Betrayal of Trust

Before Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) gets to the message, let’s first think about the expiring, federal $600 per week unemployment benefit. One political party is adamant that the benefit must expire; the reason given? Unemployed persons are receiving more from the benefit than they earned in their paycheck.

Skipping the moral judgment about people being lazy, an arguable proposition because most people prefer to work–Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human beings want to belong and have feelings of accomplishment–that $600 a week works out to $30,000 a year or $15 per hour for a standard work year.

You read that correctly. The expiring federal benefit simply extended help at the minimum wage target. Too much, according to one political party, the same one that fights to keep the minimum at a level about half that, a level that guarantees that people will live in poverty.

But hey, let’s blame public education for that. It’s their job to address the inequities of society. While persons like Betsy Devos condemn public schools for teaching like they have for the last 100 years, it is her side that promotes the American mythology of the last 100 years that all it takes is a good education and hard work and anyone can become a billionaire.

Generational wealth, inheritance, the advantage of connections–none of that matters. People of color can add their history of systemic barriers to this mythology of hard work.

It’s a betrayal of trust. We trusted in America, we trusted in the myth, but it’s not true. The politics in Washington, D.C. that is preventing our government from organizing and leading an effective response is a betrayal of our trust that they would serve us and help us.

That’s the long lead-in to the topic at hand.

Trust in the Classroom

Classroom teachers know the importance of trust. As each new school year begins, we face the children after they’ve entered the room and found a seat, maybe the one we chose for them, maybe the one we will let them choose for themselves. From that moment forward, we build the classroom environment. We build the community of learning that we want to foster throughout the year. We work to earn the trust of the students, who are coming from varied experiences and histories and diverse circumstances.

Until we gain that trust, learning will not start. This is the most crucial thing a teacher does to begin every school year.

It’s not different from any other enterprise. This is as true in a manufacturing plant, a corporate boardroom, a navy ship, or a farm. Nothing productive begins until trust is established.

It is also true of educational systems. If they are to be effective, they must gain the trust of the teachers and staff who work in them. That’s a natural thing to happen. Adults working in schools help to nurture the potential in children; there is always optimism and positivity of how the young sprouts will blossom into confident, young adults ready to move into the world. That optimism and positivity abounds in the job environment. Teachers, by their nature, trust their administrators and the district that manages them.

It takes a lot to break that trust, but it can happen. A pandemic, a failure to honor promises made, a casual disregard for the risk to health, life, and family members … that will break the trust.

Developing a plan for providing education without consulting or involving the teachers who will be the ones that make it happen (or not), that will break the trust.

Telling the public that the school system will provide protection, desk shields for example, and then limiting that to certain grade levels, an action that leaves the most vulnerable age at the greatest risk for spreading the disease, that will break the trust. When the spin and the reality differ, trust is broken.

It’s why teachers have held rallies. It’s why teachers and others have spoken at board meetings. The trust is broken. Has anyone realized it? Has anyone bothered to validate the very real feelings of those thrust into danger?

Emails to reassure teachers and staff will be ineffective. There is a deeper problem; the trust between school-based personnel and those who hold the reins of power is broken. Until that is re-established, words like ‘challenge accepted’ and ‘I’ll be in the schools, too’ will be ineffective.

The Nitty-Gritty (Part Four)

The Nitty-Gritty is a series of posts that think about how an actual classroom teacher is planning to deliver instruction for the new school year despite the uncertainty of the pandemic’s progress, upending orders from the Florida Department of Education that require school districts to revisit and revise their plans, and the resulting inability of those school districts to let the public and employees know how learning will proceed four weeks.

Part One discussed the organization of weekly curriculum units that would be adaptable to a variety of models from 5 day in-person to remote learning.

Part Two looked at the structure teenagers need to be successful, including the often-invisible structure inherent in the school day when they are in their buildings as well as the needs they reported on Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) May survey.

Part Three was the very thoughtful response to Part Two by a parent.

Part Four looks at the issue of attendance. (Now a moot issue. My school district, like others around the state, has decided that students who enroll in remote learning, which is different from transferring to a virtual school, will attend via Duval HomeRoom synchronously. That means students must sign onto the platform and spend the scheduled school hours with their teachers throughout a seven-hour school day. Breaks for lunch and class changes will occur as they follow their school’s time schedule from home.)

