The Lie of Florida Virtual

It’s not only the cheating: how do you know the student is actually doing the lessons and taking the assessments? FLVS (Florida Virtual School, enshrined by law as a public school district like the 67 real districts run by locally elected school boards, whose ‘board’ is now the state’s school board) tries to head this off by having the virtual teachers call students and orally examine them to make sure they are really doing the work and passing the tests.

It’s not that research has shown that virtual learning is not as effective as learning that takes place in a real classroom (Grumpy Old Teacher–GOT–will look for links later; this is a quick dash-off piece.)

It’s not that a virtual school system, conducted online via the internet, doesn’t have the capacity to handle an entire state’s school population. Florida’s State Board of Education, which is also the local school board for the Florida Virtual School, has granted a request for funding so that FLVS can hurriedly build in additional capacity so that it can accommodate 2,700,000 students by early May. A number that not-so-coincidentally matches the entire school population for the state of Florida.

The lie of Florida Virtual School is that it can replace the brick-and-mortar schools that exist in the state.

You need look no further than the annual state tests that Florida vainly believes are the best measure of student learning when it assigns school grades, a system Florida conceitedly believes leads the nation in educational best practices.

(Well, GOT says Florida, but really is referring to the politicians, ed reformers, et al. who almost always are found to have a connection to a profit-making scheme, a charter school chain, a pass-through non-profit like Step Up for Students, or billionaire-sponsored foundations that promote the privatization of education.)

When May arrives, how do those Florida Virtual School students take their tests? Each and every one of them must go to a brick-and-mortar, real district school to sit in a classroom for the administration.

It doesn’t happen online; it doesn’t happen virtually.

Virtual school remains dependent on real public schools to carry out its mission.

GOT wondered if FLVS received school grades like real schools. Here’s the result. Draw your own conclusions.

The Surprise of Distance Learning

Are you anxious? - The Jerusalem Post
Thanks, Scrabble … or should I say Novel Coronavirus?

This is going to be a personal post. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was prepared (emotionally, mentally) for the inevitable snafus that were going to occur on the first day his school district moved to distance learning, an attempt to carry on instruction with students as we all sat at home and connected over the internet.

He was prepared to adjust his grading strategies and how students could fix the performance issues that inevitably set in with the resumption of school in January. At his school, we call it the third quarter slump.

He knew that he would have to lighten up on his push to drive students forward to excellence as the all-consuming tests would have an out-sized impact on their future. At the high school level, opt-out is not as simple as telling students to do a sit-and-stare for the duration. End-of-course exams come with penalties; the state mandates that they count for 30% of a student’s course grade.

He knew that with all the adjustments, some students (the slackers, to use a 1980s phrase) would exploit the loopholes to get the distance-learning grades that they would not earn.

GOT was okay with all of that. What I wasn’t prepared for was … anxiety.

This is personal. I’m going to drop the third-person manner in which I write this blog.

It began a week and a half ago as my district’s teachers spent Friday doing online training, participating in meetings via Microsoft’s Teams app, and otherwise scrambling to figure out how to go live on Monday with students.

Saturday night, Sunday night, how the bowels rumbled. I don’t think I got much more than 2 to 3 hours of sleep between visits to the bathroom.

Monday, when I got up, I felt the pins-and-needles in my fingertips. How would it go? Would it work? What happens if the students misbehave? What happens if the lesson goes poorly?

I’m used to putting on a brave front, but this new format was beyond my experience like it is for every other teacher who no longer welcomes children into her classroom, but must teach them from afar.

The miracle of technology. The impersonal miracle of technology. You can keep your Instagram photos, your Twitter bits, your Facebook posts: it’s not the same as being there.

How do I make this work? I’m in uncharted waters.

Every morning, I felt overwhelmed as I wondered what the day would bring. After the first day, a disaster in which students showed up for the video meeting, expected it to be perfect, and of course it wasn’t, things ran better. I settled into a format that kept things running and avoided most of the technology hiccups due to coding errors and high traffic.

And yet, every day, the anxiety returned.

