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.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

2 thoughts on “In which I reimagine education

  1. I think your idea is much more practical and easier to implement than the guidelines you posted earlier. The question is how much thought will any one school district actually put into this, let alone each one across the country? Even well-meaning district boards will be lambasted by politicians in some states for being too “draconian” in their policies. I vote for you as Education Czar!


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