Saturday, March 28, 2020

One Giant Step for Stupidity

Yesterday I marked a student present who had not shown up to class all week. How does that happen? Lately it happens when the DOE puts out guidelines without consulting with the union. It turns out that people who sit in offices all day may have little knowledge of what goes on in classrooms. And yes, if school supervisors sit in offices all day that can apply to them as well.

We got a directive the other day that we must take attendance daily whether or not we hold class.I checked to make sure the source was DOE, and of course it was. That's understandable, of course, if you aren't holding virtual classes. If you're communicating via email or chat or something, the student doesn't have to actually show up to a class meeting. If you are holding class meetings, as I am, that's something else altogether. Nonetheless, those of us holding classes should send an email, a yes/no question, or whatever, and if the student responds, we are to mark that student present.

Now in case this isn't sufficiently absurd, consider this--you may not penalize anyone for not showing up to your virtual class. Therefore, the students who bother to show up and participate have no actual advantage over those who do not. In fact they may be at a disadvantage, as perhaps their performance could negatively impact their grade. Of course there may be circumstances under which a student may not participate. For example, your student may not have an internet-enabled device. That applies to exactly none of my students, as far as I know.

I have one student who I know suffers from depression, and has anxiety over everything that's going on. I understand that completely and I would never penalize this student. I'm not actually looking to penalize anyone anyway. Still, the notion of assessing students who are held harmless for doing nothing is tough to get my head around.

Assessments in the traditional sense are also absurd. I cannot force students to show their faces during live sessions. I had limited success yesterday when I offered extra credit to anyone who had a camera on. I'll continue doing that, but one student says he has no video, and I'm not in a position to challenge that. Perhaps it's true, even though I happen to know he carries a late model iPhone. Who knows?

Were I able to get them all to show their faces, I'd be much more confident in giving some kind of assessment and watching them take it. As is, I can give projects and writing assignments. However, decades of experience suggest to me that I have no way to ensure my students actually completed such things themselves. I have known kids who've claimed cheating was part of their culture, although they didn't use those exact words.

I'm told the attendance question will be negotiated with the union, and I do believe it will come back a little less insane. There's no way it can be perfect, because nothing is, especially these days.

This is reminiscent of the memo regarding instruction. When the DOE put it out unilaterally, it contained a sample class schedule. That meant that everyone was expected to do online classes. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, had not considered how few of us live in school buildings. But that wasn't the main thing they failed to consider.

While a lowly teacher like me considers a student who suffers from depression, the DOE hadn't considered the individual circumstances of teachers or their families. You don't know how to operate a computer? Figure out how to use Google Classroom and Zoom by Monday or take a leave of absence. You have an autistic child who has violent tantrums? Put the kid in a cage in the basement and close the door so no one hears. You have kids home from college all using Zoom for their classes sucking up your bandwidth? Send them all to the public library, which is closed.

You can never underestimate the insensitivity of the DOE. Many are Bloomberg leftovers. I was very happy when de Blasio was elected because I stupidly assumed he'd get rid of them. The other day some opinion writer in the Post called Carranza racist. This of course, is because he fired two women who turned around and sued, claiming he did so because they were white. I happen to know he also fired a Latina who was in charge of ELL programming for the city. I'd have been much happier with both de Blasio and Carranza if they'd cleaned house.

Nonetheless, the second iteration of the guidelines did not contain a bell schedule, and made it clear that no school was to require one. In case that wasn't explicit enough, the DOE has put out a companion FAQ to the guidelines previously issued. It appears to have been coordinated with the union, and it contains this:
Please be mindful that our staff, students, and parents may be caring for others, sharing technology resources, and/or be battling illness themselves. Under the current conditions, staff should be given flexibility in establishing remote teaching instructional programs

What does this mean, exactly? This means that, if your principal puts out a directive that absolutely everyone must teach their classes face to face via Zoom every single day, he's laboring under a misconception. If that's the case, you need to contact your chapter leader immediately. Should your CL be asleep on some other virtual astral plane, reach out to your district rep.

Here's another important excerpt:

  • Schools should not try to replicate a regular school day schedule in a virtual

This emphasizes you ought not to be simply mirroring what you do every day in a school building. Every time the DOE sends something out that hasn't been vetted by us, there's something really wrong with it. It's unfortunate that so many school leaders have so little respect for those of us who actually do the work.

That, of course, is why we have and need a union. If you prefer to be at the whim of a leader who knows everything, go work for a charter school. There are plenty around, and they're largely populated with teachers who, for whatever reason, have been unable to procure a UFT job. There are plenty of people, like the President of the United States, who'd like to do away with union and shut our voices out for good. All the more reason to raise them now.
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