The Sound of Silence

Hello classroom, my old friend … I come to enter you again …

And we’re back! Working from our classrooms whether teaching face-to-face or remotely, teachers are noticing the silence of the campus as only 25% of the student body is on campus at any one time. Even then, the students are quiet, mostly moving silently from room to room. Gone is the boisterous laughter and horseplay when throngs of students crowd in front of lockers to greet old friends and make acquaintance with new ones.

Even lunchtime is quiet. Too few for the combined volume of voices to create the usual roar heard in the cafeteria and courtyard. When few people are present, there’s no need to raise one’s voice to be heard.

Hybrid model

In Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district, parents could send their children to the campus under a model of face-to-face (f2f) learning and home learning (GOT uses remote learning to refer to this.) The superintendent will evaluate the Covid-19 status in the community after Labor Day and decide whether to bring these students onto campus five days a week.

Until then, high school students spend two days on campus and three days at home. Because GOT’s school is using a block schedule, this means that, at best, GOT sees his students once a week. The two f2f classes happen on A day. After seeing them on Monday, GOT will not have students back in his classroom for a week and a half.

However, one student doesn’t fit the model. He’s a junior, so he is out of sync with the rest of the class. Yesterday was his day on campus, so he sat in GOT’s classroom alone. It defeated the purpose of coming to campus.

Students chose to return to the campus because they wanted to be with other teens!

GOT also saw a student from last year this week. He said he hated doing remote learning–that was why he came back. He is frustrated that he is still having to stay home three days each week.

From the teacher’s perspective, it’s difficult adapting lessons to the two formats. No, teaching remote is not the same as f2f. Two very different learning environments require two very different pedagogies that have to be built from the ground up. It’s hard on everyone to switch back-and-forth. Then with the upcoming Labor Day holiday, the schedule works so that freshman and sophomore teachers will not see their B day classes in person for a three week stretch (August 31 to September 17).

Many feel that if we have to offer a f2f option, we ought to go ahead and make it five days a week. We’re not protecting anyone by limiting the attendance to twice a week. Students and staff are still being exposed to whatever anyone is bringing into the building.

Simultaneous f2f and remote

In GOT’s district, teacher pushback led the leadership to direct principals to separate students into f2f and remote classes. While this was mostly achieved for core classes, it was impossible for elective teachers who do with multiple preps that often combine many levels into one period. Think of a theater teacher who has musical theater 1, 2, and 3 in one period because she also has IB theater classes and different classes for the AP students.

These teachers find it impossible to handle classes of 50 or 60 students with half in the room and half at home. GOT is following other teachers around the state who are dreading their opening next week with this combination.

Technology issues still dog attempts to provide instruction via the internet. Districts are requiring synchronous instruction for the fall. That means students must be online and participating at the scheduled time the same as if they were on the campus. They cannot leave a class early–that’s skipping. They cannot report late–that’s a tardy. (Although GOT has a hard time imagining how the dean of discipline will assign in-school suspension to a student at home. Sit in your bedroom and don’t talk to anyone?)

GOT’s district has run out of technology to lend remote learning students. How are they supposed to come online if they don’t have a laptop and hotspot for wifi access?

Ah, the sound of silence.

Some students dropped out of GOT’s class early. As the day is busy, he could only make a note to contact parents later. Then, GOT found out from his lone student yesterday, who used a laptop to sit in his room and participate in the remote learning, whose laptop went to sleep and he ‘left’ the meeting, but obviously he wasn’t skipping because he was in the room, that students leaving doesn’t necessary mean the student stopped participating in the class. They might be doing their work on paper to scan and upload.

GOT is glad he didn’t call any parents and complain about their children.

bus drivers’ strike

Didn’t happen.

The buses ran. Kids arrived. Temperatures were taken.

Teachers also have their temperatures taken as they walk in the door. Typically, the temperatures run two to three degrees below the actual temperature because the thermometer is seldom held close enough to the forehead. For an accurate reading, it needs to be within an inch.

