Monday, September 20, 2021

Quarantines Are Out. It's Parades, Balloons, and Toxic Positivity

I've been to my first Executive Board meeting this year. I was pretty surprised to hear people speaking about how wonderful the first day was. It was a party! There were balloons and a parade! Everyone was so happy they just didn't know what to do next!

From my position, out here doing the work, I can agree with that up to a point. I'm happy to be coming to work and doing my job. I hated teaching from my computer (and I love my computer). However, these days I'm not precisely doing cartwheels down the hall, and I don't actually know anyone who is. We're all pretty nervous and frightened. Just look around. I'm wearing a big black mask as I write this. All my students are masked. This is not a party atmosphere. 

In fact, Mayor de Blasio has just decided quarantining is overrated.  If you don't actually test positive, who cares if someone in your classroom did? Just keep on coming and hope for the best. However, now our esteemed mayor will double his inadequate testing. He will now test 10% of anyone unvaccinated who feels like being tested every week, rather than every other week. If you don't want to be tested, that's fine. Just keep coming and hope you aren't an asymptomatic carrier. Perhaps, Mayor de Blasio wants to compete with Florida's governor to see which one can spread more COVID.

We all wonder, particularly considering the mayor's outlandish notions about testing and quarantines, when the next shoe will drop. We've already had positive cases in our building, and both students and staff members have had to quarantine. So it's hard to sit around singing Everything is Beautiful in its own way. Masks are necessary, but not especially beautiful. COVID is neither necessary nor beautiful, and like many thinking teachers, I wonder whether our being here prolongs the pandemic. 

I had two of those fabulous non-HEPA machines that the geniuses at Tweed saw fit to buy in my tiny classroom. We have a proud tradition of placing ESL classes in the crappiest facilities in the building, and for many years I volunteered to be in the trailers rather than these crappy rooms. Anyway, in my crappy room, neither of the crappy machines worked at all. They'd turn off in two minutes. Today someone generously placed a third one, which didn't work any better. It turns out the electricity in our 60-year-old building is not what you'd call modern, so none of them will work.  So I guess you dump the ELLs in that room and hope for the best. How much are we risking our health by not having an air purifier? Who knows? Who cares?

Today a colleague became violently ill and needed to leave the building. We eventually had to call an ambulance, and I'm still unsure what's going to happen. Last I heard, my colleague was in a waiting room with 200 other people, contemplating whether to call an Uber and go to urgent care. My advice was to wait, as the folks from urgent care would simply call another ambulance. Now I can't say for sure the less than festive back to school atmosphere contributed to this, but I can't say for sure it didn't, either.

I have another colleague who's weighing the pluses and minuses of resignation. I tried to say that was a bad idea, and that there were various leave options. I recommended a Restoration of Health Sabbatical, and suggested that resignation was not the way. I don't know how that's going to go, but I know this person was grappling with working in an overcrowded building during a pandemic. There's so much we don't know, and even the CDC seems to jump back and forth. Do we need a booster shot? How likely are breakthrough infections? Will there be a new variant that just makes your head explode or something?

I have a student so terrified she will barely speak to me. I'm not entirely sure that's due to the pandemic. It could be who this kid is. But until and unless she opens up, I'll never know. 

Now I know we are very fortunate. We weathered this apocalypse better than many. I have friends who work as musicians who simply lost all their income for over a year. We were further lucky to get accommodations to work from home last year. Our friends doing custodial work, for example, just came in each and every day whether or not students were in attendance. 

But as good as we have it, things are not perfect. Mayor de Blasio has not done jack squat to combat rampant overcrowding. While we've extended our day to 14 periods, passing is still face to face, elbow to elbow, and no social distancing whatsoever. We're masked, but that's not a panacea. None of us know whether we can sustain this, and we're all walking on tenterhooks. 

So hey, it's great if some school wants to put out balloons and have a tea party. But this is a scary place. I think we'd be better off acknowledging it than pretending otherwise. Everyone knows how things really are anyway.

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