In which I’ve got stuff to do and getting started would be cool

We have reached a major milestone in adulting: my wife and I are about to become Garage Refrigerator people, because I need a place to store my many beverages, and our current House Refrigerator is being cruelly used for food. In theory, our new Garage Refrigerator is being delivered today (“between 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM”) but there has been sketch all over this process from the beginning, and I have placed a bet with my wife for the princely sum of $1 USD that at 8:00 PM tonight we will not only not be Garage Refrigerator people but we will not have received any phone calls or other forms of contact about why we received no delivery or where our Garage Refrigerator actually is.

Funny thing is, when that happens, I’m not even gonna be mad about it. I’m so convinced it’s gonna go sideways that it’s not even a big deal.

Unfortunately, it does mean that I’ve spent the day in Receiving a Delivery and Using Extraneous Capital Letters mode, which means that I’ve so far not been able to complete a single other damn thing that I had planned to do today. I have a video to finish putting together that is probably at least a couple of hours’ work (and for which I’m waiting on a lot of other people to send me stuff who are clearly also procrastinating,) I have some editing to do for a former student’s fiction project, I have more PD to do (maybe) and I can probably go ahead and get started on final grading and attendance for the semester, since the kids are supposed to have everything done today. That is mostly a tomorrow project, but I can get started. I also have a fiction project that I got a bit of work done on yesterday that I would like to make more progress on today.

But hey! I’m blogging. That’s something, right?

I can see my driveway from my office, if I turn my chair around a bit, and I’m doing that every couple of minutes, for no good reason. Again, I’m not mad– and there are still several hours during which technically the refrigerator can be delivered, so it’s not like it’s late yet– I just wish I was less dumb, because my brain has clearly decided that since I spent a chunk of time this morning cleaning and organizing the garage in preparation for the Refrigerator that nothing else can be completed until that task is definitively crossed off my list. That’s my fault, not the delivery people.

I will, of course, post a picture once my new toy has arrived. You should hold your breath.

2:26 PM, Wednesday May 27: 1,685,149 confirmed cases and 99,674 Americans dead.

In which even complaining is too tiring

To the right: my actual profile picture in my Canvas account, after all of ten minutes of the “professional development” I had to do today.

Y’all, I have done so much complaining about how terrible and boring and flat-out insulting education professional development is over the last 20 years that even I don’t want to listen to myself doing it any longer. E-learning was done as of May 20, and the kids have until this Wednesday to complete any outstanding work, even though it really doesn’t matter because their grades can’t go down from 3rd quarter anyway by state policy— which is super great for the kids who have legitimately been stressing out about their grades during all this, to let them know that none of it mattered at all– but we are still on the hook until June 2nd. We have three days this week where we are supposed to complete “10 to 12 hours” of professional development from a menu of “courses” on Canvas, literally none of which are remotely relevant to middle school or to math teaching. That’s not an exaggeration– screening the offerings for my grade level offers two courses that are not, in fact, relevant to my grade level, and screening for “math” gives me nothing.

It is only hitting me as I’m typing this that we have not been told that we’re using Canvas next year. It is not impossible that they’re only using this to deliver PD, in which case the time I spent today to learn how to use Canvas was wasted.

Actually, who am I kidding– it was a waste anyway, as one of Canvas’ strengths appears to be how intuitive it is, which means that people like me do not need to watch hours of videos explaining how to do things, because we already know how to do them. An example: I am to watch a four-minute video about how to rearrange questions in a quiz.

ME: I bet it’s drag and drop.

VIDEO: Four minutes– four fucking minutes— about how to drag and drop a menu item. Which is not very long in a literal sense, but imagine that you have to watch 70 of these damn things, and even at 1.5x speed they’re still ponderous and unbearable and also you already know how to do everything they’re telling you.