Every day we turn in a paper to say we have not been exposed to Covid-19 in the past 14 days. It’s seems a bit much–didn’t we tell them yesterday the same thing? Couldn’t we turn in a new paper every Monday and the rest of the week answer a verbal question, “Has anything changed since yesterday?”

Trust GOT, if a teacher has symptoms or been exposed, they don’t want to report to the building.

Students do not have to turn in a paper every day. It would slow down the entry process. Our procedures seem to be based upon a practice of following CDC guidelines if convenient.

health and safety

Supplies of hand sanitizer have held up as each teacher received a gallon jug for the opening of school. The desk wipes ran out the first day for most teachers. We have received a second pack of 50, but that is only enough for one day.

Students are complying with mask wearing and frequent hand sanitizing.

But the custodians are unable to do all the extra work. Their workload has been doubled or tripled, but no additional staff was hired. In addition to mopping hallways, cleaning bathrooms, sanitizing water fountains, sweeping classroom floors, and emptying trash, they are now expected to sanitize all frequently touched surfaces and devices, including door handles, light switches, student desks, chairs, teacher desk, board markers, board tray, display screens, and the classroom phone.

Not happening and it’s not their fault. But it makes good PR for the district to say that these cleaning procedures are happening nightly.

Finally, there’s this. The school has shut the water fountains (talk about germ spreaders) and instead has water cooler stations.

What’s wrong with this picture? There are disposable cups for a student to use, there is a large jug supplying the station, there are even two spigots to handle a high volume of people who want a quick drink during a limited class change.

Perhaps a hint. Jacksonville commemorated the 60th Anniversary of Axe Handle Saturday this week, looking back to 1960 when lunch counters were segregated in downtown department stores and the sit-in protests by the NAACP Youth Council.

It has to be unintentional, certainly no one with the district or school administration has seen it. Maybe even the manufacturer of the station wasn’t thinking either when they fashioned the dispensers. But it brings up bad memories for those who see it and go, “WOW.”

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Lynn Anderson singing her classic song in a 2011 performance.

Twitter is abuzz with the hand-wringing and defending of the Rose Garden renovation at the White House that was carried out under the auspices of Melania Trump. Mere informational Facebook posts receive immediate clapback condemning the Trumps, as in everything they touch withers, and defending the Trumps, as in it was needed urgently and looks good.

Two somewhat neutral pieces that explain the changes and the reasons for them are available from CNN and the WaPo.

SMH (Shaking my head for those who don’t sling the abbreviations but prefer to write everything out,) why does everything have to be politicized right down to a garden? Gardens, above all else, reflect the taste and personality of their gardeners and the residents who live by them. They have a beauty of their own that is unique to their circumstances, climate, and cultivation.

Gardeners know that when a new garden is created or an existing one is renovated with completely new plantings, it takes time for the plants to grow into their spaces before the interplay of light, texture, and color can be fully appreciated.

Accordingly, all those now expressing an immediate judgment on the Melania Trump makeover of the Rose Garden are reacting prematurely. We will not know how well the new design works until two or three years have gone by.

Gardening is a lot like education. Every year, new students (plants) appear (are planted) in the classroom. A new garden looks bare as the sprouts/seedlings/transplants are inserted into their spaces (desks). There is a lot of angst about the make-up of the class (design of the garden.)

Will the plants work well together? Will one crowd and stifle the growth of another? What weeds (bad ideas) will take hold and have to be removed? Is the gardener up to the task of pruning where the growth moves in unwanted directions, fertilizing where extra nourishment is needed, and staking where support is wanting?

Students arrive as new seedlings.Their gardeners/teachers accept them into their classrooms and get about the job of cultivating the best possible growth in the garden. No two plants are alike just as no two students are alike. Teachers, like master gardeners, study their students (plants) to determine their individual needs so that they can provide for their growth.

The neighbor across the fence, the pedestrian striding along the sidewalk, and even the nurseryman can express their opinions about how well the garden is growing.

But in the end, it is the teacher, the master gardener, who produces the growth by finding the right combination of light, water, fertilizer, soil, and drainage. Not the parent, not the think tank expert, not the politician, not the school board members, not the administration–district or school.

