Sunday, March 29, 2020

I Won't Walk the Line

I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to go back for that last week with my colleagues. I think it had a lot to do with my being chapter leader. I felt I had to. Looking back, I don't think I was very smart. Anyone could have taken off, no questions asked, and all if would have cost was a day from the bank.

A lot of people did, and in retrospect they'd thought things out better than I had. I now find the news so upsetting that I won't watch it on TV very long. After five minutes it's just more and more of the same thing.

Nonetheless, it's remarkable to read that Donald Trump thinks we should just go back to work by Easter. Even more remarkable is to read Bill de Blasio sputtering out much the same nonsense. I'm not sure what I was thinking two weeks ago, but given everything I see and read, that's nothing short of insane. It was surely not a good idea to go back for those last three days, but the school was pretty quiet, and social distancing was at least a possibility.

The school in which I work, though, is over 200% capacity. That's just fine with Mayor de Blasio, because he works from a spacious office somewhere and doesn't actually have to walk the halls with double the number of people who belong there. That, of course, is the exclusive privilege of the 4500 kids and 500 staff about whom Bill de Blasio does not give a fiddler's fart.

The thing I keep going back to is Broadway. If it's too dangerous for well-heeled theatergoers to sit through an $800 performance of Hamilton, how is it okay for 5,000 people to push their way through Francis Lewis High School? And let's not forget there are over a million other students wandering through the halls of the buildings Bill de Blasio has neglected these last seven years. Let's not forget all the UFT, all the DC37, and all the other working people in our schools.

Bill de Blasio forgot all of them. Bill de Blasio let us amble through another week of elevated risk. I just happen to be a person at elevated risk, as are many of my colleagues, not only in my building, but city wide. I hadn't realized the gravity of the situation, and I essentially took my life in my hands, along with a million other New Yorkers, about whom Bill de Blasio did not and does not give a damn.

So go ahead, Mr. President. Go ahead, Mr. Mayor. I'm not going back. As a parent, I wouldn't send my kid back. In fact, I cannot imagine any parent watching the news even a little bit sending a kid back into this. In a worldwide emergency, someone is supposed to provide leadership. A lot of people are looking to Andrew Cuomo these days, saying draft him for president. As much as I'd like to see someone more able to beat Donald Trump than Joe Biden, I have my doubts about Cuomo too:

“If you now look at it, it didn't make any sense to close the schools, send my kids home with me or older people, or with grandmothers who were vulnerable to this virus,” Cuomo said in the CNN interview. “And young people were then maybe bringing it into the house. We didn't have any data or science to instruct us. But now you can come up with a smarter public health strategy that actually protects older people, lets younger people get back to work, and that can start the economic recovery. But it has to be that smart. It can't be reactive. It can't be emotional.”

As Chancellor Carranza so deftly pointed out, I'm not an epidemiologist. Nor were the 108,000 people who had signed the UFT petition to close schools by the time he rejected our plea. However, while I don't like to brag, I happen to be a high school graduate. Pardon my blatant appeal to authority, but on that basis alone I can tell you that every day you go back to your school, particularly an overcrowded one like mine, you actually increase your potential exposure to the virus, and you therefore increase the chances of exposing grandma.

Cuomo can spout nonsense with the best of them. If Trump, de Blasio, or Cuomo chooses to open America, open NY, open NYC, or open schools, that's on them. They can defy common sense, which many have determined to be the least common of all the senses anyway. If Glenn Beck wants to die for the Dow, it's a free country and I fully support his decision.

But my lookout is closer to home. People are always more important than markets. For me, for the people I love, even for my little dog, forget it. I'm not walking back into any Petri dish any time soon, and I'm telling you all to stay away with me. Nothing is worth risking your health, and the truth is none of these bloviating cowards, Beck, de Blasio, Cuomo or Trump, would really risk theirs either.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

One Giant Step for Stupidity


Yesterday I marked a student present who had not shown up to class all week. How does that happen? Lately it happens when the DOE puts out guidelines without consulting with the union. It turns out that people who sit in offices all day may have little knowledge of what goes on in classrooms. And yes, if school supervisors sit in offices all day that can apply to them as well.

We got a directive the other day that we must take attendance daily whether or not we hold class.I checked to make sure the source was DOE, and of course it was. That's understandable, of course, if you aren't holding virtual classes. If you're communicating via email or chat or something, the student doesn't have to actually show up to a class meeting. If you are holding class meetings, as I am, that's something else altogether. Nonetheless, those of us holding classes should send an email, a yes/no question, or whatever, and if the student responds, we are to mark that student present.

Now in case this isn't sufficiently absurd, consider this--you may not penalize anyone for not showing up to your virtual class. Therefore, the students who bother to show up and participate have no actual advantage over those who do not. In fact they may be at a disadvantage, as perhaps their performance could negatively impact their grade. Of course there may be circumstances under which a student may not participate. For example, your student may not have an internet-enabled device. That applies to exactly none of my students, as far as I know.

I have one student who I know suffers from depression, and has anxiety over everything that's going on. I understand that completely and I would never penalize this student. I'm not actually looking to penalize anyone anyway. Still, the notion of assessing students who are held harmless for doing nothing is tough to get my head around.

