The Biden Cabinet

There is a balm in Gilead to make a nation whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal our stricken souls.

Sometimes, we feel discouraged and think our work’s in vain; what will revive our spirits and save our schools again?

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded strong; there is a balm in Gilead for which we all do long.

If you can’t preach like Diane; if you can’t write at all; just love America’s children and help them grow to be tall.

There is a balm in Gilead that lifts us all to dream; there is a balm in Gilead that makes us hope of … a much better Secretary of Education than the country has yet seen.

For the purpose of this post, that balm is the incoming Biden administration and its promise to appoint a real teacher to be U.S. Secretary of Education.

Many names are thrown out for the President-elect to consider as he chooses the people who will assist him in carrying out policy and administering the vast machinery known as the federal government.

Grumpy Old Teacher has no interest in vetting names and opining (as if he has a stellar record of hiring across his career. Spoiler alert: GOT can mentor and develop talent, but he is no good at making hiring decisions.) Rather, let’s discuss the qualities and characteristics we need in the next person to take up the post.

  1. Education experience, real, authentic, long-time, classroom-based. Those who ran through a classroom and spent the least amount of time needed to qualify to climb their career ladder should not be considered. We need a real educator who has spent ten years or more actually teaching children every day of every year. Without that, no appointee can remember, empathize, and know on a fundamental level the challenges that present themselves in the nation’s schools.
  2. Aversion to test-based accountability systems that confuse scores with learning. Experienced teachers, those who resist and those who do not, know how the standardized testing of their state can be gamed. Those who bother to study actual research that looks at scores and backgrounds knows that test scores correlate most strongly with income levels.
  3. Respect for school-based personnel. Anyone who pushes improvement plans through their district because they do not believe that teachers know what they are doing, they have to be forced to teach the right way, and that their years of preparation and experience are not to be respected should have their resume thrown in the trash. This rules out most superintendents who bought into the nonsense that high-stakes testing is all that matters.
  4. Debt forgiveness. Frankly, if someone has never forgiven a personal debt but insists upon being paid every last penny without fail, they lack the compassion needed to administer immense debt programs that still struggle to sort out the fraud inflicted upon vulnerable people from legitimate collection.
  5. Personal integrity. How about someone who once was fired from a job because they stuck up for what they believed to be right?
  6. Abandonment for play. How about a US Sec. of Ed. who threw out the agenda for a school visit because they sat down outside with the school children and spent the entire time playing?
Comic Art | Calvin and hobbes, Calvin and hobbes comics, Happy memes
After they pass, you never get those years back.

7. Thirst for righteousness and a fierce desire to right past wrongs. We need a Secretary of Education who will restore and beef up the Civil Rights division of the department and will wage war upon the discriminatory patterns of education wherever they are found.

8. Insistence upon accountability for all who insist upon the privilege of education our young. This is not a call to maintain phony-baloney programs like teacher VAM, which has been soundly denounced and debunked by statisticians, but a call for charter and voucher schools to face the same requirements and auditing that public school systems undergo.

9. Humility. Someone who doesn’t hold themselves to be better than those they will serve; someone who is willing to reexamine beliefs and prejudices in the light of contrary evidence. Someone who can admit that they don’t know it all, thereby avoiding making dumb comments about schools having guns in case of a grizzly bear attack.

With someone like this serving in the Biden cabinet to represent education, there will indeed be a balm in Washington to heal our souls.

Gaslighting

It’s time for teachers to speak up (they have been.) It’s time for teachers to assert their expertise in knowing how children learn and how to deliver instruction to accomplish that learning (they have been.) It’s time for teachers to insist upon their expertise as content, learning, and child development experts that qualify them as the ones to determine what to teach and how to do it (they have been.)

It is also time for district leaders up to and including superintendents to stop telling teachers that they are not teaching the standards, their instruction does not align, they are not doing assessment properly or at the right time; time for these people to stop sending messages, explicitly and implicitly, that teachers are not up to the job of teaching, that they are unprepared to be in the classroom, and that teachers must be shown and forced to do their job the right way.

We call this gaslighting.

The classic movie gave us the word.

Long-time teachers watch superintendents, their regimes, and their programs come and go. Each new one starts their new improvement program, the latest and greatest thing that will finally get the lackluster district to the top of the pack in student achievement.

