to really focus on some of my more frightened and/ or needy students. When they had problems, I was able to go right up to them and walk them through. I'm trying to put all my handouts and things online, and I really don't think that the city's remote instruction, synchronous,  asynchronous or otherwise, will be any issue at all. 

Of course, not everything is perfect. I've now gotten to see NYC's non-HEPA air filters up close, and they suck beyond belief. I turned one on, and within five minutes it turned itself off. I thought that was odd, so I tried the other one, and had the same result. I briefly considered tossing them out the window, but all the windows were closed. I was not sure that tossing machines out windows was the precise impression I wanted to leave my students the first week, but what do you do with garbage if not toss it out?

On the bright side, the room is air-conditioned. This was particularly helpful last week. I have colleagues who are not so fortunate. Of course they are in full classrooms, while I'm in one of the quasi-closets in which newcomers from my school have been dumped forever. This is not too bad now, but if we get a lot of over the counter students, it will be a disaster. I'd actually asked for a trailer. Since almost no one wants them, and for good reason, they're usually easy to get. Though the trailers are awful, they are full sized and you can give tests in which cheating is not akin to the national pastime. 

Wednesday I deaned the second and third floors of our school. One of our school's policies is to close student bathrooms for the first and last ten minutes of each period. I think, actually, that this is a fair policy. It means, for one thing, that we don't have students taking the pass at the beginning of the period and returning at the end. It also theoretically means the bathrooms are not likely to be all-day hangouts for students looking to avoid the whole class thing, or run illicit businesses, or whatever may happen in there. 

I soon learned, however, that none of our bathroom doors naturally close. So if I lock a door, pull it shut, and a student is inside, the student exits and the door remains ajar. This, essentially, means locking and unlocking the bathroom doors is a complete waste of time. Not only that, but I recall this coming up at a UFT consultation years ago. This means the doors have  been that way for years.

In fact, after having locked a girls' room door, I returned back to it to hear a girl banging on the door, stuck inside, and unable to get out. I unlocked it and gave it a brutal shove to open it. It is unbelievable and unconscionable that no one has repaired these doors in years. Someone should make it uncomfortable for the doors to be left that way, and I've got a number of ideas about how to make that happen. 

It's not really just about kids being trapped in bathrooms. I was about to lock a boys' bathroom, and given the girl being locked in, I asked whether anyone was inside. (I don't know about you, but I'm not walking into a student bathroom. Anyone could accuse you of anything,) A number of boys walked out, One, upon seeing I was going to close and lock the door, said, "Wait. Let me get my stuff." He emerged with a large skateboard and a backpack. 

Now I have no idea what was in the backpack, but the boy had evidently planned to return to the bathroom later, or he wouldn't have left his things there. I also noticed him looking very carefully under a radiator as I walked him downstairs and toward the cafeteria. I doubled back, but found nothing there. But who knows what showed up there later?

It's absolutely insane that we can spend years with faulty doors, enabling not only trapped students, but also opportunities for students to do virtually anything in those bathrooms. I would not feel safe sending a kid into one of those rooms, yet as a teacher, it's actually my job to do so. I don't really like turning over rocks and seeing what's underneath. I hope not to learn a lot of things like this one.

But holy crap, I have to be far from the first person to notice this. I hope I'm not the only one determined not to look the other way and let this situation fester. 

I'll soon find out.

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