What those people can do is to make sure that the teachers, the master gardeners, have the right tools and supplies to make the growth happen.

Also, even as a new garden needs a few years to grow and mature before we can opine on its beauty, so too children need more than a year to assimilate new knowledge and blossom. Just as you cannot judge a gardener after one season, you cannot judge teachers based on one year’s test results.

Alchemy was discredited centuries ago, but isn’t that a good metaphor for the learning process? Transmuting knowledge into new understandings? No one person can take the credit, but given the right combinations, lead is turned into gold.

Teachers never promised anyone a rose garden, but given the time and autonomy to use their professional expertise even as gardeners are allowed to plant, prune, and provide the resources of water and fertilizer … you know what?

We get thistles to bloom roses. We make deserts fill with flowers during a dry season. We plant tiny mustard seeds that years later produce a million times over.

All we need is time and support.

Bill B. (1957 – 1974)*

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hasn’t thought about Bill in years. He was a member of GOT’s high school class; he died in the spring of our junior year. He wasn’t a friend as he lived in the neighborhood across the county that was bused into the school in 1973 to achieve desegration of the de facto housing patterns as we shared no classes, but he was a close friend of many of GOT’s classmates.

As we prepare to open schools in this pandemic year, Bill’s memory comes back as we learn that Governor DeSantis wants schools open, come sickness, suffering, or death. (That’s a reworking of the cliche ‘hell or high water.’)

Bill was murdered in the school parking lot.

It was a drug deal gone wrong. A group of teenagers was in the area asking who they could buy marijuana from. Bill was a minor dealer, the type who begins by sharing with his friends, then friends of friends, then others.

These teenagers weren’t looking to buy; they wanted to rob and they had a gun.

Friends of GOT in pyschology class reported that when they heard the pop-pop-pop from the parking lot, the teacher flew across the room, threw open the window, and jumped out.

It was too late and we mourned the loss of a classmate.

Fast forward several months. GOT was talking to his principal, who had this to say, “For two years, I begged the district to install a fence and gate that I could lock every morning to keep public traffic out of the parking lot–to stop the traffic driving through the school’s student parking lot to avoid a stoplight. But they said it would cost too much money and refused to approve my work order.”

Shortly after Bill’s murder, the school district installed a fence and a gate around the parking lot. It took a tragedy before they would act.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Here we are in the middle of a pandemic. Nationally, regionally, and locally, politicians and people are demanding we open our school buildings and bring the students in.

It hasn’t worked well in all cases. Reports in the news show that covid cases are showing up and schools have quickly closed in response. See here, here, here, and here. There are many more–almost a new one every day.

In GOT’s district, predictions vary as to how long the buildings will remain open: one, two, or three weeks before identified infections in students and staff force the district to go back to remote learning such as we did in April and May.

But then, Governor DeSantis weighs in: Schools should not close just because someone, student or staff, was positive and in the building. He favors a more ‘surgical’ approach, “If one person is sick, don’t shut down the whole building” and “Somebody is on a school bus and they’re ill, then you send them home, and if parents have a child that’s ill, then you keep them home.” He worries about mental health.

What about everyone else on the bus, Governor? Do we be proactive and ask them to also stay home until we know if they are positive? It’s called contact tracing.

Or do we let them in the school to infect others if they are positive but not showing symptoms until the entire population is infected? An infection can move quickly through a secondary school as students attend multiple classes and mix in the hallways.

By the way, Governor, it’s also detrimental to student mental-health to get sick, to carry guilt feelings of causing others to get sick (children tend to do that even if they are not responsible), and to worry about bringing the disease home.

For someone pretending to be concerned about the mental health of children, you really know little about it–as little as you know about how children learn and the pedagogy teachers engage in.

Why must this state and its political leaders (and Florida is not alone) ignore the sound scientific, medical advice of our leading experts in epidemics?

What tragedy will it take until Governor DeSantis takes the common-sense measures recommended by world experts?

