Saturday, July 11, 2020

King Solomon Meets Bill de Blasio

You may have heard the biblical story about King Solomon. Two women claim a baby is theirs. King Solomon the wise says cut the baby in half and let them share it. One woman says sure, go ahead. The other says no, give it to the other woman. King Solomon then gives the baby to the second woman, since she is the only one concerned with the baby's welfare.

Of course, the notion of cutting a human in pieces is barbaric and unthinkable. Perhaps in those days it wasn't such a big thing. Who knows?

Here's one thing I know--Were Bill de Blasio sitting in that chair he'd have cut the baby into 2, 3, 4 or even 5 pieces. That way it could multitask, and the mayor seems to highly value that ability.

Otherwise, why would he be pushing a program that has teachers breaking their classes into multiple cohorts but teaching only one at a time? Let's not get extreme here, and point to outliers. Let's be conservative and point only to schools the mayor acknowledged, with up to three cohorts.

Let's say I have a class of 34. Let's say my classroom is 680 square feet. At 65 square feet per human, I can fit ten in that room, with 30 feet left over to frolic and romp in between periods. That would mean, actually, that I would need to break my class into four groups. Of course, there is always the possibility that some of those students would choose to utilize remote learning. If 20% of my students choose to do that, I've got 26 or 27 left, and I can see them once every three days.

Let's say I teach 5 classes of 45 minutes every day. That means I will see about 8 students per class, leaving one spot for a paraprofessional. What are the other 18 students doing during that time? If I am to give them the same instruction, it means they receive instruction only once every three days, and I will deliver only one-third of the curriculum.

On the other hand, perhaps the mayor thinks that I will be delivering the other classes online, working twice as much, and that will solve the problem. Maybe the mayor thinks some other teacher will be delivering that instruction. Actually, though, when you consider the students on all-remote, it would take two other teachers to do that. I don't know about you, but I haven't heard the city say anything about reducing class sizes during this emergency.

And let's look at the students who've actually shown up. They will be socially distanced and masked. They will not be able to interact normally. I will also be socially distanced and masked. I won't be able to approach them or check their work. I won't be able to see what they're doing. For all I know, they could be sitting writing their lovers' names over and over, and drawing little hearts. And when they get on the bus with said lovers, will they be socially distancing?

Personally, I'm absolutely mystified as to how this system improves upon a well-thought-out remote learning system (as opposed to the slapdash, improvised one we've been using). Before we even look at what that entails, a remote learning system allows us to continue the downward spiral of COVID we've managed to achieve. I'm very happy that, at Executive Board meetings, Mulgrew no longer has to read us names of UFT members who've passed.

We jumped into this with no preparation whatsoever. The DOE has shown us no leadership whatsoever over the last few months, making decisions at the last minute. The plan they put forth last week is so shallow and poorly thought out I'm amazed they mustered the audacity to make it public. They think opening the buildings, no matter how poorly they do it, represents a victory.

We now know ways to improve remote learning. The most obvious fix is to insist students show their faces. Every teacher knows students who hide behind their avatars. Every teacher has called on those students to get no response. Sometimes their friends text them and they return. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes you get responses in the chat that say they've lost their sound.

It's on the city to provide not only technology, but also safe and quite places for students to do remote learning. That's a good use of school buildings and libraries. In fact, one of the reasons some teachers give for not wanting to do synchronous learning is they don't want people to see their homes. Another is their homes are too noisy. The city could provide those teachers space in the school buildings as well.

Another thing we could use is real training. Google Classroom has a lot of capability I haven't explored because I don't know how. So does Zoom, and so does every other platform every other teacher has used. I learned Zoom and Google Classroom from a first-year teacher, and if I go remote in September I'll press him to teach me more before I get on. However, that's one more job that the city has failed to do. Sending us back for three days to be trained by administrators who'd never done this work was a ridiculous exercise.

I'm not seeing any King Solomons in the DOE or City Hall. I'm seeing an outright pathetic attempt at trying to rehabilitate the public perception of their blithering incompetence, and they trip all over themselves every moment. I'm a lowly teacher, and I could run the school system better than those currently doing it.

That's not much to brag about, though. It's hard to imagine anyone running it worse.
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