When GOT asked his students about registering attendance, their ideas were all over the map. Essentially, every teacher did something different in the spring as there was no time to agree to a uniform method everyone would use.

Parents also were confused by the attendance issue. The Part Three response mentioned the difficulty for parents to keep track of the various methods and be sure their child had complied with each teacher’s method. This was more of an issue for secondary students, who had multiple classes to report to, than elementary.

While this issue is moot for the fall, it is important to extrapolate the greater issue, which is the need for school systems to have uniform procedures in place in order to reduce the stress, the less-than-desirable outcomes, and the confusion we experienced in the spring.

As for attendance, that has been solved. Children must be online at the scheduled time.

But that raises another issue, which GOT will discuss in another post: how much screen time is optimal and how much is too much for children? Does synchronous learning at home violate what we know to be best practices?

The Perils of Pauline

The Perils of Pauline (1914) | GoldPoster
Tied to the railroad tracks.

While history remembers that neither the 1914 serial nor the 1947 movie featuring Pearl White in the starring role actually had a scene in which the heroine was tied to the railroad tracks, it is nevertheless true that popular culture has picked up on the trope and replicated it across many instances of comedy and song. For example, see here and here.

As the dog days of summer roll in, maybe we can forgive teachers and other staff for feeling like they have been tied down to the railroad tracks, like the trope of old, as school systems decide in what manner to resume instruction for the new school year.

Ah, yes, we are indeed talking about how to resume instruction, not whether to reopen schools. If you are a churchgoer, perhaps you remember a simple song about what the church truly is. If not, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will give you the short version: the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, … the church is its people.

Schools will reopen. Every single school system in America plans to open and begin a new year, either in August or September. While some systems, like those in Florida upended by a confusing order issued by the Commissioner of Education, in which he told everyone (with the concurrence of a governor now trying to avoid responsibility for it) that they must open schools for in-person training as if the pandemic had never happened, are scrambling to adjust their plans, others have published their arrangements.

School at its most deepest essence is the people. It is teachers and students, supported by staff and administrators, wandering down the challenging paths of illumination and discovery.

The people count. A school is its people.

Not the building. We don’t need to open buildings to provide instruction, keep children learning, and provide for the needs of all. (Yes, GOT is aware that remote learning is ill-suited for some children with special needs. However, if we got serious about how to overcome those hurdles, we will find this a solvable problem.)

It’s like universal health care. Many people say it can’t be done, but that’s not true. It isn’t that we can’t do it; we don’t want to do it because those of us who have the means don’t want to pay for those who don’t.

Stark, perhaps brutal, but true.

However, when the train is coming down the tracks, only raw honesty counts.

We don’t need a building to teach. And that is what we are arguing over–not about schools reopening, but whether we should open our school buildings for children to cluster in.

If we stop throwing sand in each other’s eyes so as to place a sucker punch in the gut, we can gather together and create solutions that will meet the needs of all children, even as we keep our buildings closed.

But the train is coming–hear its whistle! It’s time for school boards to stop dithering, including GOT’s board and its superintendent. At this point, a no-decision decision is a decision.

Make it a good one.

I Have No Memory of this Plan

Because it hasn’t been shared with any teacher, not yet. With Opening Day less than a month away, no teacher knows what will be in place, what their classes will look like, and how they will provide quality instruction under the circumstances they will face.

Parents, we know you would like your children to return to the school buildings, but if it boils down to teachers babysitting bored children while they figure things out on the fly, is that what you really want? It’s a recipe for disaster.

I have no memory of this place." - Imgur
The mines of Moria: which way? Teachers are mentally at this place, but not smoking. We know tobacco consumption causes cancer.

Teachers have more questions than Wikipedia can answer. And we warn students against using Wikipedia as a source when writing research papers.

Instruction takes careful planning. It’s not something teachers do when the first bell rings and the students arrive. No teacher waits for that moment and then opens the textbook for something to do for the day.

