On educational equity and classroom decoration

I encountered an argument today that I thought was interesting and also kind of caught me by surprise, and I wanted to talk about it here both as a means of wrapping my head around it a little bit and to see if anyone else has any thoughts on it.

Every year I spend, conservatively, several hundred dollars on my classroom– either for basic supplies like pencils and paper, wall decorations that will probably last through the year, and on occasion more long-term, expensive items like my laser printer. Some years are more expensive than others, of course– any year where I change classrooms or subjects is gonna be bad– and even this year, when I’m not actually in the building yet, I still shelled out a chunk of change for items to improve the lighting in my office, a new mic stand, and a few similar things.

(I have a classroom wish list, which I’m pretty sure does not expose my real name; I link to it not because I want you to buy me things right now but so you can get an idea of what sorts of things I’m talking about.)

This teacher’s argument was that we should not be spending our own money on items for our classrooms. That, in and of itself, I’ve heard before and thought before, plenty of times, and the basic reasons for it are obvious. No other job, or at least none that I’m aware of, expects employees to pay for the basic services and tools necessary to do that job. My job is supposed to make me money, not cost me money, and blah blah whining about teacher pay.

No, her argument was different: that we should not be spending money on our own classrooms, because it creates an equity issue among the staff and among the students. So if Teacher A can afford whatever they want to put in their classroom and creates a magical learning wonderland by spending a bunch of money, and Teacher B is a new teacher who is struggling with student loans and isn’t getting paid jack, Teacher B’s students are going to get a lesser learning experience through no fault of Teacher B’s, when the fact is the state should be funding the rooms properly in the first place and making every classroom a magical learning wonderland. This is particularly an issue at the primary level, where there might be three fourth grade classrooms and the kids are with the same teacher all day.

And I’ll admit, part of me wants to dismiss this idea immediately and part of me thinks it has some merit. As a math teacher that every 8th grader in my building is going to see, it’s less of a concern for my situation, because all of them will be in my magical learning wonderland for a class period a day regardless of whether I spend a ton of money or not. But I can see this mattering at the elementary level. Then again, there is already going to be a certain level of educational inequality from classroom to classroom simply because of the composition of the classes and the skill and experience level of the teacher. We’ve all wanted to be (or have our kids) in a certain class with a certain teacher or h ad one who for whatever reason we’d rather avoid, and sometimes that’s the breaks.

This is, I think, less an argument against the actions of any one specific teacher and on stronger footing as an argument against the system itself. We all know the arguments about the ways we fund schools and what, as a society, we prioritize and what we don’t, and the simple fact of the matter is that the wealthy teachers shouldn’t need to use their money to spruce up their classrooms, particularly in a situation like we’re seeing now, where we see that some teachers are literally creating carrel desks out of plexiglass so that their rooms are safer from the plague. So we’ve got teacher income inequality leading to situations where, at least in theory, students are literally physically safer than in others.

That is bullshit, as I think we can all agree, and I’m not going to fall into the usual rant about how little America actually values education beyond paying barely-understood lip service. Throw a rock on this website; you’ll probably find one. But does the argument in general have merit?

Some, I think, but I still need to think about it more. What say you, commenters?

In which no one could have guessed

I’m mostly just putting this here for the sake of posterity, but Notre Dame today announced, after reporting twice as many Covid-19 cases yesterday as the entire rest of the county, that they were going to lock everyone in their dorms for two weeks (that’ll go well) and that off-campus (this will also go well) students should not come onto campus while they do virtual learning. If, within two weeks, the numbers aren’t better, they’re sending everyone home.

They’ve been back for, like, two weeks, max, and — get this — tested every single student before allowing them back on campus. And this still happened.

Go ahead. Put some money on what happens next. I dare you.

On planning and the lack thereof

A week ago, my school district was telling all of us that we were back to in-person learning on the day school starts. There have been a couple of School Board meetings since then and hundreds of teachers (myself included) have been burning up the internet sending irate emails, and now the plan appears to be that we’re starting with e-learning, but only for two weeks, and then phasing everyone back into the building in early September, except that at least three Board members appear to believe that we need to lose the entire first nine weeks, the plan hasn’t been voted on, and they do not have remotely enough time to hire the people that they are going to need to make any existing plan beyond “keep everyone home” work.

I made this specific point at one of the board meetings, actually; every plan that does not involve keeping us all home requires hiring more people, or if it doesn’t require that immediately, it will start requiring that the very second people start getting sick. We are not at full staffing as a district right now and in the last twelve years we never have been. There is a board vote scheduled on August 3rd, but remember, school supposedly starts on August 12. There is not enough time in nine days to do anything.

The superintendent has sent out three or four separate surveys trying to figure out who both wants to and/or has a medical need to be home beyond “I don’t want to die.” Each time they’ve had to pull the survey because of health privacy violations. They’ve made no decisions about who might be home to teach the kids whose parents don’t want them to enter the buildings and as of right now they don’t have time to, because every teacher that gets pulled out of a classroom means they need to put another body in that room.

(I was very pleased to discover that both obesity and high blood pressure put me in high-risk status for Covid, and no, that’s not a typo; I was pleased. I do not want to return to classroom teaching right now, and it’s nice that for once being a giant fat man is working for me and not against me.)