Assessments in the traditional sense are also absurd. I cannot force students to show their faces during live sessions. I had limited success yesterday when I offered extra credit to anyone who had a camera on. I'll continue doing that, but one student says he has no video, and I'm not in a position to challenge that. Perhaps it's true, even though I happen to know he carries a late model iPhone. Who knows?

Were I able to get them all to show their faces, I'd be much more confident in giving some kind of assessment and watching them take it. As is, I can give projects and writing assignments. However, decades of experience suggest to me that I have no way to ensure my students actually completed such things themselves. I have known kids who've claimed cheating was part of their culture, although they didn't use those exact words.

I'm told the attendance question will be negotiated with the union, and I do believe it will come back a little less insane. There's no way it can be perfect, because nothing is, especially these days.

This is reminiscent of the memo regarding instruction. When the DOE put it out unilaterally, it contained a sample class schedule. That meant that everyone was expected to do online classes. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, had not considered how few of us live in school buildings. But that wasn't the main thing they failed to consider.

While a lowly teacher like me considers a student who suffers from depression, the DOE hadn't considered the individual circumstances of teachers or their families. You don't know how to operate a computer? Figure out how to use Google Classroom and Zoom by Monday or take a leave of absence. You have an autistic child who has violent tantrums? Put the kid in a cage in the basement and close the door so no one hears. You have kids home from college all using Zoom for their classes sucking up your bandwidth? Send them all to the public library, which is closed.

You can never underestimate the insensitivity of the DOE. Many are Bloomberg leftovers. I was very happy when de Blasio was elected because I stupidly assumed he'd get rid of them. The other day some opinion writer in the Post called Carranza racist. This of course, is because he fired two women who turned around and sued, claiming he did so because they were white. I happen to know he also fired a Latina who was in charge of ELL programming for the city. I'd have been much happier with both de Blasio and Carranza if they'd cleaned house.

Nonetheless, the second iteration of the guidelines did not contain a bell schedule, and made it clear that no school was to require one. In case that wasn't explicit enough, the DOE has put out a companion FAQ to the guidelines previously issued. It appears to have been coordinated with the union, and it contains this:
Please be mindful that our staff, students, and parents may be caring for others, sharing technology resources, and/or be battling illness themselves. Under the current conditions, staff should be given flexibility in establishing remote teaching instructional programs

What does this mean, exactly? This means that, if your principal puts out a directive that absolutely everyone must teach their classes face to face via Zoom every single day, he's laboring under a misconception. If that's the case, you need to contact your chapter leader immediately. Should your CL be asleep on some other virtual astral plane, reach out to your district rep.

Here's another important excerpt:


  • Schools should not try to replicate a regular school day schedule in a virtual
    environment.


This emphasizes you ought not to be simply mirroring what you do every day in a school building. Every time the DOE sends something out that hasn't been vetted by us, there's something really wrong with it. It's unfortunate that so many school leaders have so little respect for those of us who actually do the work.

That, of course, is why we have and need a union. If you prefer to be at the whim of a leader who knows everything, go work for a charter school. There are plenty around, and they're largely populated with teachers who, for whatever reason, have been unable to procure a UFT job. There are plenty of people, like the President of the United States, who'd like to do away with union and shut our voices out for good. All the more reason to raise them now.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Where's the Leadership?

A few days ago, Bill de Blasio said he didn't think NYC schools would reopen this year. Today, he said he hoped to have them open by April 20th. It sounds like he's been listening to Donald Trump. Of course, school openings are not what's on Donald Trump's reptilian little mind:

President Donald Trump says he’s willing to help blue-state governors who are struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks — but only if they’re willing to stop criticizing him in exchange.

“It’s a two-way street,” Trump told Fox News on Tuesday. “They have to treat us well, also. They can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.’”


To Donald Trump, the most important thing here is not whether or not people get ventilators, or medical care, or hospital beds, or get to continue living. Donald Trump's priority, rather, is that people say nice things about him. It's funny that this is so important to him.

I'm a leader of sorts, albeit on a much smaller scale. I learned very quickly that whatever you do, not everyone will be pleased. You have to listen carefully, do the best you can, and make decisions. Of course if you pick red, someone will want blue. If you aren't willing to endure the slings and arrows, you'd better get a different kind of job. Maybe you could get a nice job sitting in an office cubicle somewhere doing whatever people do in those things. Don't you think the world would be a better place if Donald J. Trump were in a cubicle somewhere?

A friend of mine texted me earlier today, disgusted that Andrew Cuomo was saying good things about Donald Trump. Now that I've read this story, I understand why. If Cuomo can save lives of New Yorkers by indulging the Child-in-Chief's monumental ego, it's just part of the job somehow. TV news being almost all the same these days, I avoid watching it, and I avoid watching Cuomo, but I've seen him a few times. Despite all the nonsense he's perpetrated against teachers, I find myself looking at him and saying, "Look at that guy. He's a grownup and he's not insane." I used to think that was a low standard, but things I've seen and experienced over the last week or so have made me reconsider.