That brings us back to Bill B. and his tragic death. How many deaths will it take? How high must the body count go until Governor DeathSantis** reverses course and installs a fence and locked gate around school populations by ordering Florida to follow CDC advice as well as allowing local departments of health to advise schools again?

*Not his real name.

**When this happens, the governor will have earned his nickname.

Pascal’s Wager

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) | Issue 125 | Philosophy Now
I anticipated Texas Hold Em.

Blaise Pascal, the noted French mathematician and theologian, once made a famous wager considering eternal life and Christian theology.

In short, Pascal opined that you have to make a bet regarding eternal life based upon whether you believe God exists or not. If God exists, then you might receive eternal bliss (for believing in God’s existence) or eternal misery (damnation for not believing.) If God does not exist, then it does not matter either way; death is the end.

Rational belief would demand that one believe in God because the worst outcome of such belief is the best outcome for not believing: death is the end. But by believing, one gains a chance of obtaining the best outcome, eternal bliss, and avoiding the possibility of the worst outcome, eternal suffering.

What would it look like if we applied Pascal’s wager to the debate about opening school buildings in a few days (mostly southern states) or in September (mostly northern states)?

Using a typical two-way frequency table, we would get something like this:

Covid spread in schoolCovid actually spreadsCovid does not spread
Wager to stay closedEveryone stays healthyEveryone stays healthy
Wager to openSickness and deathEveryone stays healthy
The odds seem better than playing Powerball.

But, you object, that ignores the learning loss children are suffering.

Covid spread in schoolCovid actually spreadsCovid does not spread
Wager to stay closedLearning takes place over the internet, but vulnerable students are at riskLearning takes place over the internet, but vulnerable students are at risk
Wager to openLearning is disrupted; trauma results from students who bring the virus homeLearning takes place in the classroom; nobody falls through the cracks
We have some issues.

Given the first table, a rational person would conclude that schools should remain closed as the worst outcome is equivalent to the best outcome if schools open. The second table is more ambiguous yet the implication is apparent; the outcomes under closure are equal, but worse than the best outcome under opening and better than the worst outcome from opening.

So the wager is clear as far as the health of children and staff, but some ambiguity as far as learning outcomes from allowing children to come to the building versus going all remote.

At this point, given IDEA and the need for public schools to provide a FAPE, that is, a free and appropriate public education, the wager fractures*:

Covid spread in schoolCovid spreadsCovid does not spread
Wager for full closureIDEA students are at risk of not receiving needed servicesIDEA students are at risk of not receiving needed services
Wager for closure, but with extra services for IDEA studentsIDEA students receive needed services at home or in restricted settingsIDEA students receive needed services at home or in restricted settings
Wager to openIDEA students receive services until the system is disruptedIDEA students receive services in their school
Assuming the school system has the resources to expand its homebound services or to bring a limited number of students to its building for the supports they need.

Perhaps the last way (for this piece, anyway) we could look at Pascal’s wager is to think about children ‘falling behind’ as the hysteria rages about a day of learning lost equates to thousands of dollars of wages lost over a lifetime–as if children have no resiliency and cannot make up for lost time later. (Spoiler alert: learning is not an assembly line process. It is true that if General Motors suffers a stoppage on the assembly line, the lost production can never be regained. But education is not an assembly line process.)

Honestly, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) could go on a long rant about something he read in which the author asserted that kindergarten-age students could miss out on essential job training that will diminish their lifetime earnings. [Editorial note: insert a vomit emoji.]

Resilient childrenNon-resilient children
Wager for closureLearning missed out during the 2020-2021 school year is made up during subsequent yearsLearning missed during the 2020-2021 school year will be gained in future years depending upon need and interest
Wager to openNo gap in the learning timeline, but the risk of health-damaging infection must be consideredHave a harder time dealing with academic challenges, so gaps will occur anyway, the health risk must be considered, but yes, will engage in future learning depending upon need and interest
Go to it, Pascal, it’s not as tidy as considering one’s eternal salvation, is it?