One great lesson from the grand distance-learning experiment of the spring is that in-person instruction differs greatly from on-line instruction. Zoom (or Microsoft Teams for my school district) is a different experience. What teachers do with 25 children sitting in a classroom is not the same as what we need to do with 25 children in a Zoom meeting.

The mediums are different and instruction must also be different to keep students engaged and learning.

It’s astounding that school administrations and district leaders don’t know this, but then again, they didn’t bother to survey teachers at the end of May to find out what was working, what wasn’t, and how to make distance-learning effective.

The best we can glean from the announcements is that, for secondary students, half will sit in the classroom and half will watch from home if they choose the hybrid option.

Have these people never heard of Zoom fatigue? Did they not pay attention when numerous parents described their children’s melt-downs when they were sat in front of their computers? Do they not pay attention to pediatricians’ warnings about the dangers of excessive screen time?

Apparently not. What we can glean from the hybrid plan for children to be in synchronous learning at home means that they will have to sit in front of the computer and watch their classmates being taught. Does that mean teachers have to stream their classes and allow the home-stuck children to butt in with questions and comments? How will that work off a laptop? Not every classroom has the big-screen TV to put the stream on.

Who really expects teenagers to stay online? Once the teacher marks them present, they are outtathere. One more lesson from the spring that the district is not asking teachers about.

The latest info is that teachers can apply to do the distance-learning. One week before they report to work, two weeks before school opens, they will be notified of their assignments.

Teachers have no memory of the plan for reopening.

That’s because the school district hasn’t shared it with them.

The Forgotten The Forgotten: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary ...
GOT googled and this turned up.

With a presidential tweet masquerading as a mandate and a willing henchwoman at the U.S. Department of Education, aided by willing governors who spend their days currying favor with the White House, furious debate broke out this past week over the wisdom of reopening school buildings.

For clarity, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) must emphasize that no one is against reopening schools in some form: through virtual endeavors such as Florida Virtual School (public) or K12 (charter), through distance learning platforms that school districts utilized in the spring, hybrid models in which students would spend some days on their campuses and some days at home, or a full return to the campus.

Schools will reopen.

What we are arguing about is whether school buildings should open.

Teachers are at risk and most of the debate weighs the benefits and risks to children versus the risks to teachers, many of whom are older and have underlying health issues.

Then there are the forgotten. No one is talking about them.

A Google search for the typical movie or song that GOT likes to use with a post turned up a 2004 movie in which a grieving mother is told that her dead child never existed and that she’s delusional. Evidence is suppressed or denied.

At this point, something of what we’re being told about Covid-19. We’re delusional and there’s no evidence the pandemic has resumed its exponential spread and deadly consequences despite the daily data reports.

Then, GOT found this poem: The Forgotten Ones, by Corrina H.

I am the voice of those afraid to speak,
Those of us society calls weak,
Those you ridicule every day,
The ones who have nothing to say.
We have feelings too, okay?

I am the voice of those alone,
The ones abandoned and on their own,
The ones who hide their pain in their eyes,
Those you never saw cry,
Those of us you just pass by.

I am the voice of those you forget,
The ones society regrets.
Though you see us, you don’t care
Whether or not we are here,
And we, like shadows, slowly disappear…

Who are the forgotten ones? In all this debate, whose voice is not being heard?

Teachers resist going back to their buildings, but if they do, they demand the cleaning that classrooms will need daily, maybe hourly, to keep them sanitized.

The forgotten are those who do that work. Those whose very job requires them to be exposed to the virus, either from the sneeze and cough deposits on student desks, plexiglass barriers, door handles, light switches, and the like as they have to wipe them down or from the airborne particles that linger in the air for hours after people have left the room.

They, too, must take great risks with their health and lives to do their jobs. They don’t make much in wages; if anyone needs to keep working despite the risks, it is them. Custodians and cleaners come from the more vulnerable parts of our population. How is it we do not hear from them?

Perhaps they don’t make enough money to afford an internet connection and they don’t have the time. They’re too busy working.

That is no reason they should be forgotten. If we reopen schools, their needs must also be considered. What are we asking of them? Can we keep them safe? If not, if we cannot provide protection to the people who must clean and sanitize to keep us safe, should we be reopening buildings?

