I’m sitting in my classroom right now, typing this on my work laptop, and trying to figure out the next nine weeks of my life. It is possible I have overscheduled myself; I got an email today from this course design thing I’m doing with IU that describes what they think the schedule is going to look like, and it’s … a lot, potentially. Then there’s the new committee I’m on at work, which is a few extra hours after school a week, then (eventually) there’s going to be National Board certification, which is just a meeting here and there right now, but soon I’m going to have to start actually doing stuff for it, and I looked up what the content area test was going to be like the other day and, well …

This is for their adolescent (11-15) Mathematics certification, which is going to be the one I’m going for. I teach Algebra, y’all, and I washed out of Calculus in high school and never looked at it again, but, like, right now I think I want to do the content area test first, and the notion that I need to relearn Geometry, Trig, Discrete Math and Calculus in the next few months when I never really learned Calculus in the first place, plus a refresher on stats?

I mean, on the one hand, at least I have something to do this summer, and on the other hand, I’ve wanted to go back and conquer Calculus, because it’s always sort of stuck in my craw that I bailed on it, and on the third hand, the one I don’t have that’s kind of a lot.

Like, I pass standardized tests. Passing standardized tests is my thing. I’ll be fine. But my studyin’ muscles haven’t really had much of a workout for the last, oh, fifteen years or so– who am I kidding, it’s longer than that, because I’m pretty sure I didn’t have to do a single second of “studying” for my M.Ed– and I’m gonna have to rediscover some skills with a quickness.

Plus, like, even just planning out how to approach all this is intimidating. I’m sure there are plenty of self-paced/free or inexpensive study guides out there, both specifically for this test and for these subjects in general, but that’s basically all of high school math that I need a refresher on plus some stuff I never really touched until college. While designing a course in Quantitative Reasoning for IU, doing whatever I need to do for this other committee, and, oh, teaching the last nine weeks of 8th grade math from school when I haven’t taught physically in my building for literally over a year and figuring out how to keep the kids who are staying home connected to everything else that’s going on.

One step at a time, I suppose.

First step: find a study guide for the test itself; Amazon probably has one. Second step: relearn all of mathematics.

It’ll be fine.

Operationalized pedagogical equitability

I’ve talked several times lately about how I’m making a concerted effort to recommit to teaching as a profession I’m going to retire from and increase my profile as a leader in my building. To that end, and among other things, I’ve joined a committee that is going to require some extra work of me throughout the school year– and, amazingly, is actually stipended– and I have a two-hour meeting fifteen minutes from now that’s going to be the first real meeting of that committee. We had a launch event of sorts a couple of weeks ago but that wasn’t much of anything; I’m actually having to do some preparation for this one.

And, Christ, the first meeting hasn’t even started yet and I’m already exhausted. There’s a certain way of talking about teaching that is so infected with bullshit corporate speak that it’s barely comprehensible, and these documents they’ve shared with us for our perusal are so thick with it that I want to wash my hands. Tons of nouns being turned into verbs, unnecessary adverbs, piles and piles of acronyms and simple things being saddled with unnecessarily complicated names, and lots of taking words and phrases and arranging them into shapes that don’t actually carry any useful meaning or promote any particular kind of understanding. Linguistic cruft. I’d copy and paste some examples but I’m pretty sure it’d end up getting me in trouble.

Like, there is absolutely a way to improve failing buildings. Every school can improve. But creating a 26-page report that no one is going to read and which is so overwritten as to be incomprehensible is not one of the ways you do that.

(They’re still not gonna close the honors academy, by the way, and that school is noticeably absent from this process for some reason. This means that the single best method of improving the scores of all our middle schools, simultaneously is off the table before we even begin. And when it gets right down to it, this is about test scores, not learning, and they aren’t the same thing.)

I have faith that once we’re past this initial phase and actually talking about our building we’ll be able to make strides toward accomplishing things; don’t get me wrong. I’m just made extremely tired by the way we’re getting into the process.