The lessons are working. Students are completing assignments. I’m taking it easy on them because, if I am experiencing this anxiety, I cannot imagine what it’s like for them.

Someone asked me yesterday, “Is this it? Is this all we’re doing?”

I said, “Yep, it’s enough to chew on for the day.” (It was one of the more difficult lessons in Geometry: applying knowledge about the area of a triangle and trigonometry to calculate the area of regular polygons. I am mixing in a hard lesson with easy ones as the days progress. Even so, there are hard lessons I am holding back on because I simply cannot figure out how to get across the key ideas online when I cannot look at their faces, their papers, and their behavior and know how the learning is progressing.)

Thus, the anxiety. How will this all work out?

My principal is a good one. He tells me not to worry, shut my door, and teach. He’ll handle the rest. There are times I need to hear that message, but face-to-face. He’s been terrific in this closing. Very supportive, helpful, I have no complaint.

But it would be nice to see it face-to-face. You see, that’s who we are as human beings. Language sets us apart from the animals, but language is worthless without the body language, those clues that help us distinguish what’s real from what’s not.

In these days of distance learning, we get no clue. All we have is words, and it’s not enough. (The irony is not lost on GOT that blogging is all about words.)

Yesterday, I taught a class and no one was talking in the chat. I finally said something and a student told me we are talking in the chat–do a refresh. Only then did I realize that my screen had stopped scrolling it. But I had got to the point where I wondered if anyone was out there–no human response for 35 minutes.

The anxiety. Will anyone tune in? Does anyone care? It is disconcerting to talk for so long without some type of feedback.

This isn’t the future.

As I pass through my second week of distance learning, I feel the anxiety decreasing, but it hasn’t gone away. I still worry about the disruptive students who might try to wreck a lesson (they are not showing up), that the technology might fail even though I am using my home computer as our district-provided laptops are too old to reliably run the online apps, and that students will give up even as I try to keep them engaged.

I worry about the timing of needing to finalize third quarter grades. What will happen to those students in overwhelming circumstances who cannot finish and send in their work?

I know I can work it out and submit grade changes later. But that’s my brain talking, my intellect. My amygdala has something else to say.

Master of my classroom, I suffer the tyranny of doing this online. I do not share this easily, I am not seeking reassurance or an outpouring of ‘you got this’ remarks. I am tough, I have gone through much and I will get through this.

But I thought, surely I am not alone, thus, I will share.

You’re not the only one.

Pro Tips for Distance Learning 2

In this second post of a series that Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hopes will have a very short shelf life, he will answer questions that have arisen in this grand experiment.

? How can I (a teacher) assess my students? How do I give a quiz/test?

Don’t. Just don’t.

? How can I stop students cheating on my test?

See above.

? What will happen when all 67 school districts in Florida go online tomorrow (March 30, 2020)?

No one knows. Have patience, keep trying, and forgive the students, both the ones who tried and the ones who didn’t. It’s not a time to be an <ahem.>

? How does a particular feature work in a particular platform?

Check your network. Someone in your school, district, or social media connections has probably figured it out.

? What happens if everything crashes? OMFG, what now?

Peace. The sun came up, you have food in your house, your children are annoying you (that’s a good thing), if nothing worked, what really matters in life has not changed.

Falsetto’s greatest moment.

Pro Tips for Distance Learning

This one was making the rounds on social media (date: March 27, 2020).

Week One is over. Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) Florida district was one of four that reconvened online as the extended Spring break ended. Monday, all 67 districts will be online to provide distance learning as we teach our students from home. This post is a ‘Lessons Learned’ for all those yet to enter this grand experiment.

ONE: The most important thing is to connect with students, who are missing their routine and crave normalcy. Make your first day an easy one. Check-in, ask about their family, ask how they are feeling, assure them you will support them from afar the same as if you were together in the classroom.

One of GOT’s students made a point of showing him her dog yesterday. That’s the kind of emotional connection your students need.

Your first day is going to be rough, full of technological challenges as you find out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t get fussed when things don’t work out or students get upset. They expect the technology to be perfect from the get-go. It won’t be. Don’t make that mistake.