Yet, as their tenure ends, the new leader and regime comes along and questions everything that teachers are doing and yet, teachers are doing what the last people said was the correct way–every other way is wrong.

Once again, teachers are gaslighted as they are told nope, nope, nope, they have it all wrong and the new people really, really, really know how it should be done.

Eventually, like a Methodist congregation that doesn’t like the new preacher, teachers realize that eventually the superintendent and staff will move on. Wait it out and hope the next one is better.

The average tenure for an urban superintendent is about five years. The turn in fortunes usually comes about three years into the superintendency when the school board begins to turn a more critical eye upon the performance of the district.

But even under a new regime, the gaslighting goes on. How does this happen?

Gaslighting takes place in the workplace as well as relationships.

It starts by demanding that teachers have to write a standard on their whiteboard every day, word for word, leaving nothing out, because otherwise they won’t pay attention to what they are supposed to teach. Never mind the fact that many standards have numerous concepts involved and a lesson can only focus on one at a time, each and every word must be on that whiteboard.

It follows-up by saying that the standard is on the board, but the teacher’s lesson is not in alignment. The standard might say teach students the distance formula, but the lesson is on Pythagorean Theorem. But the distance formula is derived from the Pythagorean Theorem. The savvy teacher knows that the students in the room were advanced in mathematics during middle school, missed the course where the Pythagorean Theorem was taught, and that students now must learn it before they can understand what the distance formula is.

Oh, those learning arcs! Does that mean a teacher is free to remediate as needed or is constrained by district snarls that students already learned that and they should stop teaching it?

What is a learning arc? It means the vertical alignment of standards from year to year that build upon previous learning. Teachers are gaslighted when they are told the kids already know that when teachers have realized that they don’t.

Gaslighting goes on during professional development sessions. Teachers are told to stop choosing learning tasks because that is what children need to learn. They must unpack the standard to find out what learning tasks they should choose.

Do not match tasks to standards. And yet, in recent professional development sessions, principals were asked to do that very thing and then to take the exercise back to their teachers. Can you match the tasks to the standards?

It wasn’t easy. Gaslighting! Was the point of the exercise to make everyone feel stupid and they don’t know what they are supposed to do?

Gaslighting extends to assessment. Every lesson should end with some kind of assessment. But GOT asks why? Some lessons need more than one day. Hard concepts need multiple presentations, multiple work sessions, and multiple tasks until students pierce through to the understanding. Why assess after the first presentation? The students are not ready.

Understand that this is not a neutral process. Children do not have the maturity to realize that assessment is premature and the results are meaningless. They internalize their failure and shut down. Teaching and learning becomes much more difficult.

Gaslighting takes place because of the test score obsession of district leaders. All that matters is squeezing high scores out of our young. What happened to understanding the development stages that children pass through? Gone, forgotten, a school, scratch that, a district that gets the coveted A grade and the bragging rights that go with it, does not achieve that through utilizing the work of people like Piaget, Robertson, and Vygotsky to engage children in appropriate learning activities, but through endless test prep.

Last of the gas lamp tenders: PSE&G employee minds a small flock - nj.com

Gaslighting. You think this is normal, but it is not. Teachers are made to doubt themselves, but they should not. Parents are made to worry about how high the score will be, but they should not. It carries on by asserting that only the high upon high (hello, sixth floor!) knows. They do not.

It is time for the gaslighting in education to end.

Down in the Weeds

Soil Types And Weeds - How To Tell Which Soil You Have By The Weeds
It’s not a pretty picture. But that’s where growth takes place.

Gardeners will tell you that the definition of a weed is a plant that grows in a place where a human does not want it to. They also curse many weeds because weeds are tough, their roots grip the soil, and they don’t give up easily. Many weeds will grow back from the slightest bit of root left in the soil. Others spread underground and pop up in the unlikeliest of places. When we get down in the weeds, we find education hanging on, despite the best efforts of many humans to pull it out, burn it up, and eradicate the last vestiges of child development in favor of an award gained through a committee putting marks on a scorecard a/k/a annual state standardized testing.

The fight between weeds and the herbicidal gardener is ongoing, everchanging, and eternal.

The fight between those who insist on growing and being what they determine and those who want to say, “Sorry, but that’s not what we had in mind for you.”