You may wish to quarrel with GOT’s table entries as to what each box should say. That’s a good thing because this piece is meant to spark thinking about which course is wise: to open or not to open (apologies to Shakespeare.) GOT does not regard himself as some sage sitting on a mountaintop waiting for you to climb up for his wisdom. He doesn’t have all the answers nor is he always right.

This piece is meant to help sort out our thinking from our emotions. But it is not complete without revisiting that link above that explains Pascal’s wager understanding that Pascal was a mathematician as well as a theologian. In analyzing the categories, we have to determine probabilities for each outcome which, in the end, will affect our conclusions.

What is more probable, that Covid will spread in school buildings or not? We must update our March 2020 understanding with new studies that have been reported over the summer.

If children do not show severe symptoms, is it probable that their health will be unaffected after they recover? We must update our March 2020 understanding with new studies that indicate that even for the young, Covid leaves behind lung lesions and heart muscle damage, as well as increasing the risk of stroke at a young age.

Is it probable that our youth can never recover the learning they missed out on if we keep schools closed? Is it probable that our IDEA students will never be able to make up for lost time? Or do we interpret the wager that we will keep schools closed until a vaccine is widely administered as our best course of action because we can then utilize the vast resources available in this nation to assist our IDEA students and others who need help to recover.

Finally, teachers will take GOT to task if he doesn’t do a table for them:

Covid spread in schoolCovid spreadsCovid does not spread
Wager to closeAt home, teachers teach and live for future school yearsAt home, teachers teach and live for future school years
Wager to openExposed to the disease, many teachers join the statistics of cases, hospitalizations, and deathsTeachers feel a bit silly that they were concerned about their health and lives
In the end, Maslow wants the final word. Survival needs trump those of esteem.

*This table specifies IDEA students, but could be used for any student deemed at risk for other reasons.

Teacher Ethics

As Florida teachers receive reminders about their professional responsibilities in regard to their use of social media and other means to express their opinions about current events, it might be useful to examine their obligations as defined by the Florida Department of Education Rule 6A-10.081 and Section 1012.795 of Florida statutes that covers education.

First, from the statute language that might apply to teachers commenting about school board plans for opening the oncoming school year:

  • Upon investigation, has been found guilty of personal conduct that seriously reduces that person’s effectiveness as an employee of the district school board.
  • Has violated the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession prescribed by State Board of Education rules.

Second, from the FLDOE rule the general principles of teacher ethics:

(a) The educator values the worth and dignity of every person, the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, acquisition of knowledge, and the nurture of democratic citizenship. Essential to the achievement of these standards are the freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal opportunity for all.

(b) The educator’s primary professional concern will always be for the student and for the development of the student’s potential. The educator will therefore strive for professional growth and will seek to exercise the best professional judgment and integrity.

(c) Aware of the importance of maintaining the respect and confidence of one’s colleagues, of students, of parents, and of other members of the community, the educator strives to achieve and sustain the highest degree of ethical conduct.

Third, the rule spells out how those principles look in practice:

(b) Obligation to the public requires that the individual:

1. Shall take reasonable precautions to distinguish between personal views and those of any educational institution or organization with which the individual is affiliated.

2. Shall not intentionally distort or misrepresent facts concerning an educational matter in direct or indirect public expression.

(c) Obligation to the profession of education requires that the individual:

3. Shall not interfere with a colleague’s exercise of political or civil rights and responsibilities.

First take: it doesn’t seem like a teacher, criticizing a school system’s plan about reopening schools during a pandemic, would fall afoul of the provision about distinguishing between a personal view and a school board position. Criticizing a school board/superintendent position or plan would be prima facie evidence that the the distinction has been made.

Second take: coercive attempts to silence public employees from speaking out would seem that the school system, not the employees, are violating (c) 3. Who is interfering with whom’s political and civil rights?

Third take: it’s that talk about diminishing one’s effectiveness as a school board employee as well as maintaining the respect of everyone (ah, the 100% test that is impossible for anyone to meet) that gives the school system the wiggle room to issue a warning to its employees.