GOT had a class where nothing worked the way the district said it would. (Microsoft at fault; not GOT’s district.) The upshot? Everyone gets full marks for the assignment. It wasn’t their fault.

TWO: Don’t try anything new. You won’t know how it will actually perform and you haven’t had time to train your students in how to use it. All those great apps you’re reading about? Forget it. Don’t use anything you haven’t already been using in your classroom unless you have no other choice.

GOT’s district committed to Microsoft long ago. We use their apps, period. A year or two ago, the district cut off access to other platforms, such as Google Classroom, for many reasons including compliance with FERPA, IDEA, and other federal laws. Don’t get creative. Stick to your district’s plan. It’s the best way to ensure we are protecting the rights of our students.

For example, Teams gives the ability to hold video meetings. If that’s what your district is providing, don’t use Zoom. There are many reports of security concerns with Zoom. You don’t want the trolls bursting into your video classroom in the most inappropriate ways.

THREE: Make attendance easy. Understand that children may be sharing their devices with siblings and may not be able to attend your video meetings when they take place. It may be later in the day. Teens will follow their body clocks: up late at night, sleep in the morning. Adapt to them. Make it easy.

GOT has seen teachers share many ideas for attendance. While he means no disrespect, in the secondary classroom, requiring children to fill out a form or respond to a question is a bit much. They are trying to navigate 6 to 8 classes, all of which have different procedures and expectations, while fighting for computer time with siblings and maybe even parents, if Mom or Dad has a work-at-home routine.

GOT goes the extra mile. If a student interacts with his class in anyway during a two-day period, they are present. When he starts the live video meeting, if he sees the child join, that’s ‘Present.’ If the child leaves a comment in the chat, even hours after the meeting, that’s a ‘Present.’ If a child ignores the video meeting, but views the assignment in Teams within 48 hours of posting, that’s a ‘Present.’ If a child submits work for that class, that’s a ‘Present.’

FOUR: GOT is checking his word count. This post is passing the 600 threshhold. That’s about as long as a blogger can expect an online reader to remain focused on the writing.

Remember the same as true or even more so for children.

Don’t try to replicate your in-person classroom experience online. Cut back on the work. Don’t try to instruct the entire time, then assign the classwork followed by a homework assignment. Parents are reporting that their children are spending upwards of 12 hours online trying to do all the work. We need to stop. Cut back. Teach for 30 minutes, allow the students to work while you give them help like you would in the classroom.

And homework? Forgeddaboutit.

Superstar Flunkies

If she reads this, she may figure out who inspired this post.

Gratitude Day 66 – Letting Go of Superwoman – simplewordsoffaith
This one’s for you.

It was supposed to be the Year of the Teacher. The governor proposed to raise all teacher salaries to a minimum of $47,500 a year, including rookies entering their classroom for the very first time.

The existing bonus program, which was called ‘Best and Brightest,’ but scorned as ‘Dumb and Dumbest,’ would be eliminated in favor of a performance pay plan that would compensate teachers at schools that meet improvement goals based upon state test results.

There was a lot of controversy. Teachers hate the plan because it makes no distinction between those with years of experience and those first starting out. Experience makes a difference and, in the classroom, teaching is no exception. Simply stated, the longer someone teaches, the better they are.

But teachers hate the plan even more because it disregards the people who make the schoolhouse work–without whom, there would be no school. Flunky is not the word for them. They are superstars.

When a child vomits on the floor, who cleans it up? The ‘flunky’ superstars.

When children is hungry, morning, midday, and afternoon, who feeds them? ‘Flunky superstars.’

When a school district decides it no longer needs librarians because the clerk can unlock the door, who keeps the media center running? The ‘flunky’ superstars.

What are these ‘flunky’ superstars doing during this time of school closure and distance learning? They are contacting families to check on the students. Are they safe? Are they healthy? What do they need?

They are handing out school lunches and driving school buses to deliver learning materials so children will not regress.

They are coordinating a hundred million details that no one ever thinks of and they don’t ask for thanks. They merely say they are part of the team.

What do we do for them? Most principals will treat them to lunch once a year whenever that particular Wednesday pops up in April.