The fight between teachers who are child development experts and know how to enhance that process and those who say, “But that’s not on the test. That won’t show up in test scores. That won’t help a school grade. Dammit, you’re going to make me look bad.”

Down in the weeds, we find district administrators still insisting on teacher evaluations, classroom walkthroughs, and interim testing as if a pandemic wasn’t raging through the world. Teachers don’t need to spend time identifying who is quarantined, how those students can learn at home via instructional videos and alternate assignments, contacting parents, and the like; they need to make sure they wrote the current day’s standard on the board word for word leaving nothing out. Administrators are tasked to visit classrooms to document if the standard is on the board, if the lesson adheres to the standard, if the teacher is being compliant or really implementing district micromanagement of the classroom, and if teachers are every day assessing student learning on that standard in a meaningful way that is documented.

Down in the weeds, a blight is destroying the crop, but the gardeners are singing about the end of the world and they feel fine.

Districts don’t trust school leaders, either. Down in the weeds, they are using technology to time how long administrators are staying in classrooms to do all of the above. Only unions are standing between that nonsense and high-tech surveillance of teachers.

Down in the weeds, districts are still conducting testing, sorting the results, teacher by teacher, and leaning on principals to do something about the teachers whose results they don’t like.

What the hell is wrong with them?

They don’t have enough teachers to fill their classrooms, but they think bare soil is preferable to anything green that will grow. But the world awaits the first announcement of success of anyone who grew anything over the internet. The virtual world is not the real world.

A lot goes on down in the weeds. Bacteria, bugs, and wind spread disease. The gardeners either think they have the blight beaten or that it won’t get worse.

But Thanksgiving is coming. The most family-gathering holiday of the year.

None of this will matter soon. The blight is real. Down in the weeds, the garden will be closed.

Do not despair. That is when weeds flourish.

Your children will be okay.

The Last Word Belongs to Covid

The rumors grow more solid and it appears that Florida’s pathetically peripatetic pandemic Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, also affectionately known as King Richard, will order an end to remote learning, thereby removing a choice from parents that many parents want.

Did Fear Drive Richard III To The Throne? A Timeline - HistoryExtra
From Speaker of the House
to Lord of the Privy.

Children will go back to their school campuses in January or Florida’s school districts will be forced to relinquish their enrollment to Florida Virtual School.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is not prepared for a massive influx on new students should parents be unwilling to send their children back to campus. They couldn’t handle the demand in August and many, many children and their parents went without any schooling as they waited to begin FLVS.

But those messy details of how anyone actually provides education to children has never bothered the king before and it seems it won’t stop him now.

It’s the power of the budget, an idea borrowed from the Federal Government and applied Florida-style.

School Boards are the constitutional officers who have the power to make the decisions for their school systems, including the learning options offered to parents. But they rely upon the state for funding. The state can force decisions upon school boards by tying their funding to school boards obeying state orders.

Thus, King Richard will dictate the choices that school boards can offer parents.

To be fair, he has a point. In-person learning is far superior to online learning. Teachers know that. Teachers know how long it takes to present a lesson online, how it is hard to get the necessary interaction with students that sparks the learning process, how kids don’t talk but try to do an assignment on their own no matter the hours that they have to put in … certainly, it is best for children to be in the classroom.

But then, the pandemic continues and builds to a new crescendo in its third surge. 110,000 new cases a day, far higher than the spring and summer peaks … it’s not slowing down. Schools are having to close and quarantine students and staff.

The surgical approach is not working. Go ahead and quarantine a teacher and 33% of a class for exposure to a positive case. What does the other 67% of the class do when they sit in a classroom with no teacher?

Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) colleague returned from quarantine yesterday. GOT asked her how she taught her five in-person classes from home. She utilized the online platform! Because there were no student computers available, she had the students watch and listen on their phones!

It didn’t work well. This anecdote reveals that the online option will not be terminated with a state order for all students to report to campus. It will merely make school more chaotic.

Despite Corcoran’s thinking that he can order the disease to behave and put all children back on campus, Covid will have the last word.

Or parents, the parents who don’t want their children in FLVS or on the campus. They want their children’s regular teachers to deliver instruction as best as possible given the circumstances. Everyone understands that less will be accomplished, but also that these times will not last forever.

