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.

In which we’re gonna need a bigger boat

I’ll get to the graphic in a minute; this is gonna be another grab-baggy sort of post. Bear with me.

I just finished mowing the back yard, just in time for it to start pouring outside, so I’m sure all the grass will be regrown in a day or two. I have shared my distaste for lawn work many times before; in fact, bitching about my lawn was one of my first posts around here. My wife, who is more fond of working outdoors than I am, generally handles it; my job is to remove snow, and we collaborate on leaves. You may recall that she broke her foot a couple of weeks ago, which coincided with the weather being nice enough that the grass came back to life; to her credit, she waited for me to figure it out myself that I was going to have to mow the fucking yard and didn’t bring it up until I’d ruined my own day. Having mowed the full mess over the last two days, I have realized something: I feel basically the same way about yard work as I do about writing fiction. I absolutely hate doing it, but the feeling of being done with it is absolutely stellar. I love looking at a freshly-mowed yard. I just don’t want to have to create the conditions to be able to do that. If I ever figure out how to enjoy writing as much as I enjoy being done with writing I will be at Seanan McGuire levels of productivity in six months.

Speaking of mowing: I don’t wear headphones all that often, so it was already kind of weird that I shelled out so much money for the AirPods Pro that I bought a bit ago– but holy shit, am I impressed by how good noise cancelling works. I wasn’t even listening to music for a good part of mowing the yard; I just had the headphones in with the noise cancelling on and I could barely hear anything. Cue someone hopping into comments to tell me that’s going to kill my ears, of course.

Regarding yesterday’s addendum to yesterday’s first post: I think, based on comments, that it is clear that 1) I don’t know anything about Great Britain or their money; and 2) It is absolutely the way people write about their money that is bullshit, thus Option Two wins. I don’t feel like it is unreasonable to suggest that if you are going to spend a fair amount of your time in a book talking about people’s income levels and how much things cost, and the people you are talking about use a monetary system that is no longer in use and is not exactly intuitive, maybe put a chart somewhere explaining how it works? I’m willing to be accused of shocking ignorance on this, that’s fine, there are lots of things I don’t know, but part of the reason I was able to not realize that the shilling got phased out however many years ago was that nobody ever explains what the fuck a shilling is in history books. They just assume you know there are 3.2 shillings in a Cumberbatch and move the fuck on with the narrative. Put a damn chart in there somewhere!

The feasibility study has been returned, and it turns out I’m not actually able to watch the Snowpiercer TV series without spending additional money. I had heard it was showing up on Hulu, but apparently that’s only true if you pony up for some sort of “Live TV” add-on, and … nah.

I will, nonetheless, bow to the will of the interwebs and watch this program as soon as I can do so without spending money for it. That may take a while, however. In the meantime, Avatar: the Last Airbender is on Netflix and I somehow haven’t finished Season 5 of She-Ra yet so I need to up my TV-watching time as a percentage of my day.

I have seen a couple of different variations of the graphic at the top of this post floating around on the internet recently, as well as a couple of different NO NO THIS IS THE INTERNET BEING STUPID types of counter-posts. Folks, the official CDC “considerations” are right here; feel free to look at them yourself and compare them to whatever version of the graphic you’ve seen recently. The paraphrasing is essentially accurate, and the fact that the CDC, whether they’re calling them “guidelines” or “considerations”, doesn’t actually have the power to make their thoughts law doesn’t really matter. The point is, the fucking Center for Disease Control has effectively said that there is no way to safely open schools. Because these “guidelines” or “considerations” or whatever the fuck you want to call them are impossible, and every teacher and other adult who has ever spent any time in schools knows that. I am done for the year, effectively, and my son’s last day was yesterday (I still have some PD stuff over the next couple of weeks, and grades have to be finalized, but there is no further e-learning this year) and there is a lot of time for things to change one way or another between now and August, but the way things stand right now we are not going to be able to reopen schools this fall. Not safely, at least. I know the person in the White House doesn’t give a damn; that’s perfectly clear, but so far the governors have been more reasonable.

Speaking of governors, I had this conversation with my wife earlier:

For context, Woody Whoever’s last name is not Whoever and he is running for Governor as a Democrat, and he is running such a low-key, bullshit campaign that I literally didn’t know that there even was a gubernatorial race this year until seeing his name on my primary ballot. I do not at this time remember his last name and I’m not about to look it up. I did some quick research before I marked his name on the primary ballot (not that it would have mattered, as he was the only candidate) and he seems basically competent, but Gov. Holcomb is one of the few Republicans I’m aware of who I would also describe as “basically competent.” He’s shit on education, but so is everyone else in the damn world. Obama was shit on education. I’ve voted for one candidate who was good on education policy in the last fifteen years or so and she turned out to be a shitty politician and got voted right out again after her first term. It just doesn’t happen that damn often.

