Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Week Off, or Makeup Week?

Some districts are ending the year early so they don't have to actually pay teachers for the seven extra days we worked. Is that a good idea? For Governor Cuomo, it was absolutely unacceptable for students to have a week off in April, even though every district in the state had agreed to it with their unions. This was because, he said, it was too risky for young people to be free that week.

According to Governor Cuomo, when young people are at liberty, they get together and socialize. They don't worry about whether or not they're spreading a pandemic. They aren't conscientious like the governor, the model of reason and judgment, who himself failed to take action when it could have saved a whole lot of sickness and death. (And just like Donald Trump, Governor Cuomo takes no responsibility for this.)

Kids are another thing. The governor boldly insisted they not have that week off. Evidently they lack his sterling judgment. This notwithstanding, his actions have given many of them an additional free week in June. So you have to ask yourself what's more risky--giving kids a free week of beautiful weather, or a chilly one in April? Then you have to ask yourself whether Cuomo, who failed to close the state when it could've made a crucial difference, knows how young people think. As far I can tell, Andrew Cuomo was 42 years old the day he was born.

Here is Fun City, we're looking at using the last week to catch up students who are failing, or NXing, as it were. Of course no one wants students to fail. However, it's hard for me, at least, to understand exactly how students make up in one week what other students spent months doing. For example, if I were to pass a student for simply making up assignments I'd given, I'd be saying that every single student who spent months coming to my virtual classes had wasted their time.

In fact, I'd be saying that I wasted my own time giving those classes. Why did I bother doing activities with them when I could have simply assigned homework and grading it? In fact, having heard from my students, parents and UFT that kids were overburdened with homework, I focused a lot less on it. As a language teacher, I really want my students to listen, to speak, to interact. In our department, participation is 30% of the grade. As far as I''m concerned, no one makes up months of participation in a week.

I'm now looking at some practices of my own, and realizeing how short-sighted they turned out. For example, when students show up in the middle of the year, not having had the benefit of months of instruction, I usually excuse them from tests. That is, I have them take the tests, but if they score, say, in the low teens, I don't record the grade. Should they catch up, I begin recording, If not, I try to give them a grade that won't affect their average.

This is biting me in the behind now, as one of those students is doggedly submitting missed assignments. What I notice is that assignments with specific answers are perfectly copied, while those requiring actual writing are borderline incoherent. I expect this student will end with a failing average, but then there will be that last week.

Of course it's different for students who have trouble getting online. Of course it's different for students who have emotional reactions to this crisis. I have one student who had both issues. However, this student had scored high grades all year. I'm inclined to give this student every benefit of the doubt. I have a lot of patience for this student, and in fact this student has recently stepped up and started performing online. Also, this student has consistently submitted assignments online, though it took a little reminding on my part.

I feel differently about students who were already failing on March 17th, or whenever the last day of physical school was. Actually I'm not sure how many of my students, the ones who were failing before the apocalypse, the ones who cut physical classes, will bother to show up the last week. I have a feeling if I run classes, I'll be facing a handful of students. Some will be utterly unprepared to catch up. Others will be quite capable despite having cut school most of the year.

I guess what we do that last week is all about priorities. Is your district focused on passing everyone no matter what, or is it trying to save a few bucks by not compensating teachers for extra work? A lot of suburban districts are closing so teacher won't get additional compensation. NYC seems to want to give students a chance to avoid summer school, or making things up next school year.

Given that our students have until next January to make up this year's work, I suppose a lot of them will pull it off. It will be pretty easy for some other teacher to get paid to look at my Google Classroom and have kids make up the homework and such. I believe anyone who wants to can manage to pass whether they deserve it or not.

This notwithstanding, if I'm forced to spend a week or two facing students who've simply chosen to ignore two months or more of my classes, I'm not going to have them do any of the work my students have been doing. I won't give them credit for copying assignments my regular students had to do. Though it will be a pain in the neck, I'm going to create alternative assignments for them.

Despite the admitted inconvenience, my students who've missed months of class are going to have to do actual work if they want to get past me.
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