Children have a remarkable ability to make up what they missed … if they are motivated. The current school environment of standardized testing and all that entails leaves them unmotivated. But that’s a topic for another post.

Once December arrives, post-Thanksgiving and all the new infections that will occur, it is doubtful that schools can remain open under any circumstances.

Despite the Commissioner’s orders, it seems that he still has a Covid problem.

If GOT had the skills, he would superimpose Corcoran’s face on top of Snape’s.

I Confess: I’m a Socialist

Recently, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was reading a piece by Peter Greene of Curmudgucation fame that mentioned the old canard of how teachers are indoctrinating students in the classroom to their wild-eyed, unbrushed hair, manic presentation of socialism as the ONLY ism that works.

His take? “Like teachers have time for that.”

Actually, GOT does have time for that. He is a math teacher and mathematics is full of socialism. Every math teacher every day is indoctrinating students in the idea that people should receive equal treatment regardless of merit.

You don’t believe GOT? Consider Distributive Property: a (b + c) = (a x b) + (a x c).

Actually, that is a mathematical property that says no matter how many terms (things we are adding) that are inside the parentheses: a (b + c + d + … + z) = (a x b) + (a x c) + (a x d) + … + (a x z), we will do the same thing to each one.

Everything inside the parentheses is receiving the same distribution of ‘a’ benefits. We don’t ask if they earned it, we don’t ask if they merit it, they just get it. Socialism: everyone is treated the same.

Oprah "You Get a Car" Giveaway Meme Maker
Oprah had nothing on math teachers. Everybody gets an ‘a’.

Or consider the properties of equality. Any equation states that one thing is equal to another. To maintain that equality, whatever we add, subtract, multiply, or divide to one side of the equation we must do to the other side. Equality must be maintained.

Don’t ask about 2x – 4 = 5x -20 and whether the addition of 4 to the left should be matched by the addition of 4 to the right. Mathematics does not allow you to ask that. We MUST BE EQUAL. Whatever happens to one must happen for all. Socialism!

What about transitive property? If a = b and b = c, then a has to equal c because a and c equal b. In other words, it doesn’t matter if a and c aren’t identical much as people come with different demographics. No matter how we organize the statistics, every number is the same as the others. Disgusting, right? But that’s mathematics.

Yes, you were right all along, flat-earthers, faux libertarians, and <censored because politics is too hot to be mentioned.>

Betsy Devos? You had our number all along, didn’t you? OMG, the equality! The socialism being taught in public school classrooms!

But don’t think we are waiting for the secondary grade levels (middle and high) to work our evil. We start early, we < censored, but insert your favorite swear word> mathematics teachers.

It starts with division. What is 24 divided by 6? That simple arithmetic problem means we are taking 24 things and giving them equally to six groups. Every group gets four.

Some groups don’t deserve it. They are lazy. Some parade grievances over past treatment and refuse to be a part of the great system of mathematics. Some will freeload as long as they can get away with it.

But we math teachers say each group gets the same. That other stuff doesn’t matter.

Mathematics: the original socialism! Oh, the horror! Oh, the threat to our great country! The only answer is to stop teaching it. After all, no one needs math to count their guns.

Or do they?

[BTW (By the way), for those who didn’t figure out that this is satire, yes it’s satire.]

Survey Says!

Family Feud has nothing on Florida, where competing groups answer surveys to push their agenda onto the public, no matter how ridiculous or astoundingly awful the results might be.

The original.

If you watched the clip, you saw that a McDonald’s restaurant lost out to a bakery by only two percentage points as a place where the smell of food makes you hungry.

Well, Florida is hungry for something and that is new leadership, both in the Governor’s Mansion (closed to public tours even as DeathSantis issues orders that everything else must reopen) and the Department of Education’s Commissioner Office.

Neither understands the constitutional limits of their offices. They pretend to be conservatives who want limited government, but both have shown a willingness to issue orders regardless of whether the constitution gives that power or not.

The governor has openly questioned why schools should be allowed to insist upon mask-wearing.

Their political base hates masks and, because a group of a few thousand parents in Sarasota are angry that their school system makes their children wear masks and are threatening a lawsuit, the FLDOE, in its desire to satisfy a political base, gets an assist by Florida’s PTA with a survey about mask wearing.

One can only suppose that the governor is about to issue an order through his commissioner to override the decisions of duly-elected school boards, the constitutional officers who have the authority and responsibility to operate Florida’s public schools.