It looks like Joe Biden, who only crawls out of his coffin for special occasions, has decided not to bother debating Senator Bernie Sanders. You can see Bernie on the Senate floor calling the GOP to task for their insane priorities. Perish forbid they should give poor people a little more than they usually have, even as Wall Street gets trillions, you know, the trillions Joe Biden said we didn't have to insure healthcare for all. Biden made an awkward statement from his awkward basement studio, even as Trump's insane handling of the crisis is approved by 60% of the American people.

I guess it's appropriate that an insane situation is monitored by and insane person. But it's compounded by the fact that we as a nation are insane enough to approve of his lies and selfishness. Who's going to lead us through this crisis, and how can we elect an actual leader in November?

Technical Difficulties

Today was my worst day as a remote teacher. I had an interesting lesson, or at least I thought so. I picked the song, Morning Has Broken, by Cat Stevens. For my money, it's one of the most life-affirming things I've ever heard. Another is Sweet Old World, by Lucinda Williams, though I personally like Emmylou Harris's version better. However, that one is an oblique reference to suicide, and I don't want to bring that into my classroom, virtual or otherwise.

Yesterday I wrote a long Keynote presentation. I explained who Cat Stevens was, and how he evolved into Yusuf Islam. I gave them vocabulary that would help them get through it. Then I gave them the lyrics with words missing, so they could fill it in. Except I didn't. I hadn't taken the final step of sharing it with them when I uploaded it onto Google Classroom. I fumbled around but with all the windows on my laptop, just couldn't do it. There was nowhere to go, and I ended the class ten minutes early.

Afterward, I figured out what the problem was. The next problem, of course, is that my other section will have the words and the classes will likely be out of sync. I guess I could share today's class the full lyrics and that would fix the issue. Alas, that wasn't the only issue I had.

My Keynote presentations contain animation and are designed so that lines appear one at a time, However, when I showed it full screen, no one could see it. I had to show it on partial screen and show full slides. That sucked because I had a discussion planned revolving around one line at a time. I was very lucky that one of my students' paraprofessionals happened to be in the room and was quick to correct me, as somehow what I saw on my screen was not what they saw, even though I was sharing the screen.

This was disappointing because things went relatively smoothly my first two days. I guess I'm not a computer wizard after all. Fortunately, I'm friendly with a lot of young teachers who are much smarter than I am. I shall be calling on their services this PM for sure. Hopefully tomorrow will go better.

Also, I've been completely unsuccessful in getting my students to show their faces. I'm not sure exactly how far to go with that. I know I can't force them but I'm gonna keep trying. It seems disingenuous to offer extra credit because I've decided not to even grade anything the first week or two. On the bright side, I only had two absences this morning. That's an improvement.

I hope your difficulties are no worse than mine. Please let me know how you're doing in these challenging times.

Update: Even after I had an hour to fix it, I somehow failed to upload a short story I wrote for my other class. I had to read it to them.  This time I went back again and tested to make sure I did it correctly. One class now has Morning Has Broken twice. I left it that way just to be sure. I will get the hang of this, but it will take a little time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Online Teaching and Offline Infections

I have a lot of questions about doing this online. Who's paying attention, for one? Most of my students have pictures up where their faces should be. Sometimes I call on them and they show their faces. Sometimes they don't. How do I know that the kid isn't on the other side of the room playing a game on his phone?

One kid yesterday wasn't responding when I called on him. When he finally did, it was in the chat. How do I know it was him? Another student who was not that great orally did fabulously when answering in the chat. However, I also notice when she logged in there were two names. Perhaps the person she was with was the one typing the answers. Who knows?

I honestly cannot imagine giving a graded assessment of any sort. How will I know the students themselves answered? I see that the DOE doesn't want to grant tenure while the schools are closed. That point may be moot because most tenure occurs in September, and I really, really hope we're back by then. Of course the DOE is infested with Bloomberg leftovers who want to do everything "for the kids." That means, essentially, "Screw the grownups." It's pretty short-sighted because those kids we're doing for are headed toward being grownups. But I digress.

If teachers are not getting tenure because we aren't really in school somehow, how are we supposed to grade students who somehow aren't there either? We are either working or we are not, students are either learning or they are not, and we have to show flexibility in this time of emergency. It's awful that the DOE wants to extend the tenure of people who've been chasing it for four years. Principals who need the extra few months to decide simply haven't been paying attention.

As for my students, I'm not really inclined to ask them to show their faces right now. I'd like them to be comfortable above all else. That said, it's impossible to gauge their interest without seeing them. Not only that, it's very tough to measure the quality of their work in any way under these circumstances. If I were in a classroom, I'd be walking around all the time to find out exactly what was going on. I can't do that.

I'm going to encourage them to show their faces, but I have no idea whether or not I can require it. Ultimately I won't. I know teachers who are terrified of showing their faces on camera. How could I expect that kids would feel any less insecure than grownups? As if that were not enough, this is a very stressful time. I have students who were raised to sit down, shut up, and worship the teacher as a deity. It sounds awful. And some are painfully shy. One of the best things I do is get kids like that out of their shells. Online that is a very tall order.