This may be how some people learn, but it is not functional for me, particularly when all the narrator is doing is reading text off a screen. Because when I see words I read them, and I read them faster than any narrator would ever read them, except the narrator is yelling in my ear, so I’m not comprehending what I’m reading very well, and I can’t stop reading and listen to the narrator because I can’t have words in front of me that I’m not reading. I understand, because I have been a teacher for two decades and I have heard this from too many people at too many times for it to not be true, that some people are capable of choosing to not read text that is placed in front of them. I am not able to do that. If I see words, I am reading words.

The entire exercise was estimated to take, no shit, 9-12 hours for the entire course, and I finished it in less than three. (Even if I’d watched every second of the videos at regular speed, it wouldn’t have taken 9-12 hours; I have no idea where that estimate came from or whether anyone meant for it to be taken seriously.) Part of me feels like that means I’m done with my 10-12 hours of PD, since this was supposed to take that long. I dunno; I’ll probably find one more module that doesn’t look too objectionable and do it tomorrow. We’ll see.

6:01 PM, Tuesday May 26: 1,676,401 confirmed cases and 98,787 deaths. I have seen it reported that we’ve officially hit the 100,000 mark in deaths, but I don’t know where that data’s coming from, and I’m not changing my source now. I don’t know if it’s reporting a little slower or being more conservative in what counts a death or what.

#REVIEW: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Season 5

We finally finished watching the final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power last night, and the show has joined a very exclusive list: television programs that I started watching with the first season and then stuck with through to their conclusion. In fact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably the only one. I watched all of How I Met your Mother, but didn’t get into it until the second or third season and then went back and got caught up. Everything else I’ve eventually bailed on.

Here’s the thing about this program: I loved– absolutely loved— the first season. Seasons 2 and 3 (which were basically one season, broken in half) and Season 4 were all good, but I wasn’t apeshit about them enough to write posts.

Season 5 is the show’s best season, and the only one that is even close is the first season. I don’t want to get into a lot of details, because if you’ve not taken my word on this in the past you need to experience the series for yourself, but the way it resolves all of the story and emotional arcs from the rest of the series without feeling like it’s ever ticking off boxes and without any filler episodes in insanely impressive. It’s a remarkable achievement in television, and everyone involved should be incredibly proud of themselves. If you have Netflix, this is what you’re paying your money for. Look past the name of the show if the idea of watching She-Ra in the first place seems weird to you; it definitely felt weird to me at first, as someone who never really knew anything or much cared about the source material (and even the He-Man stuff was never anything other than pretty ridiculous,) believe me, you’re gonna get over it. It’ll be okay.

You’re going to love this program. It’s magnificent. Check it out.

6:11 PM, Monday, May 25: 1,657,441 confirmed cases and 98,034 deaths.

Fiction alert!

There’s a new microfiction up at Patreon if you’re the type to be interested in that. Remember, a buck a month gets you access to nearly everything, and $2 a month gets you Click, an entire exclusive novel!

In which I reimagine education

Let’s start with this: We should not be returning to schools in the fall. I think it very likely that this will be worse in the fall, not better, and even if we do return at the beginning of the year I don’t see any chance at all that we make it through next winter without at the very least a substantial chunk of the year dedicated to e-learning.

But, for several reasons, most of them perfectly obvious, we should probably try to have schools open in the fall– if for no better reason than the idea of starting a new school year with the kids already at home fills me and every other teacher I know with bone-deep horror. If we want to have a school year next year (and we may not! That’s not an entirely unreasonable position!) we have got to start it with at least a little bit of in-person education or this just isn’t going to work at all.

You saw the CDC guidelines the other day; you also saw, in the same post, me state that the CDC guidelines as they currently exist cannot be fulfilled in any school I have ever worked in. So: how do we do this, in a way that allows in-person education and, as much as humanly possible, maximizes student safety? Oh, and also: this needs to be revenue-neutral, or, if possible, save districts money, because we all know nobody’s ponying up for, for example, doubling the bus fleet.