Go here to find it. You don’t need to be a parent to take the survey. Tell Richard Corcoran that you demand that school boards maintain their mandatory mask-wearing policies.

You might also send him an email to explain the constitutional limit on his authority as Education Commissioner. He needs a lesson or two or ten thousand about that.

Doing It My Way

What, you were expecting Frank Sinatra?

Yesterday, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) had his best day of teaching since schools opened August 20. Having shared the news, GOT received comments about providing specifics.

The overall take-away: GOT tried to follow all the protocols that his district laid down for teaching during this pandemic year. Much of it hasn’t worked and like many fellow teachers, GOT has been overwhelmed trying to keep up with lesson planning, reviewing student work, providing feedback, communicating with parents, flagging students submitting no work, trying to solve the technology/device issues, reaching out over attendance issues and then notifying counselors, …

It’s been too much. Finally, GOT decided to McGuyver the situation. Yes, that really is a verb and GOT is known in his district for doing so: “Let’s find a way to make this work.”

What changed?

Stop making the face-to-face students take their papers home, scan them, and upload them. The concern was that infected children might leave virus particles on the paper. The district wants as little paper handled as possible. But the scans are a problem as GOT will detail below.

Answer? Let the students turn in their papers as before. Use disposable gloves when grading.

Student uploads are a huge problem. Many uploads don’t happen even when GOT knows the students were in the class and working. Sometimes their technology can’t handle the demand; sometimes traffic overwhelms the district’s grading program (that we were to force all students to use for submissions.) Also, students don’t follow instructions. For teachers to grade electronically in the gradebook, the files must be in PDF or Word document formats. They take pictures anyway. Further, sometimes the scans/pictures are too dark to be readable; sometimes they are sideways … the end result is the teacher has to give a zero grade and ask for the student to fix the problem … and now parents get fussy.

Answer? Stop providing assignments that require student uploads. It might not work for every teacher, but GOT is a math teacher. He will teach his lesson, let the children work out the concepts through assigned work, but they will not upload their work. At the end of the lesson, they will take a short quiz (check for understanding) via an online app. The app will record their responses for GOT’s review.

Practice will be done in an online program. The program has many advantages: it provides tutorial videos if students need them, it will show them examples and how to work a solution, and it has options to allow a teacher to format the assignment for maximum learning as well as doing the grading for the teacher to review.

GOT can look at the results and identify students who need more instruction (tutoring, intervention, Tier 2 MTSS if we must sling the lingo) and work with them.

Online grading takes too much time. Every teacher has found this out. Now that GOT doesn’t have to insert comments and draw symbols on gradebook uploads, his impossible time demand will drop to a manageable level without decreasing the quality of learning he provides to his students.

No more students being unable to download assignments. All they have to do is log into a website.

(Sadly, GOT’s district pulled all the online resources from high schools. Happily, his state gives teachers an annual allotment to purchase what they need that the district doesn’t supply. GOT was able to buy licenses for the websites he needs.)

Pacing with the curriculum guide: Even in a normal year, it’s a challenge as we must teach a full year of content in only three-quarters. Pounding through the lessons, pushing students to go too fast, teachers find the students retain little. But the PMA (Progress Monitoring Assessment!)

Answer? It will be what it will be. Because we delayed the opening of school, but the district has not delayed the PMA nor has it edited for the time-shortage of instruction, the results will be meaningless. Give it because teachers must, but don’t dwell on the results. As a colleague says, drive on.

Slow the pace to what meets student needs. The district is focused on state demands. There’s no reason for teachers to do that as well. Online teaching takes more time, at least twice as much, to explain the ideas and show students examples of what they need to handle.

Today’s student lacks an ability to apply knowledge. Although this is one of Benjamin Bloom’s categories of high order thinking, the reality is that the test-and-punish regime drives the classroom into doing whatever will help children get the highest score on the test at the end of the year. By the time these students arrive in high school, they need a lot of support to move them into those thinking levels.

Explain, explain, explain. Do what’s right for the child.

Give up the idea that the teacher must teach everything. Overcome the long instructional period online by playing the videos that came with the curriculum. That keeps the instruction within a reasonable time frame.