In addition, the county health department … person— I don’t know if he’s a chairman or what the hell his title is, but one way or another he was at one of the board meetings too. He stated in front of Jesus and everybody that he thinks the county needs to be at or below fifteen new infections a day before he’s comfortable reopening schools. We are currently at about three times that many, and I don’t see that number falling into safe range anytime in August at all, much less September.

A number of things have been clear to me for a while, and at this point I’m basically just waiting for everyone else to face up to reality and make the necessary intelligent decisions: we are not going back to school for at least nine weeks and I suspect we are probably done for 2020. Sports– professional, high school, college, whatever– are not coming back this year. They may have started some practices, but the seasons are going to get cut very, very short if they even get started at all. This has only gotten worse since March, and it’s not getting better until the current US government is mostly replaced, so we’re looking at probably February before we can see any any chance of actual useful positive movement, and if the Republicans aren’t voted out of office in every imaginable capacity in November and then probably forced out of certain government buildings in Washington at gunpoint on January 20 we are dead. I’m not ready to say we’re going to lose the entire school year yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it happened. Not one tiny bit.

None of this had to be this way, but … y’know. Emails.

In which I make this simple

I wrote this Tweet last night:

I had a hard time getting to sleep last night– those damn eye shields really are a pain in the ass– but beyond that I was busy writing this post in my head, starting with the kids waiting outdoors for the bus and going through to the end of the day. And, yeah, it was going to be long as hell. Like, Star Wars movie review levels of long.

And then I thought about it this morning, and it occurred to me that this doesn’t really need to be complicated.

We cannot reopen schools yet.

We cannot reopen schools because there is no way to make 34 people crowded into the same room safe, masks or otherwise. It is not possible given perfect compliance from everyone involved, and we will not get anything even vaguely close perfect compliance from everyone involved. And that, really, is the end of it. I can talk all I want about hand sanitizer and bathrooms and hallways and passing periods and discipline and lunch and breakfast and, dear God, band and choir,(*) but it all keeps boiling down to the fact that in my classroom I will have 32 kids and another adult beyond myself and that is not safe. Period.

I would be more willing to give this a shot if my district was setting things up in such a way that I saw half of my students each day. But even then, that model only holds up until someone gets sick, which is inevitable. Once we start talking about contact tracing and quarantine all hell breaks loose, and the one place where I am willing to literally point and laugh at my district leaders is when they claim that there will be enough subs to cover sick and/or quarantined adults.

This is an utter fantasy. No, there will not. There aren’t enough pencils and paper, for God’s sake, there will not be enough hand sanitizer and there will not be enough masks and there sure as hell will not be enough subs. There haven’t been enough subs for years. It’s not going to get better when the subs have to shove their faces into a petri dish to go make their little $100 a day, and once a single sub gets sick we have now potentially infected multiple buildings in the course of just a few days.

We can’t do this. We might try and do it anyway, because if you ever thought that maybe Americans weren’t utter idiots the last six months have rather definitively proved you wrong, but we can not do this.

I also keep seeing people throwing up their hands and pretending to panic about What Parents Will Have to Do if their kids remain home. I have said this before, and I will reiterate: first of all, your kids have been home since March, so let’s not pretend that this is a new problem. Your kids are home right now, because it is summertime, and there is no magic switch that flips in August and makes whatever child care scenario you have going right now somehow magically impossible. Keep doing whatever you’re doing right now. It might suck! I agree! I have a kid too, and I’ve been at home with him since March as well!

I agree. I just don’t care. Because your child care problems are not a reason for me to endanger my health and my family’s health. Your child care problems are not a reason to make what is already uncontrolled spread of a highly contagious and incredibly dangerous disease massively worse. Because that’s what will happen.

There are going to be teacher strikes in a few weeks if this isn’t settled better, folks. We aren’t going back. Nobody’s going back. Best get used to it right now.

And yes, this was absolutely the short version.

(*) I have many friends who are band and choir teachers. I am very sorry, but your classes are just going to have to go away this year. Your classes generate so many droplets that band instruments have special valves that are used to drain the spit out of them. It’s just not possible to do this safely right now, even in comparison with other classes. I love y’all, but … no.

Just a stray thought

I still don’t know what my district’s plan for this fall is. Supposedly there’s going to be some sort of announcement on Wednesday, and as of right now the start of school is still six weeks or so away. This is what Indiana’s current numbers look like:

…so it looks like we might be starting to trend upward again, but we just hit the typical weekend drop, and today will be on the lower side too. We’ll see how this week looks.

At any rate, that stray thought: school discipline is going to have to be a lot stricter in a lot of ways this year than what we are used to. Specifically, in terms of removing kids from the building, assuming we’re physically back at all. Because while I am willing to return to the building (at least in principle; we’ll see how the details go) in order to teach math, I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk my health and my family’s health to babysit some dipshit who is only in my classroom because his momma doesn’t want him around and he wants to clown with his friends.

Anyone who is not there to learn this year needs to get sent the hell home and needs to stay the hell home. Those kids can fail on their couches instead of failing in my classroom. I’m not dealing with anybody this year who is just in my room to act like a disease vector. Forget it.

Like I said, stray thought. More later, possibly.