Some of my students report that all they do is play video games all day, every day. Now I've gone on game binges from time to time. Years ago, I'd close my eyes at night and see Tetris bricks floating down. Now, I don't even get started because I know it's just a huge time suck. Are the students happy to have their game play interrupted? At least one said yes. She deemed playing games all day boring. That made me happy.

But happiness isn't everything. Yesterday I found out there were two confirmed cases of the virus in our building. I'm not really sure what we're supposed to do when we hear that. It's like, "Now that you're finally home, here's an extra thing to worry about." Should we panic? Jump out a window? Should all 5,000 people in the building be tested? I'd say yes to the last. But of course, they say the best way to get tested is to sneeze in a rich person's face and wait for the results.

It's kind of funny the city said oh, if we confirm a case, we'll close the school. (We now know they didn't even do that.) How could they not know that there were cases everywhere? I just assumed it. I was walking around telling people, "For all we know, we all have it." We really have no way of knowing otherwise. The fact that almost no one was being tested, that there were outlandish obstacles preventing people from being tested, exacerbated the situation. Of course the very worst thing was Bill de Blasio's pigheaded witless decision to keep the schools open even as he deemed Broadway too dangerous.

What do I tell my students? How can I reassure them? I only hope they aren't watching the news. I know what it has to say already. You have to be a masochist to sit and listen to this. You just need to move forward and do the best you can. My online teaching will get better, and so will the country.

If only Joe Biden could crawl out of his coffin and prove he can survive exposure to daylight, we'd really have something to look forward to.

Monday, March 23, 2020

UFT Executive Board March 23, 2020 (via conference call)--Virus and its Discontents

6:02: Secretary LeRoy Barr calls us to order.

Minutes approved via email

Barr—Today was first day of this new process. Trying to make this as good an experience for members as possible. Thanks members for work they did today.

Cassie Prugh--Legislative Report—Been busy monitoring activity over virus. Trying to share w union. Beyond that, state budget should move beginning Thursday. Assembly looking at electronic voting. Budged could be combo of bills. Medicaid cuts given to legislature for review. May avoid across board cut. Good news, no premium or cut getting passed along to members. May avoid direct cost shift to NYC, but many cuts are on the table.

City—All schedules and meeting postponed, Nothing on budget process. Stay tuned. Deadline July 1. AFT endorsed Biden. March 24 special election for Queensborough Pres. postponed.

Census underway. Mayor asked for a deadline extension to September so we may do better.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew
—Thanks Cassie. Says we are leery that something bad could happen in budget because no one paying attention. Now city looking at 1.8 billion deficit, next year 3 billion. We have to look at this and longterm problems. There is a lot of hurt coming for years to come.

State focused more on virus and not on budget, which is appropriate.

Wishes everyone well, sends best wishes to those not feeling well.

Two weeks ago, mayor wouldn’t close schools. Thanks everyone for efforts. Were trying days before to close schools. Was clear what would happen. Thanks everyone for the push we made to get city to do what they had to. Thanks unions, 1199.

How do you take largest school system in America and make it remote learning in a week? Ignorance astounding. People think because we use Google classroom we can do whatever. Students are no longer there. Many challenges. Last week frustrating, caused anger, but we had to keep moving as fast as possible. Had to launch today.

We had to make sure first responders and health care workers had child care.

Principals had locks broken because they locked up Purell and supplies. Thanks Jeff Povalitus, health and safety for visiting 24 sites today.

Virtual learning means you set up classroom in real time. At times that won’t work. Many superintendents and principals ignored instructions NOT to recreate regular school schedule.

We wil set up focus group about how to do this properly. DOE failed to consider, initially, is there are parents, our partners, involved on other side. Only cared about accountability, paperwork, not serving children.

Met yesterday with chancellor and leadership. Will continue to push and advocate for what we need. People who work with children will figure this out. Lots of issues with DOE policies. We will advocate and fix.

If HS teacher set up virtual classroom at specific time, many don’t log on. DOE doesn’t know that. We need to also talk to parents. Concerned with young children, Many parents laid off. DOE thinks everyone just waiting to log on is absurd. DOE has heard us.

We will figure different ways to do this. No one has the answer. Can’t just be what we don’t like. We have to engage our students.

Questions—Mulgrew’s answers below:

Says we will be putting up webinars to support members. We will offer examples of how to help. We will hopefully have them by Friday. Working on attendance policies, but DOE sent out something we have not agreed upon. NO official attendance policy yet. We may have them Friday or Monday. You must do all you can to engage students under your care. Biggest challenge is students haven’t got tech or ability to engage.

Say chapter leaders backbone of union.

Schools ought not to demand people check in online. Let’s wait a week and come up with something that will work. Ridiculous admin wants to keep school day. Will not work. We are making that point.

We haven’t agreed to anything on responsibilities of paras, secretaries, counselors. With pay is expectation of work. Teachers need to move learning forward. If we’d planned it five months ago, it would work better. Teachers need to set up plans to engage students in learning. Different strategies depending on who you teach.