The Covid Charge of the Teacher Brigade

“Someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply
Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to do and die.”
—Alfred Lord Tennyson

Three million! Three million
Teachers in play
As the virus works throughout
Our nation today.
Schools must reopen
The Donald has thundered
Ignoring the data, the scientists,
Because people must work.
But teachers and staff have not wondered (that)
Someone had blundered:
Fearmongerers all, or so
Secretary DeVos did mock
As she echoed in chief
The chief commander’s talk.
Forward, then, the teacher brigade!
Though the future you cannot scry
Safety your concern
But your mask a muzzle
Fearful are your children, but fie!
Theirs not to make reply
Onward and open!
Forward, Teacher Brigade!
Into a mess you had not made
Brush aside the excuses
‘Bout the rise in cases, and deaths,
And hospitalizations by
The Covid deniers.
People must work, the economy calls.
What of their children’s lives?
Theirs not to reason why
About a virus that invades
The body’s organs.
An asymptomatic child
Nevertheless could end
With life-long health problems.
But with the school year nigh …
What of our teachers?
They must go back
Their voices despised,
Theirs but to do and die.


The Nitty-Gritty (Part Three)

A response to GOT’s last post from a parent, Kerri Cook Halligan:

Excellent post! I love the proactive nature of trying to make it better. I’m hoping for smaller classes, *limited risk* return to the classroom for my kids. But if we need to go back to online schooling, I like that teachers are thinking about how to make it better.

My teens had a really hard time and I was here to push and prod them. About halfway in, I spent HOURS each week logging onto Duval Homeroom trying to summarize and prioritize their work onto a clipboard sheet. I wouldn’t say we had 100% success because it was a struggle to get them to make progress when they got behind. I think it would have been better if I had done that from the start and then phased them into updating the chart themselves.

My observation as a parent was that

1) attendance was not consistent across the board and that was a problem. Some had google forms but you couldn’t SEE if the form had been submitted so my kids would forget. Others had daily questions that the kids had to answer. I liked this best because I could spot check my kids and see if they were at least checking in.

2) We also had issues that required a LOT of hunt and pecking for parts of an assignment. My kids would get frustrated and also distracted.

3) We also had issues with the type of work being assigned. My kids were not invested and they checked out.

4) Another thing was that this was such a huge upheaval. My kids were feeling very down and it took a huge amount of effort to get them to complete work. I think things would be better in the fall but I would hope that we can recognize that at least some of the ‘failure’ of the initial round was that you can’t teach kids that don’t feel safe and secure.

5) We let our schedule go to heck. My teens stayed up late and woke up late. This allowed my husband and I to work from home quietly before the chaos began. This meant that my kids missed whatever online real-time lessons might have been going on that could have helped with some of the above issues. I personally would prefer to see later hours for the ‘live lesson’ stuff instead of the early ones we had to choose from. During isolation, my homeschooled (dual-enrolled) teen daughter wrote a research paper about the benefits of a later start time for school for teens so I have been hearing from her about all the studies on it. I think this could have helped with 2 & 3 above for us.

6) I think my kids would have benefitted from a weekly or twice weekly phone call with a school employee mentor to help them stay focused and moving forward. We had this a bit with my kid who has an IEP. I think my other teen could have benefitted from this, too. Someone that could even email teachers to get clarification on assignments, help prioritize, offer tips on doing school at home or just offering a word of encouragement.

The Nitty-Gritty (Part Two)

The Nitty-Gritty is a series of posts looking at the new school year after pondering the lessons learned from the distance-learning experiment of the spring and sketching out the approach this teacher will take as the pandemic continues.

The first post looked at how to structure curriculum units in a way that would be adaptable to either an in-person model, whereby the students are physically present in the classrrom, or a distance-learning model, whereby the students stay home.

Today, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will look at the structure of learning and what teenagers reported that they needed to help them maintain their learning.

Four-Day Rotating Schedule / Student Schedule
And a bell.

Most teen students said they missed being in school, but their reasons went beyond missing their friends.

More than half reported that they missed the structure of the school day, where bells rang, there were assigned places to be, and learning was organized. Those who believe school buildings are no longer necessary fail to understand how the building itself, a location dedicated to fostering learning, works in the background, little noticed, to keep the attention of students on their learning.