GOT will not utilize that as an opportunity for a coffee break. He will watch the video with students. When it ends, he will ask the students for their questions. What part of the lesson do they want to look closer at? GOT will handle that live.

And if the district or state doesn’t like any of this, they can go fly a kite.

Actually, as Geometry teachers, GOT and his colleagues have a great end-of-the-year project in which the students actually make a kite and try to fly it.

But the PMA! It doesn’t matter if the kite flies; what matters is if students answer test questions correctly about how to fly kites.

Answer? Go fly a kite.

And now, here’s Frank. Sing along, forget about your woes, and do it your way.

When the Lights Go Out …

… get up and walk through the room. Tap the thermostat to turn the AC on. Ten minutes later, do it again. Pandemic teaching, when teaching staff must report and work on the campus with no students in the room. The motion detector detects no motion as the solitary figure known as the teacher sits in a chair and works online to deliver instruction. Maybe it’s a metaphor; maybe it’s a school district that doesn’t trust its teachers to turn the lights out when they leave the room.

Wait at the front door for the temperature check. Try not to giggle when the thermometer reports a temperature two or three degrees below the actual temperature because few use it correctly. The device needs to be less than an inch from skin. Whatever, every day everyone passes. Slap the paper on the table which every day interrogates about the last fourteen days. Look for the sign-in sheet. It’s not in sight. Realize that one good thing about the daily paper is that it documents attendance for the day.

Remind students that the mask should cover the nose. We’ve reached the point where the novelty has worn off and students as well as some adults, think they are being safe if the mask covers the mouth. Conduct on-the-spot health and science lessons that animals, including humans, breathe through their noses.

Multi-task through a team conference with the principal about the Algebra 1 state testing diploma requirement that none of the current freshmen have satisfied since there was no Algebra 1 test last spring. Recognize that we’re actually doing something smart by notifying parents and students that they may prep and take the FSA End of Course exam in November, but they don’t have to because there are alternatives. Bonus points for finishing the review of student work submissions and posting all progress report grades so the end-of-the-day bell really ends the day.

Work on baseline testing. Realize over 96% have tested and that, unlike previous years when 100% was achievable, that’s going to have to be acceptable. Wonder how the first progress monitoring assessment, whose results have to be reported to the state to demonstrate that remote learning programs are effective, will go once the students have an incentive to cheat.

Argue with colleagues over work-arounds to the lack of breakout rooms in Teams, which would allow teachers to move online students into small groups where the students can’t overhear the other groups but the teacher can hear and monitor all of them. Point out that starting multiple meetings leaves the teacher unable to monitor more than one group at a time. Listen to advice to record every meeting. Understand that students will figure out that no teacher with three classes a day, six or more groups per class, and 30 to 60 minutes of small group could possibly listen to 9 to 18 hours of meetings after the fact. They are unsupervised and their conversations are unmonitored. Children can be unkind to one another in their immaturity. Know that the risk of bullying, sexual harassment, or other undesirable behaviors is too great for this.

Plan adjustments to the district’s schema for online instruction. Apply the knowledge that while teachers must insist upon synchronous learning (students must report for each class), they don’t have to be in the meeting the entire time. Let them go for a while and bring them back at the end. An opportunity to work with small groups and, more important, to provide support to students with IEPs and 504 plans, will open. Take it.

Resist the temptation to call parents that their students are skipping when it could be a technology problem: old equipment, inadequate devices (students need a laptop; a cell phone is a poor substitute), bandwidth limitations, loss of wi-fi, and more. Live with the fact that students are catching on and blaming their technology when they log in 30 minutes after class starts.

Know that what’s important is checking in, assessing what they’re learning, and reviewing the work they submit that documents their learning.

When the lights go out … get up and walk through the room.

Techno-Blues

Are you ready for dis? Techno-Ed is underway complete with ‘Quasi-data.’

As more and more school districts open for the new year, a renewed demand for internet resources, including bandwidth from service providers, file capacity from central servers, both school district and tech companies like Microsoft and Google, and transfer protocols, are rearing their ugly heads.