Google platform crashed numerous times today.

We are not trying to recreate school day. Ought not to be doing regular observations.

Paraprofessionals were invited into Google classrooms as students. That’s degrading. This is why we need focus group.

Payroll secretaries need to have ability to get into systems from home. We need to have that conversation before we survey payroll secretaries.

Janella Hinds—DOE has granted access to necessary applications to secretaries. We sent a letter reminding them of that.

Mulgrew—Need to make sure when they access systems it’s working. Many granted access but couldn’t get in.

Upset about unofficial email on student attendance. You can’t guarantee won’t be used against them in college. Need to fix.

Tenure—we don’t know where we’re going with it. Assuming DOE and mayor will get lawsuits over COVID 19 crisis. We were going to sue because we knew of confirmed cases with no cleaning, closing or investigations. They decided it didn’t matter until they used a triple process. Clearly, that’s why we called BS and said if they didn’t close we’d sue. There will be suits.

State tests canceled.

We are working on tenure. They shouldn’t have put out extensions. We are working on that.

We have in writing no one can be disciplined for days off during these times.

Mulgrew requests Exec. Board every Monday during crisis.

Approved

Mulgrew—Our front-line nurses angry frustrated. our private nurses inundated, not following safety protocol, lack supplies, same at Northwell. visiting nurses running from house to house. No one should forget what they’re going through. Trying to get meals for their families, child care.

We have to figure this out. We know DOE will not. If we leave it to them, kids are screwed. Entire system based on bureaucracy, ego, and protocol. We have to push toward the good. What works for members works for kids.

Thanks for leadership where you work, in union and everyplace else.

6:40 roll call

Barr—Thanks us for calling in. 6:50 We are adjourned.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Co-Teaching in Virus Times

Yes, I know. Toby's a little young and he hasn't got a certification yet. But I assure you he'll only be my assistant while I lead the class. 

Meanwhile, I've been getting an awful lot of email about how to navigate this seemingly new world. It's getting so I can't keep up. I'm qute surprised to find myself continually referencing a message from the CSA President, Mark Cannizaro. Mulgrew sent it out one day last week. I'll get to that.

First, a lot of us are befuddled by using unfamiliar technology, and I have to admit I'm among that crowd. While I'm not techno-phobic by any means, I've never used Google Classroom or Zoom before. I never saw the need, and now I wish I'd tried before. In any case, a lot of young teachers in my school have been incredibly generous with their time.

I did a practice Zoom session with one yesterday and she walked me through how to show your computer screen, which is important, and how to use their white board feature, which kind of sucks. I have a little whiteboard and a new package of colored markers. There's also a setting that allows students to display their screens. I'd turn that off unless I were having them do presentations.

Some people can't use technology at all, and throwing them in at the deep end right now is borderline insane. Also a whole lot us have issues at home. What if you have a family member with special needs who needs constant attention? What if you share an apartment with six roommates and need to share their bandwidth? What if you have very young kids home from school? What if you have kids from college Zooming up all your bandwidth with their classes? What if your baby's daycare is closed, which it most certainly is? What if you have a yappy dog? (Toby is quiet and reflective.)

Ideally, of course, you'd live cast with them. But if you're going to be under constant pressure from your home circumstances, if you're going to be interrupted constantly, or if you're going to be fearful and miserable the entire time, you aren't doing frightened kids any service at all by showing them that. Do it if you can, but figure out something else if you can't. 

There are a lot of alternatives you can employ. If you want to focus on writing, you could take submissions via Google Classroom, provide feedback, and maybe have them rewrite. That's serious work, and it's time-consuming. Of course, your students now have a lot of time. You could make videos in the middle of the night when your family is asleep. It's no fun, but your kids will see your face and you can respond at other times. Maybe you have a better idea.You have to do the best you can in times like these.

I'm going to go live several times a week with my students. I'm also going to offer them an office hour. I don't have any kids at home, and with Toby as my co-teacher, I think I'll be successful once I get a little more comfortable with the software. I know it's tough getting along with co-teachers, but my dog and I have been hanging out together for a while now, and he's never questioned any of my teaching decisions.

Here's what I think Cannizzaro gets right--he tells principals to be leaders. Leaders don't micro-manage in times of crisis, saying things like you must do this and there is no other thing you may possibly do. Leaders support. I'm a leader. My main message to my kids will not be you must do this or that assignment in this or that way. My main message will be I care about you, you are important to me, and I'm setting this time aside for you.

In school, when I'm teaching in some filthy, moldy neglected trailer that had neither paper towels or soap until the Corona virus hit, I try to send that message by wearing a suit to work. At home, I'm going to send it by spending a lot of time focusing on how they feel and what they do. Just as the CSA President provided guidance for principals, saying they ought not to scrutinize teacher schedules and other minutiae, I'm not going to get on student cases over missing a homework assignment here or there. I'm going to be happy and grateful that they even showed up. And this is key:

We are in unchartered territory and everyone understands it. The goal is not to recreate a normal school day given that the sudden changes in our lives and routines are anything but normal. The goal must be to provide some semblance of stability and learning for our students while paying careful attention to their social and emotional health. In turn, we must acknowledge the anxiety and fears in the adults around us and provide an outlet for them as well.