In which … something, I suppose

I have news of immense personal and familial value to share, but I’m waiting for somebody to take my leash off so I can do said sharing. And as of right now, I remain leashed. So I gotta come up with something else to talk about today.

Y’know. Like a chump.

Today was the first day of hybrid learning, and it was also yet another day of utterly shit covid numbers from both the nation, the state of Indiana, and my county. The number of kids in my classes ranged from three to, I think, five, or perhaps seven at the high end. Tomorrow will be similar, and then next week once the kids have realized that “return to in-person schooling” does not, in fact, even vaguely resemble anything like the school they remember, our in-person attendance is going to drop even lower than that. Luckily for me, I’ve gotten over the guilt. The people who were in my classroom today had the easiest gig in the world, and it’s only going to get easier.

On the other hand, there’s at least one more teacher in the building approved to work from home, and an email went out this morning looking for volunteers to cover her classes, so we’ve already run out of subs and available bodies on the first day. In, I must needs remind you all, in accordance with prophecy.

We’ll see how long it lasts. Word is the health department is about to put their foot down on this whole mess; we’ll see.

On wanting to know stuff

You may not know this about me: my first semester in college, I was enrolled in an Arabic class. I took Arabic out of pure intellectual curiosity, nothing more; at the time it wasn’t really part of any long-term plan of study or anything like that, it was just as far away as I could get from the languages I’d been offered in high school and it sounded neat. I lasted about three weeks, maybe; it turns out that despite being an excellent student, high school had not taught me to study, and as it happens mastering the Arabic alphabet, which not only has a handful of letters with no English equivalent but where each letter looks different depending on its position in the word– letters that start or end a word look different from letters in the middle, and the primary and final positions look different from each other as well– was more complicated than I could handle at the time. I would eventually fill my language requirement with Hebrew, which isn’t quite as complicated as Arabic, but that was the class that finally taught me to buckle down and study.

I have two big academic failures in my life: Arabic and calculus, and I still want to achieve at least a working knowledge of both before I die. I took calculus my senior year in high school but a bad case of senior burnout combined with a math teacher who was, inexplicably, one of the best math teachers I’d ever had for sophomore Geometry but was utterly unable to reach me for senior Calculus meant that as soon as I was admitted to IU and fulfilled all of my graduation requirements I dropped the class and took an independent study period of Spanish.

Stick a pin in that; we’re gonna take a left turn for a couple of paragraphs.

I’ve never particularly considered myself a weeb– a lifetime of aversion to any sort of Japanese animation not involving Hiyao Miyazaki will kind of nip that in the bud– and while it’s not entirely accurate it’s fair to suggest that the presence of a Japanese voice track on really any form of entertainment is an indicator that I may not be into it. That said, I’ve spent approximately six thousand hours since March playing Nioh and Nioh 2, both Japanese-with-English-subtitles and very loosely based on sixteenth-century Japanese history, and I have sunk a similarly obsessive amount of time into Ghost of Tsushima in the last couple of weeks, which is based on the (real) invasion of Tsushima island by the Mongols in 1274.

And god help me if this hasn’t woken up a previously-nonexistent desire to learn more about Japan.

I keep trying to find a decent English biography of Oda Nobunaga, who appears in both of the Nioh games, and I’m discovering, after spending half of my waking hours listening to people speaking Japanese for five months, a certain interest in learning to at least fumble my way through speaking Japanese. I’m not even sure where to start with that; there are apps and such, but anything reputable is way more money than I’m willing to invest. There are probably some reputable textbooks out there, but I haven’t taken the time to look for them yet.

Which, depending on whether this desire sticks around once I get past these few games, will add another complicated long-term intellectual goal to my list. I feel like I probably ought to get started on at least one of these at some point, right? Which one would you start with, at gunpoint if necessary? 🙂

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.