FCAAP Recommendations for Reopening Florida Schools

The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued an 13-point list of recommendations for reopening school buildings. What follows is a summary of the entire document, which can be found here. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) comments are in italics.

One: Vaccinations

Children must be up-to-date on vaccinations. Currently, 70% of 4-year-olds have completed recommended vaccinations and only 23% of 11-year-olds have completed the Tdap. The State of Florida should require the influenza and meningcoccal vaccines as well. Teachers and staff should also receive influenza vaccinations.

Two: Daily screening

Schools should screen daily for symptoms as children arrive. However, temperature checks are not recommended as they are time-consuming and not sensitive to early infection. Parents should check temperatures before sending their children to school. Children exhibiting symptoms associated with Covid-19 should be kept home.

Use surveillance (contract tracing, GOT presumes they mean) to identify persons exposed to the virus. Keep them isolated; send them home.

GOT agrees temperature checks only detect feverish children. Yet, they do prevent parents from sending their children to school when they should be kept home. Parents face pressures of their own and loss of income when they have to take off work to care for sick children. The temptation can be hard to overcome.

three: student cohorts

Keep groups of children together for the entire day as much as possible.

There’s a reason the middle-school model of cohorts has been abandoned and has never been implemented in high school. Given individual needs for remedial courses in reading and math (thanks, NCLB and successor legislation) as well as elective choices, it is not possible to schedule secondary students into cohorts.

four: physical distancing

Everyone stays six feet apart, wears PPE as appropriate, and do not face one another.

Not possible in most schools. Too many words have been written about mask wearing. Schools can probably be more successful than all the hand-wringing about it if they approach children in a developmentally appropriate way. As for having hand sanitizer and other supplies in classrooms, that depends upon the school district and carry-through by school administration.

five: staggering times

Minimize hallway congestion through different start and ending times for classes. Also, it would promote physical distancing. Eat lunch in the classroom.

Not practical. Students would have to be regimented into lines and extra personnel would be needed to maintain distancing along the line. Keeping students in classrooms to eat lunch means they take off their masks and breathe in the airborne viral particles which may remain in the air for hours.

six: restrooms and cleaning

Regulate use of bathrooms, including enforcement of handwashing. Clean classrooms at the end of the day as well as between classes. Ventilation systems should be in good working order.

Not practical in secondary schools. One teacher cannot supervise a male and a female bathroom for hand cleaning. There are not enough custodians to clean every classroom during a five-minute change. As for ventilation, decades of neglect and mechanical breakdowns require time to mend and resources that governments are unwilling to provide.

seven: special health needs

Children with special health needs should do virtual learning. If that is not possible, their individual health plans should be updated to specify Covid-19 accommodations. IEP students should have their needs met.

The special needs of every child must be met regardless of how instruction is being delivered. It is possible to plan and deliver the services needed if school systems focus on those goals, even if the children are kept in virtual formats. But schools will need the resources to fund home visits as required or to set up special areas within buildings for children to come and receive their services.

Parents who are unable to work during the pandemic to take care of children with special needs should be supported with supplemental income. We have the wealth in the United States to provide social services if we want to do so.

Eight: Old Teachers

Offer them virtual settings. Do the same for teachers with health impairments.

What about all the parents demanding face-to-face instruction? There may not be enough virtual settings for all the teachers who need them.

nine: school nurses

Hire enough school nurses to meet the need. Consider partnering with medical schools to provide workers and ask health professionals to volunteer.

There aren’t enough people for every school to have a nurse. There is a nursing shortage, too. Asking health professionals to volunteer after their professional duties are done is like asking a teacher to tutor for free on the weekends after working a 55+ hour week.

ten: handle all non-covid health problems, too

Children will have other health problems and complaints. Treat those as well. Let the nurse have authorization to talk to family medical providers.

Schools in Florida don’t have on-staff nurses. Instead, a clerk is trained to perform basic first-aid and how to administer medicine.

Eleven: school buses

Set up school buses to maintain physical distancing in the seating. Clean them between every route.