It’s enough to make a teacher scream in despair or, in a fit of nihilism, get up and dance to techno-music. Certainly, the online teaching experience is like a frenetic dance of admitting students to live Zoom or Teams meetings, taking note when the technology kicks them out, readmitting, inviting back, inviting back, inviting back all while trying to deliver live instruction, monitor student comments in the chat, record attendance, explaining where to find the assignment files, how to download, and where and when to upload, answer questions about the learning, read that priority email sent by the district or administration, ignore (if possible) the constant Teams notifications, explain to students they are in the wrong class and should report to their scheduled class …

Is the music driving you mad? Go ahead, the link is over an hour long, turn it off. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has.

Too bad we can’t turn virtual learning off. Or, to distinguish it from virtual schools like FLVS or a school district’s version, remote learning.

Techno-blues are here. GOT has noticed that an hours-long delay has cropped up in student-teacher emails during the day. Because he was giving a quiz, GOT didn’t want to distribute the file in advance, but when he emailed it, the students didn’t get it. Previously, a student had emailed her teachers about an issue she was having. The email showed up in GOT’s inbox five hours after it was sent.

Students are complaining that they cannot download assignment files placed in the grade portal. Some are having no trouble; others are. GOT suspects the issues are multiple, but the age of the device is a factor. Older devices have more trouble.

Student uploads of completed work: same issues.

Sometimes, the students download a file, work in it, but don’t save their work as a new file for upload. They end up submitting the blank assignment file that they had downloaded.

Many of them don’t upload in the proper formats. Focus, the grade portal website, needs to have a PDF file or a Word document for the teacher to make comments and mark corrections. Pictures won’t work. Yet, despite the requirement, many students continue to upload pictures and then get fussy when their work is not graded.

Techno-ed is time consuming. The burden falls on the teacher to plan alternatives for the prescribed methods of providing assignments and accepting submissions. GOT is using the class notebook (Microsoft app) as another means of distributing work and receiving submissions. In fact, that is a more efficient and effective way of providing teacher feedback. To encourage students to place their work in their online notebooks, GOT is giving an extra point of credit to students who do so. Those who submit via the standard means, GOT is downloading and inserting their submissions into the notebook.

Going forward, GOT will also email the daily assignments to his students the day before. Multiple ways is the key. But it takes more time.

Students are taking advantage of the situation. But teachers should be reluctant to assume that students are skipping as in logging into their class meeting, but walking away believing that the teacher won’t notice their absence. Teachers could get around this by requiring students to turn on their cameras, but that is problematic as well.

Beyond the privacy issues, some students have devices without cameras. Some cameras no longer work because the software drivers are outdated. Also, video feed from 25 to 30 home computers bogs down Team’s or Zoom’s performance.

GOT is reluctant to call out a student. This past week, he had a student in a meeting who previously had reported that he couldn’t access assignment files. He posted in the chat to ask the student if he was successful for that day, then asked via the audio. There was no response.

After muting his microphone for privacy, GOT called the parent. She said that her child was sitting beside her looking at his computer and handed the phone off. After talking with the student, GOT was able to direct him to a means of finding the assignment (spoiler alert: not via the grade portal) and he got to work.

Thus, students have to be given the benefit of the doubt. Parent communication is vital, but that’s a lot of phone calls! Phone calls that wouldn’t have to be made if the students were in the classroom.

Please understand GOT is not complaining, but trying to give you an idea of what it’s like to provide remote instruction. Unlike last spring, when the instructional ‘cake’ was baked, cooling on the rack, and only lacked the frosting to finish the year, we are now looking at the recipe book, reading the instructions, finding that some of it is outdated or questionable, and like master chefs, are experimenting with the recipe as we go to mix the batter.

Because, home learning or not, the state of Florida insists that every student’s cake will be entered into its annual competition. Even if the judges can’t tell divinity from pig crap, students will still be judged. We need to get the recipe right.

GOT approaches 1,000 word in this post and hasn’t even mentioned the impossibility of delivering the support services required by IEPs (Individual Education Plans) and 504s (plans for students with disabilities who do not qualify for an IEP.)

How do you individually work with students in a way that maintains privacy to provide the specified accommodations when the meeting apps have no means for that unless the entire class hears the conversation? A teacher could start a separate meeting, but that means leaving the class meeting, and given concerns about bullying and other inappropriate behavior, school districts are insisting that teachers monitor their meetings while they take place.

If a teacher ends the class meeting, then the synchronous meeting requirement ends as well. Plus, the teacher is not available to answer student questions while they are doing the work.