(Nor should they. Any solution involving a need to buy more buses isn’t going to fly simply because you don’t double your bus fleet for a problem that, even hugely pessimistically, is probably going to be gone in a couple of years once there’s a vaccine. That’s too much of a capital outlay for something like that. But I’m off subject.)

So, I’m taking the following as written:

  • That our students are not suddenly going to become any better-behaved or more likely to follow rules than they already are;
  • That any solution to this problem cannot cost money and should probably save it;
  • That in-person education is necessary to get some knowledge whacked into the brains of these kids, somehow;
  • That most classrooms and school buildings are not even a tiny bit set up in such a way to successfully promote social distancing. Put simply, tape on the damn floor isn’t gonna do it; see item #1 up there.

What we are going to have to do– and the legislatures are just going to have to do something to make this legal– is split the kids in half. We can’t stagger arrival times or anything like that; any solution to that not involving doubling or tripling the number of school buses leads to 10-hour working days for staff and teachers and that’s not gonna fly.

Half of the students, and yes-this-is-a-logistical-nightmare-but-we-have-to-figure-it-out-anyway, keeping families in the same building and in different buildings on the same days, so that no one has their kids on conflicting schedules, go to school on either Monday-Wednesday or Monday-Tuesday. I suspect two successive days is better, but that’s a detail. The other half go to school on Tuesday-Thursday or Wednesday-Thursday.

Students who are not in school in-person have e-learning on the days they are not there, focusing on basic skill retention and shoring up deficits whenever possible. New material is covered by a teacher, in class, doing their level damn best to cover grade-appropriate material as much as possible.

Standardized testing is either cancelled or minimized as much as humanly possible.

Fridays can either be rotated between the two groups or, and I think this is my preference, Fridays are always e-learning days. Teachers are on office hours all day on Fridays. In my district, we have two preps a day, one of which is a “real” prep and the other is owned by the office; in this scenario on Mon-Thurs that extra prep, rather than being devoted to daily meetings like it usually is, would be time for office hours and catching up on email from e-learning students who had questions while in-person teaching was taking place.

Now, to be clear, when I say “split the students in half,” what I’m envisioning is that where right now I have a classroom cap of 32 students, my classroom cap would fall to sixteen, meaning that while I might not have room for perfect six-feet-between-everybody distancing I can definitely spread the kids out. It would mean that students with IEPs could also get some face time with their TORs and might actually stand a chance of getting some of their accommodations, most of which are impossible to fulfill during e-learning.

This keeps the buildings at 50% capacity, which, okay, they’re still going to be out in the halls together but it’s a lot better than all of them being together. Other aspects of the school day could be dealt with as reasonable and available per building and district; I don’t love the lunch-in-the-classroom thing but I can see why it might be a deal, and if necessary for some grades we can set up a situation where the kids rotating from class to class is minimized and the adults move instead, or wherever possible try to have classes that are blocked together– my district, for example, could go back to one teacher doing both sections of math and putting Reading/LA together rather than using two teachers, just to keep movement minimized as much as possible.

We’re not putting plexiglass between desks, y’all, it’s just not gonna happen. Pointing desks all in one direction, okay, yeah, I can get with that, those types of things are easy, but social distancing is only possible by minimizing the number of kids in a room at a time– and the only way we can do that is if they’re not all there.

Staff should probably be wearing cloth masks all day, especially since I don’t see a way we can stay 6′ away from the kids. Once they’re seated, that’s one thing, but I can’t help somebody with something they don’t get from six feet away a lot of the time. I would like for the kids (the ones old enough to know what they’re doing, at least) to all be wearing masks as well but … well, look at any time I’ve ever mentioned dress code around here. That may or may not be worth the fight.

What do y’all think? Feel free to share this out, if you like.

4:29 PM, Sunday, May 24: 1,635,192 confirmed infections and 97,495 Americans dead.