Find the nearest wizard and ask them to perform an undetectable extension charm on every school bus so that the inside is ten times as large as it looks from the outside. Oh, and learn the scourgify charm for the cleaning. Yes, it’s sarcasm, but GOT doesn’t know how else to respond to this impractical suggestion.

twelve: no sports and music outside

The headline is the summary. GOT is not looking forward to school boards telling parents their boys cannot play football this year. Likewise, when you try to take away music.

thirteen: decision table for when symptomatic persons may return to the school building

Check here and scroll to the bottom. This is what we’ve have been told for months.

analysis by got:

We need to thank the FCAAP for their thoughtful, concise, and thorough recommendations. Let us remember that their job is not to make decisions for schools, but to give medical advice for the safety of children’s health. It is likely they understand that their recommendations are not practical or cannot be implemented given the current state of school funding and resources.

It’s not their place to tell school boards to keep the buildings closed. Yet, reading over their advice, GOT has to wonder if this is their attempt to do just that.

Tsunami

Our tsunami warning system is faulty. Can these scientists fix it?
Are you really wanting to reopen school buildings, America?

When the water runs out to sea, it’s not time to explore the newly-exposed ocean bottom. When the seismic buoys register ocean floor tremors, it’s not time to remark upon the sunny weather and plan on a day at the beach. When the tsunami warnings are sounded, it’s time to head for high ground.

The water ran out to sea in late May/early June in Florida, especially in Jacksonville. The curve had flattened. The data showed that hospitalizations were down; few people had died. This was the moment that reopening the city seemed like a good choice. Dine out, go out to bars, attend to personal needs like hair styling and pedicures.

But the water running out had a different purpose.

By late June and moving into July, the numbers began jumping and resumed their exponential increase. The tsunami began pouring in. By late July, it was clear, despite protestations that the numbers had stabilized, that we had flatlined again, albeit at a higher level, and that we were peaking, that the continuing public health crisis would upend plans to reopen schools, not to mention bars (in Florida, they were ordered closed in late June. Then, the increase in cases shifted into a linear model. Anyone see a connection? Florida wants to reopen its bars.)

But what about the schools? Districts have been working on plans for two months. But what seemed reasonable in early June now seems outrageous in late July.

The big unknown is how contagious are children. No one knows. Politicians like to cite data about a low rate of infection and the very rare death for humans under 18. The truth is that we don’t know. We locked down schools for the last two to three months of the school year. After that, children have remained at home. Whether their parents have kept them isolated or allowed them to run loose over the summer, we have no data.

What little we do know comes from the summer programs and camps that tried to carry on with in-person operations. For too many, it hasn’t ended well. Schools that tried in-person summer school instruction have also had to close because the virus turned up and spread to the children and staff.

In pandemic times, normal procedures for scientific studies are compressed or suspended. We read about many experiences and it’s up to the reader to sort through the details to see if a study reports about a few people or is more extensive and worthy of attention.

We should always err on the side of caution. We are learning that SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19 for short) is more than a respiratory disease. Of major concern is the heart damage it causes–damage that will last for life. Also concerning is the lung scarring medical experts are discovering in children who did contract the virus.

We are learning that children over the age of 10, especially teenagers, can catch and spread the disease at almost the rate of adults, even if they do not experience a serious bout of illness themselves.

These are the seismic buoys warning of tremors in the ocean floor. Tremors that are sending waves upward through the water. There is a tsunami coming.

Others express it differently. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the noted American expert on infectious diseases, told teachers in an AFT virtual town hall last night that our schools will be an experiment in how the disease progresses through children, adolescents, and the teachers and staff who work in the schools.

It is time for bleating politicians to stop with the false reassurances. No one knows for sure. But when the water runs out to sea and the buoys report their readings, it is time to head for high ground.

Would you rather err on the side of keeping school buildings closed and later realize it wasn’t necessary? Or do you want to take the chance of not one super-spreader event, but 98,000 super-spreader events? (Number of estimated schools in the U.S.)

Tsunami.

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.