You can’t pay the bills with a free lunch once a year.

You can’t pay the bills when you only make $11 an hour and your hours run about 1200. Do the math. For all they do, the ‘flunky’ superstars make about $13,200 every year. If they volunteer for extra duty, such as after-school programs, they might extend that about another $2,000 or so.

Face it, we don’t pay them enough, we don’t recognize them enough, we don’t do enough for them even as they put in the extra effort because they are part of the team.

They deserve much better. So while you are congratulating teachers for their sacrifices during the pandemic for their care, concern, and efforts for students, remember the ‘flunky’ superstars.

They are every bit the equal of a teacher.

When this is over, they need attention, too. $15 an hour is the least of what we should start with.

Treat them right.

Distance Learning: Day One

First the song: There will be a morning after.

It will happen.

As expected, the unprecedented load on the servers of the nation’s 20th largest school district caused things not to work so well. What was unexpected was where the data logjam occurred.

Running live meetings went well for the most part. Students were able to join the meetings and watch teachers deliver lessons. Some students complained they couldn’t see the video, but since it wasn’t all, they probably had a key setting disabled. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) used a whiteboard feature in his first class, but subsequently learned that the whiteboard portion was not recorded. “We’re fixing that bug.”

Assignment files was the big block. Teachers are able to add files to their Teams assignment. Students open a copy and actually fill in responses that are saved by the system for later review and grading by the teacher. Except, it didn’t work. Students couldn’t access files and teachers were scrambling for a work around. “We’re fixing that bug.”

GOT found a workaround. He made his assignment files shareable so students could download a read-only copy, do a save-as so they could edit their own version, and upload via the grade portal we use (FOCUS) or even an old-fashioned email attachment to his work email account.

Except when he sent the links to the students school email accounts, Microsoft’s bots decided GOT was a spam account. At this writing, his work email is suspended. GOT sought advice and has submitted a request for service to his district’s IT department. He hopes that they are “fixing that bug.”

In the last period of the day, during the video lesson, GOT’s mike was muted continually. He told the students to cut it out, but later found out that anytime a student unmuted their mike, it automatically muted his. In a post-school day discussion, another teacher made suggestions for adjusting the video settings, which is possible if the meeting is scheduled. GOT will try to see if it will “fix that bug.”

The problem with scheduled meetings is that the students can start early and hold a pre-meeting. Don’t get GOT started about pre-meetings. He had enough of that in his preacher days.

Maybe IT can “fix that bug.”

Not bad for a first day. But as we move forward, GOT hopes that the distance learning will not become:

They’re fixing those bugs.

A Strict Accounting

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) knows this might be an unpopular opinion and, if you don’t work in his school district, that you might want to scroll on by as he is talking about his employer and his contract.

Some ask why teachers need to work while schools are closed. Quick answer: we want to be paid.

We have a contract. We have a union, who is the authorized agent to bargain with the school district on behalf of all employees. We want our union and our bargained contract. We often demand (rightfully so) that our employer respect our contract. But we must do so as well.

In September, we closed schools for three days due to Hurricane Dorian. While we are immensely grateful that the storm passed safely to the east, out in the ocean, that we actually did not suffer harm in our city, we must realize we were paid for those three days for which we did not work.

We made up two days; the third, the school district forgave as we would meet the state’s minimum hours of instruction. They willingly granted us a day of pay without work.

Now, the state has extended Spring Break for another week. The school district is continuing to pay us. Add another five days to that excused day.

In order to comply with the crisis and state orders regarding facility closure, we have to attend training tomorrow. From information supplied, it will not be all day, but let’s call it a required day of work.

Doing the math, that’s still five days of work our school district will excuse us from. Five extra days of make-up in June, but as of now, not needed. (GOT’s school district has said they believe they can end the school year as scheduled by moving to online delivery of instruction.)

Readjusting plans for Friday’s training, when previously teachers thought it was a free day, is inconvenient.

But let’s be honest. Things are fluid and changing by the hour. However, as things stand, teachers will get paid for 190 days although they will only work 185 days.

Time to be grateful.