Please bear that in mind when dealing with your students. I'm fixated on grammar, and I verge on having a conniption every time someone says, "He go to the store," and doesn't make the subject and verb agree. You may feel the same way about calculating square roots, or the Battle of Gettysburg, or whatever. But things are different now, both for you and your kids. Think about it. Anyone who thinks we're doing the same thing now that we always do is frankly delusional.

You're a leader too. Try very had to be extra kind to your students. If you're live casting, try to give them a sense of family. Try to make them feel the joy of being together. My students are teenagers, and their social lives have been torn from them. Perhaps there's a limit to how happy you can be playing video games on your phone. Perhaps not.

I'm quite surprised at how thoughtful and apt the head of the principals' union has put things. But I think, in these times, he's managed to capture the essence of what it is we need to do. Here's his letter in full. Try to imagine that you're the leader and you're taking this approach to your students. Please read it and give it some thought.

Letter from CSA President Mark Cannizzaro to principals
Though I have been actively involved in CSA’s communications over the last two weeks, I wanted to personally share my appreciation for your heroic efforts as well as a few thoughts on what comes next.
Since late last week, the CSA felt that the closing of our schools was a drastic but necessary step to safeguard school communities and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our city. Therefore, while aware that transitioning over 1,700 schools to distance learning in just a few days would be a near impossible task, we strongly advocated that the mayor do so.
Since then, as expected, you have been inundated with information and directives that have been sometimes confusing and conflicting, sometimes unrealistic and have often left you with unanswered questions. Through it all, you have been the calming, positive and steady presence your staff needs. You have instilled confidence and trust in them even when your own confidence was shaken. I recognize it, the chancellor recognizes it, and we both thank you!  
With all the confusion, I would like to offer some clarity. Your primary responsibility over the next several weeks is to do the best you can to provide your students with quality learning opportunities. It is understood that some schools and some individual teachers are much further along than others in their distance learning capabilities. You will not be disciplined if you are unable to accurately or completely fulfill every expectation or strictly adhere to deadlines outlined in the DOE’s “expectations memo.”
You are not expected to offer the same level of supervision as you are able to during the typical school day. You and the assistant principals should be checking in on staff and offering support and ideas for how they can best serve students. You do not, however, need to concern yourself with scrutinizing teacher schedules and other minutiae. Continue to encourage and remain a source of strength for your teachers. Be available for them, model as best you can, and be open to their feedback and concerns. While not under the roof of your building, I know you will find innovative and real ways to keep your community connected for the benefit of your students.
We are in unchartered territory and everyone understands it. The goal is not to recreate a normal school day given that the sudden changes in our lives and routines are anything but normal. The goal must be to provide some semblance of stability and learning for our students while paying careful attention to their social and emotional health. In turn, we must acknowledge the anxiety and fears in the adults around us and provide an outlet for them as well.  
Finally, you must take care of yourself.  When things speed up, you must slow down.  Make sure you do the things that bring you peace of mind and body so that you can be present for those who look to you for guidance.   
Please know that CSA will be by your side throughout this process and that we are diligently working to bring clarity and get your questions answered. Please feel free to reach out to us at any time and, in the meantime, just do the best that you can!    
You and your team have done a great job thus far, and I know you will continue to do so. It is an honor to represent you! Stay safe! 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Damn Right I Want Fries with That!

You gotta love dogs

I may be off for a day or two while I organize for next week. 

Meanwhile, I'm featured in this piece on NY1. 

My first virtual interview ever. 

Have a great weekend, all!

It's So Quiet Here

It's eerie to wake up on a school day and not go in. It's 7:17 AM as I write this, and even my dog is sleeping. One of the great things about being a dog when I'm home is you get to sleep as late as you want. Usually, around 5:15 AM, I'm cutting up Freshpet, Toby smells it, and comes running downstairs as though the world were on fire.

Quiet though it is, perhaps the world is on fire. I stopped at a little soup shop on the way home and asked the guy at the counter why they didn't have the spicy chili I liked this week. Half the shop was roped off since it was now only a takeout place. He told me I wouldn't be seeing it for at least two weeks as he was closing the store. Made me think twice about buying, but I bought some chicken soup anyway.

I drove home yesterday and it was as though there were no school. In a way, there wasn't. There were no students in attendance. Now there are certain advantages of students being out. The building is certainly cleaner. Also, when you're walking the halls between periods 5 and 6 you don't have to push, shove, jostle, or be pushed, shoved or jostled. You get to spend more time with your colleagues, and mine are the best anywhere.

On the other hand, it's like the beating heart has been ripped from the building. I'm very lucky this year, in that there are too many beginners to offer only one class. Also, since the NYSESLAT exam that rates student ability is such crap, half or more of the beginners are in advanced classes. So I find myself with classes of about 16-20. It's lovely, actually. I've gotten to know these kids better than I usually do. Every single one of them can have my attention pretty much whenever they wish. I look forward to seeing them next week, and I'm frantically trying to sign them up even as my school hasn't bothered to get half of them the email addresses they need to do so.