My teenage students got it. They commented on how learning at home brought many distractions that kept them from focusing on their lessons. One said that she tried to sit down and tune into the classroom meeting, but then her mother gave her work to do and she had to do what her mother said. But being at school removes those distractions. Location, with its underlying structure, is important.

Now, in these pandemic days, being ‘on property’ may not be possible. But this is a recognition that distance learning must find a way to replace the structure of a school building. The question is how.

Another thing to keep in mind is that three-fourths (76%) of students said they needed help in keeping track of their assignments. This despite GOT creating assignments in the Teams platform (equivalent to Google classroom), creating assignment entries in the online gradebook, and sending out grade reports via email.

Don’t blame the students. Teenagers are engaged in their developmental agenda and their body growth, which includes the brain. Their executive functioning, via the prefrontal cortex, is the last part of the brain to achieve adult status. Its growth is not finished until the mid-20s in age.

That is why teenagers are often impulsive. It’s not that they lack capacity to make good decisions, but the delay often finds them committed to decisions more driven by the amygdala, the center of emotion before they can think their way through it.

It’s easy to blow off an assignment, thinking they’ll do it later, and than forget what they were supposed to do.

Teenagers need structure, especially 9th graders who are transitioning from middle school. They love the new freedom of high school (You mean I don’t have to go to lunch in a line escorted by my teacher? Nope, we trust you are now old enough to know where the cafeteria is and can get there without causing mayhem along the way.) But they lack the organizational skills necessary. They need help.

The other difficulty: teenagers said they needed help in setting up a time schedule for learning at home that they could keep.

These are important lessons, not only for learning that must take place at home, but also for a resumption of in-person learning. How will a student manage home-learning assignments? How will they prepare for tests? A plan is needed–one that involves parents, not as educators, but as caring adults who will help their children follow the plan.

GOT is planning instruction for the fall. What this comes to is that an introductory unit is needed. Before students can begin to tackle Geometry or Algebra 2, they need to work through their learning needs and make a plan that will provide the structure that they need.

A learning plan for the new year will be the emphasis of the first week–one that students will create in consultation with their parents.

There is more that must be considered and included. That will be addressed in future posts of this Nitty-Gritty series.

The Nitty-Gritty (Part One)

Things were proceeding well in Florida as school districts brought their reopening plans to completion and planned to share them with parents and teachers.

Impeachment watch: Trump used unsecured cell phone in scheme to ...
Connected to Twitter by an umbilical cord.

Then the president put his thumbs on his phone and shouted in all caps that schools must open in the fall. Swiftly, Florida’s governor had its commissioner of education put out an executive order that upended almost every district’s plan to move to a hybrid model of half on-campus, half-off campus for at least their secondary schools.

Today’s post is not to recapitulate that decision. Today, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) wants to discuss the nitty-gritty of delivering instruction, planning curriculum units, and meeting student needs, both in general and in specific situations such as IEPs and 504 plans. (These specify instructional practices to support the needs of individual students to meet educational standards for their courses and grade level.)

In one way, the torpedoing of the hybrid model comes as a relief. Among the many questions GOT had about the specifics of how that would work, the most crucial one was how the district could tell him to teach in-person and online simultaneously. The spring experiment with distance learning showed that teachers could not replicate the in-person experience online and expect success. The two different models come with very different characteristics and the instructional design must take into account those differences. One will not look like the other.

Thus, a simultaneous delivery would mean little more than the students at home watching their lucky classmates get instruction, teacher feedback, and intervention while they observed. Schoolhouse Rock featured catchy tunes, but did it really deliver in-depth understanding?

Ready to pass your state writing exam, kids?

With the change to in-person schooling five days a week (as if the pandemic had never happened or has disappeared), GOT can move ahead with designing an instructional plan with built-in flexibility so he can move between in-person and remote learning as circumstances and his superintendent dictate, one that can be adapted and customized to either format.

Duval’s new theme song: the pivot as discussed during the July Board meeting with the superintendent.