Regarding the headline to this post: when I initially wrote it I had plans to tie it into one of the parts of the post, and it was going to make sense and be at least moderately funny in the way my post titles occasionally are, and I have completely forgotten what the hell I was going to tie it into or how– something about classroom size, maybe?– but I’m not going to change it. “I am an idiot” is definitely a theme of this post so we may as well run that shit straight into the ground while we still can.

3:24 PM, Friday, May 22: 1,590,349 confirmed cases and 95,490 Americans dead.

In which I am appreciated

We were listening to the radio today while taking my wife to the doctor to have her foot inspected (verdict: no weight-bearing for two weeks and a different boot and they’ll reassess at the follow-up; also, she can’t drive, so it’s good that I’m not going into school because I have to drive her back and forth to work now) and the radio DJ was talking about how it was Nurse’s Appreciation Day and how much he appreciated those nurses for all the nursing they’re doing. And then he pivoted to the fact that it’s also Teacher Appreciation Week, because let’s get all these assholes out of the way at once, and cracked a joke about how we’re all “chilling” because school isn’t in session.

And right about then was when I blacked out, and I’m told that I had to be restrained from calling the station right then and there and possibly having a negative impact on someone’s day. And right now at this exact moment I’m at home and not driving to somebody’s place of business, because it ain’t exactly a national secret where U93 broadcasts from. So, yeah, “Big Perm,” it’s good for both of us that my wife is a more civilized person than I am.

Any notion of “teacher appreciation” is always going to be a big joke in America anyway; there is no more anti-intellectual country anywhere on Earth short of a handful of dictatorships and theocracies, and certainly nowhere among the countries that are supposedly democracies. This country hates education and always has, and frankly at this point I’d rather be ignored than “appreciated.” Y’all can keep your damn coffee mugs. I have enough of them already.

I’m gonna go figure out how to teach math to some kids who aren’t in the same building as me and are worried about their families and friends keeping their jobs and lives intact; y’all let me know when the appreciatin’s over.

(This post was going to be about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs before this Perm human got my jimmies all rustled; turns out that there’s good reasons why my kids might not be in the very best place to learn right now, believe it or not.)

5:33 PM, Wednesday May 6: 1,219,952 confirmed cases; 72,617 deaths.

A brief note about tomorrow’s E-Learning lesson

It is possible that I have lost my shit, to some degree or another.

I am pretty certain that if I record another damn YouTube video about math tonight my organs will shut down out of spite and I will die. And I had another ten kids (about a quarter of the total number of kids who did today’s assignment, which is about a quarter of the total number of students I have) get zeroes on today’s assignment despite carefully going over each problem they were given in today’s video.

And I have no way of knowing– I have my suspicions, of course, but I have no way of knowing– which of those ten or so kids just went through and clicked several answers at random because they didn’t give a shit or whether the way I’m trying to teach them just doesn’t work, and the lack of feedback from the kids that is inherent to “distance learning” is just fucking with my head do a degree that I’m not even sure I can describe. I cannot do my job like this. My job involves people, not computer screens.

I can’t do it tonight. So I’ve declared– officially, on my Google Classroom page, mind you, where I post all of my assignments– that tomorrow is a mental health day and they are to take the 20-30 minutes they are supposed to be spending on my class and do something that they find relaxing instead. Because fuck it, nobody’s paying attention and no one is going to tell me I can’t.

Another short one tonight

It’s weird that taking attendance for e-learning takes longer than doing my grading, right? Because grading is just grading, and because I’m doing everything electronically and I’m a math teacher I’m able to grade almost everything automatically, and attendance is a hideous nightmare involving two different online programs and a spreadsheet as well as backdating everything when kids do assignments from two weeks ago. Which means that every time I do my grading and my attendance I have to check every assignment I have given since this started. And, okay, it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a teacher or anything, but have you ever had to remember to click something in one place if someone is not clicked in another place? It melts your brain and your eyes after a while, and I was sitting here for probably about 2 1/2 hours tonight getting this done. Attendance in school takes less than a minute per class.

My overall numbers are scary and getting scarier; I’m averaging about a third of my students checking in on any given day, which is … not great, at all, and I expect there to be even more attrition by the end of the year even if it has been shortened. Maybe if I figure out a way to unlock a TikTok video or something every time they do an assignment … ugh. The math team had a meeting today that ended up lasting an hour and a half because we got to talking about what we were going to do this fall if the school year started without the kids in the building, which I am pretty damn convinced it is going to. The long and short of it is none of us have any idea how the hell to handle that, and we’re all terrified of it.

So, yeah, that’s all fun.

8:56 PM, Friday April 24th: 890,524 confirmed infections and 51,017 American deaths. What day next week do we cross over a million infections, do you think? Wednesday?