I'm not tech-phobic, but a lot of people are. It's a big ask to place them in a situation in which they're dependent on computers. While I'm up for whatever, I'm not nearly as saavy as some of my younger colleagues. I didn't realize until this week how useful Google Classroom could be, and I've probably made a whole lot of paper copies I didn't need to. I had no idea Skedula had an email function until last night, when a young colleague showed me, and I found messages students had written me beginning two years ago.

I've decided to be aggressive signing up students, so I used the Skedula function to get them to sign up for my online classes. I copied their parents, but alas, few of them were signed up. I'm particularly concerned about my weakest class, which thus far has only three students. While large class sizes are pretty bad, a class of three in which only one is thus far verbal in English will be an excruciating thing to manage, especially online.

I know this is going to be tough. I've used Zoom five times this week, and three of the five times it's crashed. With the added burden of a city school system, I'm less than confident it will work. I'm even less confident I'll know how to handle this. I'm a new teacher again. Most of the things I do in the classroom cannot be replicated online. My strategy will be to overplan, have alternate activities, and hope for the best. It will be odd to assign writing exercises and not be able to walk around and help.

But everything is odd these days. How about you? How are you faring in the Time of the Virus?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Uncharted Territory

I often think of the apocryphal Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." It crossed my mind quite a bit when Mike Bloomberg was mayor. But the times seem to get more and more interesting.

I've never seen a time like this. My mother once told me she got scarlet fever as a child and was quarantined. Back then they weren't as advanced as we are. They, you know, actually tested and diagnosed you, even if you didn't happen to be Tom Hanks.

Now I go to work, what's left of it, and everyone is wearing masks and gloves. I understand, of course, the urge to protect yourself. Still, last week we were in the building with 4,999 other people, right up until Friday. We weren't wearing masks or gloves then, or the day before that, or the day before that. We haven't got a diagnosed case in our school. This notwithstanding, I only know of one person who's been tested. I cannot imagine that no one is carrying the virus. Far easier, for me, is to imagine everyone has it.

Then there are our jobs, which have changed substantively in the space of a week. I was excited about trying new technology with my classes, excited about seeing my students and perhaps guiding and supporting them through these troubled times. Then, of course, Part 154 popped up, with its demand for a certain number of minutes. Evidently the geniuses in Albany could not waive that for anything so simple as a deadly pandemic, even if the classes they mandate don't remotely meet the needs of ELLs. It appears to me, at least, that to meet the requirements we will not only have to come up with a creative solution, but we will also have to do so today. Special ed. has similar requirements, it appears.

As for the rest of us, I don't see how you can do anything without utilizing technology. Google Classroom seems indispensable right now, but correct me if you know another route. Two days ago, a first year teacher sat with me and showed me how to use it. Yesterday I spent hours trying to place my students in groups, only to find that more than half of them didn't have the school email addresses required for me to enter them. Now I don't even know if I'll be using those groupings, because of Part 154. Thank you Regents, for being inept and indifferent as always! Sorry you can't go to a restaurant for today's gala luncheon.

While I don't use Google Classroom, I'm almost married to my beat up little Macbook Air. I'd be lost without it, even though I've literally got it taped together in places. I've now been to three chapter leader meetings and two school meetings on Zoom, and while I'll certainly screw it up the first few times I use it, I learn things by doing them. You can't learn anything if you aren't willing to fall on your face the first few times. I try to impart that to beginning English learners.

This is going to be a rocky road. While your troubles are surely different from mine, I'm sure you have them. I hear a lot from teachers with young children who are usually at school. How can you get the computer when your kids are online with their teachers? How can you video cast with your children running around being three years old? Are you going to have to get up at two AM and write a plan? Make a video? Grade the work you assigned?

Back when we were racing to the top, a lot of people compared the plans to rate us with junk science withny building a plane we were already flying. It was insane, of course, to approach a venture that way. Given the circumstances, we really haven't got a choice this time. We can blame people. Blame de Blasio for not closing as soon as our health was imperiled. Blame me for not bothering with Google classroom until it hit me in the head like a grand piano.

Now I enjoy a good sulk as much as anybody, but we haven't got time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. You want to feel sorry for someone? Feel sorry for the restaurant worker no longer working. Feel sorry for the business owners told to close their doors until further notice. Feel sorry for the millions of Americans who lack insurance and further exacerbate this crisis through no fault of their own.

Know this, though. We are lucky. We have jobs and we have contracts. We are union and we are not alone. We don't have bosses who say you come in today, but you go home. We have students who need us. Aside from their parents, we're the best role models they have. It's possible we are the only role models they have. This is the time when we show who we really are and what we really can do. We're gonna have to give it our best, forget about our own troubles, at least while we're teaching, and give these 1.1 million kids as much hope and guidance as we possibly can.