After the ‘distance learning’ of the spring, GOT’s students asked that they be given their assignments at the beginning of the week and have them due at the end of the week, for example Sunday evening.

After pondering this request for a while, GOT realized that this would work for in-school learning as well as distance or remote learning.

The nitty-gritty: In the new school year, GOT will assign units to cover five instructional days, which is a week if we convert to a daily schedule or two weeks if we retain a block schedule.

That means a careful design considering how new knowledge is introduced to students, the exploration and practice needed, and the assessment to wrap-up the unit and determine who needs more help and practice.

Thus, for the coming year, my mathematics units will begin with an introduction of key concepts and examples. Not only will GOT present his own lessons, but he will also provide links to online videos by others for students who need more explanation or review.

There will be a requirement to verify that the student participated in a minimum amount of instruction. GOT plans to have parents sign a confirmation (not necessary if students attended one of his lectures in person) as evidence of completing this part of the unit.

This will also work well for absent students because students rarely come for tutoring when they miss a day of class. They will have video resources to use as an alternative. Distance learning has shown us that students can continue to learn at home if guided in effective ways to do so. Not all absent students are able to attend to learning, but for those that are, it will help maintain continuity.

As another piece of accountability, GOT will ask students to submit notes on the lesson presentations.

Then, we need exploration and practice. GOT plans to make students justify their work–explain their reasoning. Partly to make them engage on a deeper conceptual level; partly to forestall the inevitable cheating that takes place. A student can find answers on the internet, even a solution with all the steps to copy. But they cannot find an explanation. They have to come up with that themselves.

Finally, at the end, there will be a performance task for assessment. How well did the student understand? It will require solving unique problem situations or applying the mathematics under study and providing an explanation of how the student is reasoning about the work.

Again, the goal is to design an assessment that resists cheating.

With this framework, students can work in the classroom or at home, engage as we want them to, and achieve growth.

What’s that? How will it help them to pass “The TEST?”

Haven’t we gotten over that now? Didn’t we learn anything from the shutdown?

Damn the Torpedos! Full speed … glug, glug, glug.

Today, Monday, July 6, 2020, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, issued an executive order requiring all traditional and charter schools to reopen in one month for students to attend five days a week as they normally would in the pre-pandemic days.

He argues that the picture is not as bad as it seems: more cases come from more testing, the positivity rate varies by county but is stable (spoiler alert: it’s not), and hospitals are not being overrun (another spoiler alert: they are.)

Pontius Pilate (Passion of the Christ) | Villains Wiki | Fandom
That confused look–aren’t we supposed to wash our hands?

Someone bring the governor and commissioner of education a bowl of water so they can re-enact the scene from Matthew 27:24 by washing their hands and claiming that they are free of blood, that they bear no responsibility for the illness and death that will result from their orders.

So much for local control. So much for respecting the role and constitutional authority of school boards to run the state’s schools. So much for following CDC guidelines and health department advice.

Where are the extra resources needed to accomplish this order? Suspending/altering the Fall FTE count to determine school funding for the year does nothing to provide the money needed for the extra bus runs, maybe double or triple what would be normal, the extra teachers and staff to reduce class sizes to the point where they can occupy a classroom, or the adjustments needed for meals, movement, and elective classes.

We cannot call them clueless. They know damn well what they are doing.

Too much has been written, discussed, and debated over the past several weeks for them to say they had no idea. If they try to make that claim, they will only confess a staggering incompetence to hold the offices that they do.

The news cycle moves fast. Perhaps tomorrow they will have to walk this back as the enormity of the consequences of this decision lands on them.

But Florida, O Florida! Do any of you still indulge a fantasy that these politicians care about children, your children, and their lives?

Covid-19 is moving through our state at an exponential pace. It is seen in new cases, the percent of tests coming back positive, and the increasing rate of hospitalizations.

It’s bad. But the governor has an answer for you:

The Great and Wonderful Donald has spoken and what Donald commands must be done.

Meanwhile, back on the Good Ship Florida, the torpedos are colliding with the ship’s hull … glug, glug, glug*.

*Glug: a hollow, gurgling sound like when liquid is poured from a bottle. It is the gulps of air rushing inward or outward from a vessel as the liquid fills or empties.