Techno-blues. Remote learning is not an ideal situation. It is making the best of a bad situation–the practices needed to maintain public health during a pandemic. But we can’t pretend that the pandemic is over, either. Bringing all students back to their campuses is not a good idea. There will be a morning after, but we are not there yet. In the meantime, let’s dance.

Labor Day Blues

Why You Should Reward and Recognize Your Blue-Collar Employees
Among other things, unions brought you the coffee break.

Unlike the rest of the world, America sets aside the first Monday in September to honor its workers rather than a May Day commemoration.

And the big Amazon smile has pulled up to my mailbox. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) walked out to greet the driver as he tries to save delivery persons a lot of steps to his front porch if he can avoid it.

For working on this holiday that honors American labor, the driver is not earning anything extra. But, he says with a smile, “I’ve got to pay my bills.” He’s grateful to have a job during this pandemic economy.

As for GOT, he could have waited until Tuesday for the delivery, but it wasn’t a delivery option. When you order from Amazon, they schedule you as fast as you’re willing to pay. GOT, being the skinflint that he is, always takes the free option. Maybe he’ll have to look harder to schedule weekday deliveries, but Amazon employees, you really need a union.

This post is not to examine the many labor sins of Amazon. Why not boycott? Because there is no alternative. Why would a teacher give their business to Walmart? If you object to Bill Gates, then your alternative is Laureen Jobs. It’s hard to protest with purchasing policy when every option promotes anti-public education ideas.

NiYO raises $35 million to bank India's blue collar workers | ImpactAlpha
The 40 hour, 5 day workweek is also due to America’s labor unions.

Labor Day is the traditional end of summer and, in an election year, when the campaigns kick into earnest. This year feels different and it’s not only the pandemic. Events are in motion, the causes have occurred, and all we have to do is watch events play out in real time.

  1. For educators, the real debate continues over the wisdom of opening school campuses for children to attend. Although there are good arguments for and against, the fact is that the buildings have opened and students have come. Even if we closed now, teachers, staff, and children have already been exposed to whatever has come inside.
  2. We’ve been running in cycles. The first cycle concluded in May, after we shut down to head off the first potential exponential explosion in cases that would stress and perhaps break our health care systems. People relaxed, believing the threat to be over, aided in that belief by politicians doing victory laps around their states. But a second cycle took hold as people refused to follow public health advice, gathered in large groups for the traditional celebrations of Memorial Day and July 4th, and we saw high numbers during the month of July that only slowly declined into August.
  3. It seemed that people were sobered by July. GOT noticed a high percentage of compliance with mask-wearing, for example. But now, as the numbers decline into early September, GOT is noticing many persons no longer bothering. They won’t wear masks and they won’t keep their distance. The third cycle begins, and it’s no use arguing about it. We will see what happens in October.
  4. Fortunately, at his school, the students do wear their masks. The masks will slip down, but a gentle reminder brings an immediate adjustment. Physical distance is much harder. It is impossible in classrooms where 33 students sit in a room and, without cattle prods (smile, it’s a joke), we’re not going to keep them six feet apart in the hallways. But they mostly walk facing one direction from doorway to doorway. They’re not gathered in front of lockers or facing one another.
  5. We haven’t had trouble with sub coverage, but GOT’s school is an academic magnet and the admission requirements generally screen out discipline problems, which means subs want to work at his school.

There are other cycles moving as well. GOT has lost interest in the burning issues of the day because, frankly, those issues have burned for a long time. There is no fresh fuel for the fire. Again, the causes have happened, events are moving, and we are waiting to see them play out in the next few months.

Examples: In Jacksonville, interest in the investigations of the aborted sale of the public utility wanes. While there are new things to discover, the essential story is known. Nothing of interest will happen until the federal grand jury begins dropping charges and we see who gets swept up in the dragnet.

Trump quotes. Really, something the man allegedly said two and a half years ago has relevance now? This non-story would die out except for all the unceasing blatherskites who have to keep commenting. The election cycle has two months to go and little, if anything new, will happen. Turn out and vote and hope your side wins.

Hurricanes. We’re on the P name and it’s only early September. The storm cycle is one we have little control over year by year. Its intensification is due to extra heat in the ocean and atmosphere. But we set that cycle in motion years ago. While changes may affect future decades, for now all we can do is wait, watch, and go through the storms as they wash ashore.