We really have no other choice.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Parent Teacher Conferences Are Canceled

Not in a boat, not by remote,

Not here or there, not anywhere,

Not with a ham, not on a yam.
No PT conference, Sam I am

Monday, March 16, 2020

We Need Online Instruction in the Worst Way, and That's Exactly How We're Getting It

How can the mayor and chancellor continue to show their indifference to the health of UFT families? There's always a new way, and the chancellor's email this morning didn't disappoint.

I'd argue they've outdone themselves once again. It appears we will be asked to come into school buildings and use the filthy, never cleaned keyboards in our offices and libraries. I've carried my own laptop for over ten years now, precisely so I wouldn't have to do that.

The mayor and chancellor's indifference to our health is mind-boggling, and continues unabated. The moment I heard Broadway was closed, I knew the schools needed to close too. The mayor of New York City decided that Broadway theatergoers needed to be protected but 1.1 million students and their families, not to mention staff and their families, somehow merited virtually no consideration whatsoever.

Now the mayor who threw us all to the dogs is in charge of online learning. What does the chancellor know? He's the guy who wanted to hear from 108,000 epidemiologists before closing the schools. Has he consulted 108,000 online learning experts? Probably not. I'd wager he knows nothing.

He's not alone in that. I don't know anything about it either. I'm a language teacher and my classes revolve around student interaction. Without that, I have no idea what to do. I suppose I could model after the many terrible teachers I had in high school. Sit and do this. Sit and read that. I'll sit on my ass and wait for it to be over. As for me, I could lecture. Except I don't.

In Ohio, they're moving toward online learning, just as we are here. There are widespread cyber charters, and you'd think that might be a model to be replicated. You'd be wrong, because cyber charters are so abysmal that no one wants to use them as a role model. Of course, cyber charters are driven by a combination of blind reforminess and greed, so you wouldn't really expect them to be something to which any educator with a conscience would aspire.

Closer to home, we're the largest school system in the country moving toward an online model. My school, along with the rest of the city, has been frantically planning for an online parent teacher night. Alas, we should've been focusing long-term, but we were saddled with Mayor Bill de Blasio, dead set on keeping schools open at the expense of the health of students, staff and their families. Staff health was and still appears to be priority number zero.

As though their indifference to our health isn't enough, we're now dependent on their instructional leadership. De Blasio's DOE told principals that instructional leadership entailed them doing whatever they hell they felt like, appointing teams of anyone they felt like, and absolutely ignoring UFT input. Given that, the educational philosophies of de Blasio and Bloomberg don't seem all that different at all.

I've got a different approach. I think my students need to be active participants. I've got kids who've been trained all their lives to sit down and shut up, and a big part of my job is turning that around. I can't do that when I'm not in the room. I can't trick and seduce students into talking, let alone loving English or reading from a computer monitor. I can't do what I do remotely. I'm now gonna be trained by people who have as little experience as I do.

Remote learning is always problematic For example, I 'm wary of homework. I give homework, but usually things that can be finished in ten or fifteen minutes. I give credit for homework, but not nearly enough that any student can pass without understanding the material. I'm acutely aware that students copy homework, and it's evident nowhere so much as on tests. Students fail tests after doing the homework perfectly. Students who really understand the homework pass tests.

Not only that, but I don't love writing assignments that are completed at home. When I've taught classes that revolved around writing, I could always detect the voices of my students. This was unfortunate for some, because when they brought in assignments they hadn't written, I'd know immediately. Sometimes I'd ask them what a word means and they wouldn't know. How could you use it then, I'd ask. Sometimes they'd tell me their sister, brother, or tutor did it. There's no value in that. If I give suggestions on work you didn't do, it won't help. I eventually made all or most writing and rewriting done in front of my face, the one no one will be close to for months.

We talk about putting our children through school. I know a woman in Canada who doesn't speak English. Her kids put her through an online degree, even though neither was yet out of high school. Good on those kids, but not a good look for mom. Sadly, lots of kids will do exactly what that mom did. I wouldn't trust a remote online assessment. Any lazy kid with a smart girlfriend won't be doing the work himself.

I'm sure a lot of people have ideas. Personally I remember high school as an almost complete waste of time. In four years, I had only one teacher who revolved a class around discussion and valued our ideas. I think the class was called sociology. I don't really remember how much sociology we discussed, but I loved that class. I was happily surprised in college when many of my classes followed this model. We were actually part of these classes, and our teachers routinely interacted with us. I never loved school until college.

Here's what I've learned from cyber charters--They're a cheap shortcut, an we're taking a big step backward with online learning. We have no choice, but I'm doubtful that the inept and bumbling DOE can train teachers to do anything worthwhile in three days, let alone three years. I'll go in and do the best I can. But color me skeptical at best.

If we're doing remote learning, and kids aren't coming into our buildings, our custodians will have a lot less to do. Maybe it would be a good idea to do real deep cleaning, as opposed to scrubbing surfaces, or what Mayor de Blasio calls deep cleaning. Maybe we should clean all the dust. Maybe we should clean the frigging filthy computers. Maybe we should've been doing that all along.

But what do I know? I'm just a teacher, and neither the mayor nor chancellor gives a golly gosh darn what teachers think. After all, they have schools to run. Why waste time consulting teachers?